.….By Ibrahim Shu’aibu Tukuntawa
The goal and aspirations of all parents is to transform their child from a baby that could hardly walk into a sound and responsible member of the society, contributing his or her own quota to the growth and development of their country. The most important part of that transformation is to give the child a qualitative education within their limits. Thus children whose parents are poor are sent to public schools and those whose parents are middle class or from rich homes are sent to private schools. The meeting point of these children is no more the foundation level schools i.e. nursery, primary and secondary as was obtainable in the 70s and 80s, but at the post-high school level; the universities, colleges of technologies, polytechnics, colleges of educations etc.
With hundreds of thousands of post-primary students finishing from schools each year and each of them nursing the ambition of joining a tertiary institution of his or her choice to fulfil his dream of becoming a graduate in the many disciplines in life, it is indeed sad and disheartening for most of them to discover that they cannot achieve their targeted careers as originally planned. Not because they lack the basic qualifications and requirements, but due to the fact that they are forced not to go to school by an educational system that care less about their ambitions and is exploiting a situation that has gone awfully out of hand.
The serious neglect of the educational system in the Nigeria from the grassroots level i.e. nursery and primary schools by the government, which started in the early 80s and has subsequently led to the almost complete rot, if not absolute decay of the educational sector. The consequence of which is the “unbaked” graduates phenomenon where universities and other tertiary institutions’ degrees and qualifications are not being recognized by employers and post-graduate institutions in the country and abroad. This, coupled with the rampant examinations malpractice by students to earn a degree by all means, due to lack of committed lecturers and the poor and ill-equipped learning environment they are educated in, as well as the regular industrial strike actions often embarked upon by academic staff to protest against a policy or lack of fulfillment of an agreement between them and government, fight for their legitimate dues or better working facilities, all of which can extend students normal academic durations from the normal 4 years required to earn a degree to between 5 or 7 years, has necessitated finding a further means of identifying quality undergraduate materials by universities. Thus a pre-admission test called post-University Matriculation Examination (UME) had to be initiated to separate the wheat from the chaff by post- secondary colleges in an effort to find the best candidates to fill in their admission lists.
The recent release of the post-UME admission results by Nigerian universities as was the case in the past has generated quite some excitements among parents, educational experts and the general public. The bone of contention be; why should universities resort to selling out post-UME forms to more candidates than they can actually give admissions to? For example, it was gathered from a reliable source that a typical university could be given the maximum number of students to admit in a particular academic year by the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) as 5000. Yet, that same college would offer 25, 000 post-UME forms to the general public for sale through banks knowing full well that a whooping 20, 000 of the applicants are not going to pass the test. Of the sold out twenty five thousand forms, only about 17,000 would take the examination due to one reason or another. And from this number of potential students, only the said 5,000 would eventually end up being admitted to the various faculties of the university. .
The irony of it all is that, even those candidates acclaimed to have made it could still have some obstacles, which would frustrate them from collecting their admission letters. Often the process might not be effectively and efficiently done resulting in some students’ names becoming mixed up or out-rightly omitted and before such issues could be rectified, registration deadlines are up. Also, it must be remembered that of the 5000 candidates that finally gained admission as allowed by NUC, some would definitely not come from the post-UME forms issued out for sale, since a certain percentage of the admitted candidates come from a special list of candidates, based on a grace given to lecturers by their school authority to submit names of their own candidates for admission. In many cases some of these “favored” candidates might not even be as qualified as the students that were deliberately failed for no reason by the admission committee to meet NUC target. Yet these dropped applicants have bought the forms and have passed the stipulated post-UME. So what could be making our degree awarding institutions act upon a promise they very well know that they cannot fulfill?.
The answer could be, because the universities want the best candidates to emerge through the screening exercise. Well, is it really that simple or could there be other hidden motives? Investigations have shown that the foremost reason could be to generate revenue by the cash strapped universities. The initiative to generate funds is quite welcome and good, but should it be at the expense of the innocent students’ aspirations and at the expense of their parents financial capabilities, some of whom are very poor indeed? Others have also asked how such an act could be affecting the psyche of the positive minded young undergraduate hopefuls, some of whom might clearly have met all the requirements to pursue their proposed courses, have also passed their Jamb Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations and gotten the required points, only for them to be rejected at the universities entry point through the post-UME test.
Another crucial question one need to ask here is, is the government aware of this unfortunate situation? If so, what are the authorities concerned doing to address it? Or does it mean that because most of the post-UME candidates come from poor backgrounds, the matter should be left to continue unchecked to the detriment of our educational system and our national image in the eyes of the world?
Some of the candidates, parents, educationists and examination bodies asked about their views on the issue said among other reasons, that the post-UME examination was solely created with the intent of curtailing the number of students gaining admission into the universities and of course towards selecting or ‘screening out’ the best brains among the applicants. In response to that, someone asked why would the university want to stop anyone from acquiring a sound education? Others argue that the universities lack the capacity to admit everyone desirous of earning a degree, subsequent to which someone posted that supply must then rise up to meet demand as an important law of economics stated. More universities should be established, not by government but by the private sector to cater for the excess candidates, with the education ministry regulating the standards to meet that of international community.
A female student seeking for admission into one of the universities revealed that she was denied sitting for her post-UME after being directed to a wrong venue from the very venue of her exams, only for her to return and the invigilator refused her entry into the examination hall. A student from Federal University of Technology (FUT) Minna passed his post-UME only after his fifth attempt, even then only just. Fortunately he got lucky. Another student from School for Management Sciences, Bayero University Kano said that he sees it as means of frustrating students to use post-UME as a criterion to give admission in universities. According to him JAMB should be enough as an examination to facilitate admissions. From Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria a student suggested that admission forms should be sold based on the target permitted by NUC and no more and that universities should state clearly their requirements and ensure anybody buying the form is qualified for admission before selling the forms to the candidates. Further interviews with post-UME students revealed that there are grossly disappointed and frustrated with the whole exercise due to its lack of credibility and inefficiency in securing university admissions for most of them..
As access to tertiary institutions admission are being denied many candidates for financial gains by universities, many sound and brilliant minds are being wasted and thus cannot contribute meaningfully in nation building. Many potential graduates are truly stranded, hanging in the middle, neither securing a good job due to lack of proper qualification on one side and being refuse the chance to acquire qualitative tertiary education on the other due to lack of placements in universities.