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Looking beyond Nigerian universities’ grading system

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NUC Executive Secretary, Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed

With the latest directive by the National Universities Commission (NUC) that all Nigerian ivory towers should adopt the five-point grading system, Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, examines its implication on learning and employment.

Looking askance, a group of young students milled around the information board to glean the latest information.

Just in December last year they had been told: “This is to inform the general public and prospective students that the NUC has approved a new grading system for universities.

NUC Approved New Grade System For Universities: The National Universities Commission, NUC is no longer using a scale of five, the new system is based on a scale of four. First Class is 3.5 – 4. Second Class is 3 – 3.49. Second class lower is 2.0 – 2.99.

“According to NUC Chairman, Prof Shehu Galadanchi, the newly approved grading system for universities under the new four (4)-point grading scale, would be used for students who have satisfactorily completed the course of study are as follows: A (70 and above) 4; B (60-69%) 3; C (50-59%) 2; D (45-49%) 1; and E (40-44%) 0. CGPA ranges under the new four (4)- point grading scale for classification of degrees: 3.5- 4.00 – first class honours; 3.0-3.49 – second class honours (upper division); 2.0-2.99 – second class honours (lower division); 1.0-1.99 – third class honours.

Deans of Faculties and Heads of Departments are enjoined to ensure compliance and commencement of the new regulations with the intakes of 2017/2018 session while the old regulations remain applicable to students admitted before the 2017/2018 Session.”

The information further noted, “No student whose CGPA is less than 1.0 shall be awarded a degree”.

However, by October 2018 the NUC had put out another notice suspending the new scale regime, calling for the immediate adoption of five-point grading system in all Nigerian universities. The reason the commission gave is not farfetched.

In a letter dated October 15 this year and directed to vice chancellors, the NUC said: “Vice chancellors would please recall that in early 2017, Directors of Academic Planning met to discuss the issue of course credit system and Grade Point Average in the Nigerian university system. In particular, the issue of the removal of pass degree was discussed, leading to the adoption of a four-point grading system.

“However, the four-point scale, which some universities started implementing, was also found to have severe implementation short comings, with some universities observing serious difficulties in getting students to acquire average class of degree, while the scale made it easier for students to have first class degree.”

Continuing the memo noted: “Furthermore, the commission is recently inundated with series of inquiries, particularly from international organisations and foreign universities on the status of the four-point scale in use and previous degrees issued using the five-point scale.

In view of this, I am directed to inform all vice chancellors that all Nigerian universities should revert to the five-point scale hitherto in use, with effect from the 2018/2019 academic session.”

It may be instructive to gain some insight on Nigerian university’s grading system and the back-and-forth in NUC’s guidelines.

It will be recalled that prior to the December 2017 announcement, the NUC was making plans to ensure that Nigerian universities grade their students using a uniform scale that will be adopted by all tertiary institutions in the country.

The body had pointed to irregularities and disparities in the grading system used by most universities, hence the need to review and harmonise the Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) grading system, including a uniformed Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS).

It had further argued that using different grading systems creates challenges for proper grading of students.

Inter-university credit transfer and student mobility both within and outside the country have become challenging with disparity caused by having two grading systems in the system, the commission had maintained.

“A review would not only facilitate curriculum design within the university that would foster inter-departmental and inter-disciplinary collaboration, but would also minimise duplication thereby enhancing understanding by most foreign universities too,” it added.

Until the recent directive by the university regulatory body, some universities use six-point system (5,4,3,2,1,0 representing grades of A, B, C, D, E and F) for some disciplines but use five-point system (5,4,3,2,0 representing grades of A, B, C, D and F) for other disciplines.

For example, the University of Ibadan (UI) uses a seven-point grading system and the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) once placed its first class honours benchmark on 4.3 CGPA before going back to the original 4.5 benchmark.

“For CGPA the maximum is five, University of Ibadan has been using seven. So we have asked them, ‘When you are using a scale and the maximum is five, how do you compare with others in a situation where first class honours on the five scale maximum is 4.5 and above? These are some of the issues we are concerned about.

OAU at some point was using 4.3 and thereafter went back to 4.5. We need a common platform and it’s very important,” the NUC pointed out.

With the new directive, universities like the UI may have to adjust its current grading system even though the NUC did not say what the sanctions might be for not doing so.

In recent years, Nigerian universities seem to have been in flux; from certificate scandals to sex-for-marks crisis, corruption and incessant strikes. Can the universities pull the new grading system through?

According to an education scholar, Olawale Omotosho, since the advent of course system of education in tertiary institutions world-over, CGPA has been in use as an Assessment Instrument instead of Cumulative Weighted Average Mark (CWAM).

Consequently, mapping of percentage marks into an n-grade points system, which is required to generate the much needed CGPA has become necessary. Countless methods of mapping have been witnessed across different tertiary institutions.

There are many opinions about grading systems. Regarding that Omotosho stated in one of his research works: “As a matter of fact, there are as many as there are users of grading systems.

Every training institution that is required to assess its trainees has its own format of grading system since a grading system is a platform for the application of Assessment Instruments. There are also many different Assessment Instruments that are also used by different training institutions. All these grading systems do not address the same objectives and purposes.

“Because of these different shades of opinions and freedom to use whichever is considered suitable for a given situation, much study has not been done on the subject. It is discovered that people copy one format or the other without knowing fully the original purpose for which what is copied is intended. This consequently leads to many assumptions, one of which is to think that there is nothing to teach anybody about grading systems.”

Now Nigerian universities are seeing the consequences of their varied grading systems as they affect students’ chances of admission in and out of the country.

One of the issues in university’s grading system is that of the ‘pass’ degree. Education experts note that ‘pass’ is a class in a (five-point) grading system.

It is the last pass class to which the least pass grade point/CGPA of one is automatically assigned by virtue of being the last pass class.

Similarly, in a (four-point) grading system, the last pass class to which the least pass grade point/CGPA of one is automatically assigned by virtue of being the last pass class is a third class if the same nomenclatures are used in both cases.

For a (six-point) grading system, the last pass class to which the least pass grade point/CGPA of one is automatically assigned by virtue of being the last pass class will probably be called a ‘low pass’ if the same nomenclatures are used in both cases, argued Omotosho.

Therefore, ‘pass’ as a class of degree cannot be condemned simply because the least grade point/CGPA of one is assigned to it.

“It is only a ‘name’. What is important is the score ranges attached to each class. The implications of the last pass in any given grading system can be explained as follows: Though students falling into this category are university materials but they cannot proceed to higher university degrees without remedying the cause of such level of performance.

However, they are qualified to be admitted into corporate membership class of their respective disciplines/professional bodies like any other graduates of higher classes because they have sufficient knowledge to deal with real-life situations.

“As a matter of fact, this class of graduates are preferred to be employed in production industries because they are much more likely to stay on the job longer than the high-flying graduates who are likely to move into academics, consulting and design firms.

The high-flying graduates (first and second classes) are much more mobile than third and pass class graduates, an attribute that does not guarantee stability of labour in the industries which is primarily what is needed,” Omotosho further claimed.

Unfortunately, he admitted, because of high unemployment index in Nigeria, that scenario has changed leaving many graduates (including first class) unemployed.

He, however, pointed out that cancelling pass division in degree classification is certainly not the solution to unemployment anywhere in the world.

Pass degrees are still being awarded in many advanced countries to date. Many institutions in the United Kingdom still award ordinary pass degrees which are lower than pass (honours) degrees that are being condemned in Nigeria today.

“If Nigerian employers can employ graduates with American Bachelor degrees which are essentially unclassified as Nigerian universities do, then, it does not make sense to disadvantage graduates from Nigerian universities by simply cancelling pass (honours) degree.

There are many professionals whose basic academic qualification is the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE); yet, they are admitted into employment market at the same level, if not even higher than degree holders by some employers of labour in Nigeria.

“Why then will a holder of Bachelors degree be denied simply because he has a pass (honours) degree? If pass (honours) degree is abolished, third class will also be abolished when unemployment index gets higher; second class will be abolished when unemployment index gets still higher and so on. What will happen when unemployment continues to grow? Will first class degrees be abolished as well?” Omotosho explained.

While it is important to have a unified grading system across all universities in the country, experts in the education sector told The Guardian that much more important is the NUC’s ability to ensure that the universities are in touch with modernity, reality and the future in the outlook of its curricula.

If the falling standards of education across tertiary institutions are corrected, grading system is the least of anybody’s headache.


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