Much ado about grading system in varsities
When the National Universities Commission (NUC) directed higher institutions across the country to adopt the four point-grading system and later upped it to five points, not all of them heeded the call. The few that did are now at loggerheads with their students.
UJUNWA ATUEYI writes that the recent protest at Benue State University, which resulted in the closure of the institution, was a fallout of policy flip-flop in the country’s educational system caused by NUC.
Time was when Nigerian universities were using the five-point grading system until the NUC suddenly introduced the four points scale. Barely one year after, the scale was reverted to five-point grading system.
That aborted policy is currently causing trouble in some universities in the country. While some institutions quickly adopted the four-point scale, others overlooked the policy and continued grading their students with the five-point system.
The commission had announced that those who started with the four-point system would be assessed with it while the new system would be applicable to new students admitted for the 2018/2019 academic session.
Benue State University, Makurdi, was among the institutions that adopted the four-point grading system as announced by the NUC in December 2017.
Reverting to the five-point scale has led to crisis, as the students protested the action, insisting that they should be graded based on the same scale.
They did not only term the four-point system as unfavourable, they also claimed that by its nature, it is capable of lowering students’ score. Their action resulted into a protest, which led to the closure of the 27-year old institution by the management.
The students had, during the protest, demanded that their previous results, which was graded on four-point scale, be re-marked using the five-point scale.
They called on the school management to permit a re-mark of their scripts from 100-level to reflect the new grading system.
They alleged that students at other universities are being scaled based on the five-point system, wondering why the university management derives joy in hurting them.
“What we want the management to do is to revert to the five-point system, but they refused. Several appeals have been made in this regard, yet they were adamant. So, we were left with no choice than to protest. From all indication, the management was not ready to implement the new grading system. Meanwhile, our colleagues in other universities are enjoying the new scale,” one of the aggrieved students argued.
But the management had on its part, explained that plans were underway to implement the policy and look into the students plea before the incident broke out.
The registrar, Dr. Mfaga Modem, had in a statement shortly after the protest, disclosed that the Senate of the university had constituted a committee to consider the appeal by the students for the recalculation of their results from four to five-point grading system and submit its recommendations.
She said the students must acknowledge the fact that the university had already complied with the directive by the NUC by reverting to the five-point grading system with effect from the 2018/2019 academic session.
“In the interim, the university management met the students and informed them of the efforts of the Senate and appealed for their patience to enable the committee complete the assignment.”
The NUC had while reverting the policy said, “We are no longer using a scale of five, the new system is based on a scale of four. Deans of faculties and heads of departments are directed to ensure compliance and commencement of the new regulations with the intake of 2017/2018 session while the old regulations remain applicable to students admitted before the 2017/2018 Session.”
Not too long after the announcement was made, the body published yet another notice suspending the new scale regime. A circular that contained the reasons for the new directive was issued to all universities.
The document read in part, “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 shortcomings, 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.
“Furthermore, the commission was 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.”
However, some university teachers who spoke with The Guardian on the issue blamed the NUC for the confusion, stressing that the incident was as a result of inconsistency in their regulation.
Coordinator, Lagos Zone, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof Olusiji Sowande, said, “There has been this issue of grading system being regulated by NUC over time. Universities have different levels of compliance with NUC regulations, because the truth of the matter is that at some point, the regulation of NUC actually infringes upon the powers of the Senate as highlighted in each university Act.
“And so some universities feel very strong that they want to stay with a particular grading system as against the other. Now, what makes it a little bit difficult is that sometimes when universities even take advice from NUC to use a particular grading system, within a very short time there will be another advice asking that they revert to the old system. So some universities have the habit of always complying, and some do not necessarily comply. They stick to whatever they have been operating with.”
He continued: “What universities normally do is that if they want to take such advice, they always implement NUC’s decision with a set of fresh students. And so within that period of compliance, until they graduate, all that are within the old system, there will be two grading systems within the university. While the new ones will be operating the new grading system, the returning students will operate the old grading system, because they must use the same grading system until they graduate.
“You cannot start with a four-point grading system and then because NUC changed the regulation, you have to start computing with the new system. It is not done, you have to continue with what you started with, and then, new set of students will also use the new grading system. So what the students are asking for may be a difficult thing, because it is not in their purview to decide what the grading system should be.”
He advised that students should channel their agitation to NUC and demand for it to be consistent, as going back and forth on such issue is not good for the system.
“They should also advice their university to just stick to one system and be consistent with it.”
Insisting that NUC is responsible for the confusion, Sowande said, “What I found out is that NUC is not consistent in terms of its regulations even in my own university. Five years ago, NUC said ‘maintain five-point grading system, but remove pass from degree classification.’ The commission advised that pass mark should move from 40 to 45. So for the returning students, their pass mark is 40, while those that came in that year when the policy was made, their pass mark is 45.
“So those that have pass mark of 45 will not have any pass degree classification when they graduate, but the returning students that are having pass mark of 40 will still have pass grade, until you phase all of them out. This is a policy somersault, now, those students who started with a pass mark of 45 five years ago, are in final year, (for a five year programme) and those on four years have graduated last year.”
But again, early this year, he continued, “NUC said revert to old system. So the students we admitted that are in 100 level now, will have their results computed on the basis of 40 per cent pass mark. So those that are already in final year now, those ones will graduate with a class degree without pass mark. And then in the next four years we have to phase them out.”
Professor of Sociology, Lagos State University (LASU), Elias Wahab, who affirmed that the five-point system is not truly favourable to the students, explained that the reason for their protest is understandable.
“The five in the five point-system is first class; four is second class upper division; three is second class lower; two is the third class and the one is pass mark. What NUC did then, was to eliminate pass, so when they eliminated pass, instead of five-point scale, we now have four-point system. The four will now be first class; three is second class upper; two is second class lower; then one is for third class. You can see they are not the same. It eliminated people from having pass grade.
“Now the implication is that the four-point system has a minimum pass of 45 per cent, while the five-point system has a minimum pass of 40. This is the reason the students are clamouring for the five-point system. So when they are using five points, students that have 40 passed, it was not carry over. But with four points, 40 became a failure. So it didn’t favour students. So those dull students that use to have pass, eventually have problem. They couldn’t cope, even though there is no honour in pass, they still prefer pass grade, at least they will graduate and answer graduates, unlike in the four-point scale.”
“So, the students’ agitation is understandable because it didn’t favour them. When NUC realised that it didn’t work, it reverted to five points, effective from 100 level students now. And that system started about four years ago, so it affected four sets and within that period a lot of students were rusticated, because of their inability to cope and at least maintain 45 per cent mark.”
Echoing Sowande’s view, Wahab said the students appeal for their scripts to be re-graded using the five-point system “is highly problematic and very difficult.”
A professor of English and Literary Studies, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), Sam Onuigbo, acknowledged that UNN never adopted the four-scale system.
“What we are using is the five-point grading system. There was never a time we ranked the students using the four-point.”
Now that experts have confirmed that the confusion stemmed from the NUC’s table, it is expected that the affected students will bear with the situation and regard it as one of the very many failed policies in the country.
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