‘Why some private varsities opted for low cut-off marks’
As the debate on the role of private universities in the lowering of the cut-off marks for entry into the nation’s higher institutions intensifies, vice chancellor, Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU), Prof. Sola Fajana, has blamed the situation on low enrolment and lack of financial support by the Federal Government to private institutions.
Fajana in a chat with The Guardian stated that the greatest challenge facing the contemporary private universities is low enrolment, which stemmed directly from the fees being charged by these institutions which he said largely influenced parents and candidates’ choice of universities.
According to him, low-fee institutions generally attract a large number of candidates, the reason the federal and state universities are mostly preferred by candidates seeking admission.
Fajana noted that it was against the backdrop of the current enrolment and financial uncertainties, that the 2017 JAMB stakeholders’ policy meeting put into consideration the autonomy of universities to regulate entry.
He said: “Naturally, the highest UTME scorers are found on the list of federal universities because they offer near-free education. Thus, in spite of the huge infrastructural investments by private universities, the perennial challenge of low enrolment is very visible and daunting. None of the private universities has been able to fill its admission quota. The challenge is currently accentuated by the on-going economic recession, and the policy, which excludes private universities from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND).
“These limiting factors are taking an unfairly large toll on the finances of the private universities. In recent times, the responses of some private institutions have included programme suspension (for those programmes with acute low enrolment), staff rationalisation and other forms of re-organisation.
He continued: “Private universities are currently suffering an unfair share of the effects of inflation, devaluation and the illiquid state of the Nigerian economy. Several students of private universities are deferring their studies and or examinations because of their inability to pay school fees on account of non-receipt of salaries or non-receipts of contract payments by their parents and sponsors. Private universities are now approaching financial institutions to obtain short-term loan facilities to meet up with salary and other recurrent obligations.”
He alerted that if the trend continues, “acquisitions and mergers among distressed private universities may occur. Justifying the decision of JAMB on the new cut-off mark, he explained: “The effect was that institutions’ senates were given the opportunity to determine their admission cut-off points. A graduated scheme was arrived at and agreed. It was good news to some people, but also bad news to some others. The good thing about this agreement was that federal and some state universities opted for scores well above 200, and most private universities opted for scores above 160. The so-called bad news was that an all-time low score of 120 was being announced in the Nigerian university system.”
Describing the hue and cry generated by the new cut-off mark as unnecessary, he said, “What is in a cut-off point? It is only a minimum score below which no institution can operate. It is not an absolute figure, and thus it is not a pass mark, which would be relevant in an achievement test! The decision of the 2017 Policy meeting deserves commendation rather than condemnation, for a number of reasons.
“Firstly, in the previous years when the minimum score was set usually at 180, several Nigerian youths scoring below 180 could not access education in Nigeria, in spite of the adequacy of capacity especially in private universities.
“A score of 120 in addition to post-UTME screening and O level qualifications is overall a better test of the quality of entrants into university education than admission through only the O level results as obtained in other climes, more so with xenophobic attacks. I need to stress however that the preference for education in other African countries by Nigerian students is due to lower tuition fees.
“Secondly, JAMB and the policy deciders in 2017 have only given due respect to the rights of autonomy for our university senates. UTME scores suffered from reliability and validity challenges in the past; and have become less attractive to informed stakeholders. Reinstating the post-UTME screening is indicative of a possibility of conceding more to senates in the future.
He argued that private universities have the capacity to train both students with high and low cut-off marks, adding that the coping strategy is that extra efforts are usually expended on the students to bring them up to and exceed the performance achieved in federal and state universities.
He concluded that by the outcome of the 2017 admission policy meeting, “JAMB is now admirably returning to its role as a clearinghouse, ensuring quality and preventing multiple admissions into Nigerian institutions.
Fajana subsequently enjoined the government and concerned stakeholders to support private universities in their quest to genuinely partner government and provide quality education to Nigerian youths, since demand for tertiary education in Nigeria largely outstrips the supply.