Nigerians query 25-year-old quota policy in varsity admissions
• Say Kano, Rivers, Kaduna, others not disadvantaged anymore
• Stakeholders call for end to policy
• ‘Policy attacks excellence, celebrates mediocrity”
• Bayero lecturers defend policy, blame northern leaders
Academics, among other Nigerians, have called for urgent review or scrapping of the nation’s quota policy in varsity admissions to promote equity and national development.
In a bid to ensure uniform development of the country’s educational sector, the Federal Government, 25 years ago, formulated a policy of granting preference to candidates seeking admission into universities across the country, from states considered to be educationally disadvantaged at the time.
Still justifying the policy in the context of today’s Nigeria, Head of Information at the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Dr. Fabian Benjamin, said the policy was designed to unite the nation by giving everybody from every state of the country, an opportunity to be educated and have a sense of belonging “because every Nigerian is a stakeholder in the polity.”
But former vice-chancellors, Femi Mimiko, Ayodeji Olukoju, Prof Adebayo Adeyemi; the Head, Department of Educational Foundation, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Ngozi Osarenren and Senior legal and Programme Officer, Human Right Law Services (HURILAW) Collins Okeke noted that the policy had been overtaken by 25 years’ events. They argued that quota system in university admissions has been misapplied and should, therefore, be discarded.
Benjamin said the policy, which favours the educationally disadvantaged states will have to continue, because the gap it was intended to close has not yet totally been bridged.
He explained that giving preference to candidates from these states goes beyond merely giving admission to students.
He said the policy was introduced in the 1970s after the Nigerian civil war. “There was mutual suspicion among the ethnic groups and government was looking for a platform to unite the people. JAMB became one of these platforms that could bring the various ethnic groups to form a nation. The policy was designed to accommodate this interest.”
Guided by the policy, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Zamfara, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba and Yobe were categorised as educationally disadvantaged states; while Ogun, Lagos, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Delta, Imo, Akwa-Ibom and Edo states were grouped as educationally developed states.
BUT stakeholders wondered why, 25 years after the enactment and execution of the policy, states like Cross River, Rivers and Kano with several tertiary institutions, would still be classified as educationally less advantaged.
In the policy, merit is given 45 per cent. This covers all candidates from the country; it gives automatic admission once you meet the cut-off mark. The second is catchment, which is 35 per cent; while the third factor is educationally less advantaged states, which is 20 per cent.
Stakeholders also demand an end to the policy, which they argued, deny candidates who merit admission, the opportunity to gain access into higher institutions of their choice.
Okeke, Huriwa boss, said the policy had outlived its usefulness, describing it as discriminatory, encouraging mediocrity and discouraging excellence.
“Instead of the quota system, there should be incentives for states that do well educationally to encourage them and ginger others to perform better while teachers can be taken from the south and pay more so that they can complement their northern counterparts and effectively impart knowledge. Quota system creates a mediocre kind of educational system,” he said.
Mimiko, erstwhile vice chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba (AAUA), said while there was nothing wrong with the policy, it should be implemented in such a way that it would not undermine merit.
Mimiko, a professor of political science at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ife lamented that the quota system had been implemented in such a way that calls to question the nation-building objective of the country.
He said: “The quota system is supposed to be a stop-gap measure; use it to bring up the disadvantaged and thereafter put a stop to it, and start treating everyone on the same standards.”
He added that the space for the quota system must be a “very small” percentage of the spaces available and that in the listing of those to be accorded space through a quota system, the spaces should still go to the best in such groups. He further suggested that the quota system should be implemented in such a way that it would not give the slightest hint that it was meant to reward “lazy ones.”
To address the lopsidedness, Mimiko called on governments in areas considered educationally-disadvantaged to invest in the sector.
Prof. Adeyemi, former vice chancellor of Bells University of Technology, Ota, lamented that the quota system had been misapplied. To address the problem, he advocated a national cut-off point for prospective students.
“I could recollect my serving as admissions chairman (officer) for the Faculty of Technology at the OAU between 1986 and 1991; admissions were based on the quota system. At that time, I think it was based on the following parameters; merit (40%), catchment (30%), educationally disadvantaged states (20%) and discretion (10%).
“Pass mark at that time was 200 to gain admission into Nigerian universities. At no time did we go below the minimum pass mark regardless of the group a candidate belonged to.”
While describing the intention of the quota system as noble, Olukoju lamented that beneficiaries had taken what ordinarily should be a privilege as a right.
He said the quota system had outlived its usefulness and should be phased out.
According to him, the system is giving undue advantage to some people, promoting complacency and mediocrity on the part of the beneficiaries.
Olukoju, who is of the Department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos, said the policy was intended as a stop-gap but the beneficiaries, who are also in command of federal power, retained it to their own advantage, even as their educational status has improved over time.
“It is time to ask governors of the so-called disadvantaged states to account for their budgetary allocation to the education sector in their states. The affirmative action has been abused by its beneficiaries, who have worn it as a badge of honour. Every policy has a life span and this one has become obsolete. It was supposed to encourage the backward states to lift themselves up by their bootstraps but it has unfairly rewarded and reinforced mediocrity and an entitlement mentality.
For Osarenren, if students, regardless of their states, were given sound knowledge; they would effectively compete among themselves.
The scholar noted that the admission policy had only succeeded in sowing a seed of discord between parents and children from different regions.
“Every child must be treated well, if you admit a child with a lower score, how would such a child compete equally with others? The disparity in the admission system showed that government is merely paying lip service to qualitative education.
Also, a former chairman of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Ilorin chapter, Dr. Usman Raheem, says the quota system has outlived its relevance.
Raheem, in a chat with The Guardian in Ilorin, argued that the quota system for admission should be jettisoned and should revert to merit.
The ex-ASUU boss, who is a lecturer at the Department of Geography and Environmental Management of the institution, added that the system had failed to solve the problem of imbalance in the nation’s social strata.
He compared the system to a situation where the most qualified elder brother for a post was being asked to step down for the least qualified brother for the same position.
“In the process, many qualified candidates are daily dropped for the average ones under the guise of catchment zones and educationally disadvantaged states. However, where a particular area has the facilities like a higher institution for instance, I think it will not be out of place to give the people there “a little preference” above the others,” he added.
HOWEVER, Profs. Tanko Adamu and Barde Ibrahim of Bayero University, Kano (BUK) argued that the quota policy should be retained, as the objective behind it had not been fully met.
Adamu, a professor of Geography, contended that there was still a wide gap between the south and the north in the educational system, which still needed time to bridge.
He lamented that successive governments in the region had failed to give priority attention to education.
According to him, for the gap to be bridged, attention has to be given to basic education, regretting that public primary education had been neglected over the years in the North.
“If you want to bridge any gap, the fundamental work is actually at the basic education level, and we all know that the public primary education system has been neglected over the years. Successive governments have not been focusing on this area, which is actually the key to addressing the gap between the two regions.
“We are not doing as well as we should in the north, so there is no way we can catch up with the South,” he maintained.
He called on leaders in the region to give adequate training to teachers in the area.
“We do not value education in a way that we can sit down and plan properly and I think that is where the problem is,” Adamu stated.
For Barde, a professor of Accounting, the quota system is still in order. He likened it to the 13 per cent derivation enjoyed by oil-producing states.
He also argued that the quota policy was still relevant because the North was still behind the South and called for the establishment of more schools in the region.
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