By: Abdussalam Amoo The new cutoff mark for entry into tertiary institutions announced on Tuesday by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has become a topic of discourse. According to news reports, JAMB and the Vice Chancellors of all Nigerian universities agreed that 120 should be the cut off mark for entrants into universities. For polytechnics and other institutions, it the mark was pegged at 100 minimum.It has been difficult for many of us understanding the rationale behind the resolution reached by the authorities. For me, I had thought hypothetically that it was another attempt to increase the chances of admission for those from educationally disadvantaged areas in the country. We are not unfamiliar with situations where standards were lowered for admission into unity schools for certain students based on their states of origin.Perhaps, it was because many candidates performed below expectation in the exams. Most of those I know of score above 250 marks. But this was an entirely computer-based exam written by many candidates who were perhaps seeing a computer for the first time. Maybe our assumptions were wrong. It would be nice if JAMB could be giving the public a breakdown of candidates’ performance as the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and the National Examinations Council (NECO) do every year to help us understand the extent of candidates’ performances in the exams.However, I learnt that the reason behind resorting to such a low mark was for the sake of ‘equity’. An official present at the meeting pointed out that JAMB lamented situations whereby universities would publicly declare 200, for instance, as cut off mark but would still consider the candidate of one highly placed personal who scored lower than that for admission but would deny the son of a nobody admission even when that one scored above the required mark. It was added that JAMB gave each university the free will to determine whichever cut off mark it prefers while ensuring that it does not accept anyone who scores lower than that.The case of universities admitting those who scored below the cut off point is not new. This is not related to the exceptional cases of educationally disadvantaged areas or catchment areas. I’m aware a private university in Ogun State admitted a student who scored 150 to study Mass Communication despite publicly announcing 180 as its cut off mark. Money does it all, some would say. The situation is applicable in many public universities too for those who ‘know the way’. JAMB had promised to check such.No matter how low JAMB pegs its cut off mark, universities like the University of Lagos (UNILAG)and the University of Ibadan (UI) expectedly would not lower their standard for admissions. The two schools have been particularly known for setting the pace. It would be recalled that when JAMB pegged the cut off at 180 over the decades, it was UNILAG which first insisted on 200 as its cut off mark for all courses before some of its contemporaries followed suit years later. It was also the university which first adopted the notion of taking in only those who make it their first choice dubbing it the ‘university of first choice’. The admission screening procedure used in the UI for years was what the Federal Government instructed universities to adopt last year.
Back to the issue at hand, leaving universities to determine their individual cut off marks not lower than the proposed 120 marks leaves certain implications. First, it would would worsen the decay in our education system. There are likely to be more university products who cannot favorably compete with their counterparts elsewhere. What do we expect from beneficiaries of mediocrity other than being mediocre? Only the exceptional ones may make a name for themselves.Also, the situation would put certain universities on the watch. Future employers would care about which university one graduated from, more than ever. Prior to this new development, we have had cases where graduates were being discriminated against on account of the part of the country they earned their degrees. It would just get worse since obviously there is the likelihood that most of the universities to follow the lowered standard in the cut off point would do so in consideration of the indigens of the said part.Equally, the notion of superiority of one university over another would be much more pronounced. You can’t compare a graduate who gained admission on the basis of higher merit with that which did on lower merit. This may seem petty but may just lead to some stereotype about certain class of students from certain sets of universities.We should not forget that a major reason behind the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is the call for improved standard of education. We shouldn’t expect things to get better in our education system if we continue to place low premium on academic excellence. No matter the eventual amount of funding or the extent of the provision of facilities for learning and research in our universities, the requirements of entry for prospective students still count.