- Universities must stop fleecing candidates
A Federal Government query issued to 42 universities has once again demonstrated the brazen manner in which tertiary institutions exploit admission-seekers under the guise of conducting the post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).
According to the Executive Secretary of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Professor Is-haq Oloyede, the universities in question had charged fees in excess of the approved N2,000 limit for the post-UTME. He explained that the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, had ordered them to refund the excess to the candidates and report back to the authorities. In one case, a university was directed to give the additional funds to a non-religious orphanage because the candidates could no longer be traced.
The exploitation of university candidates has had a long and dishonourable history in Nigeria since the introduction of the post-UME, as it was then known, in 2005. Arguing that widespread malpractices in the examinations conducted by JAMB had rendered its results worthless, universities insisted on being allowed to conduct a second examination which would serve as a means of quality control.
Regardless of their ostensibly high-minded concern for the emergence of qualified candidates, universities immediately took full advantage of the post-UTME as a means of making money. Schools that could admit no more than 3,500 candidates ensured that the entry qualifications for post-UTME were low enough to enable up to 30,000 candidates to purchase forms which went for as high as N5,000 at the time.
Some universities ingeniously split up the admissions process into discrete components and charged exorbitant fees for each part. State-owned universities were most notorious for this practice, with prospective students paying as much as N20,000.
It was in this context that Adamu as education minister banned the conduct of post-UTME in June 2016, claiming that the original intent of the examination had been lost in the pursuit of financial gain at the expense of hapless candidates. In August 2017, the ban was lifted with the caveat that charges could not exceed N2,000.
It is no secret that very few institutions have adhered to this directive. Many openly demanded post-UTME fees well in excess of the prescribed limit in their advertisements. Given that there are currently 158 federal, state and privately-owned universities in Nigeria, it is almost certain that the 42 indicted schools represent only a small fraction of those engaged in this unethical practice.
Such acts of blatant exploitation are further aggravated by the ludicrously low cut-off mark of 120 out of 400 agreed upon for the 2017/2018 admissions exercise. With so many candidates scaling this shockingly easy hurdle, universities have been swamped with desperate admission-seekers who were only too willing to pay whatever was asked of them.
As purported bastions of character and learning, Nigeria’s universities must realise that actions like these only serve to entrench popular perceptions of tertiary institutions as dens of corruption and impunity. The desire to increase internally-generated revenue is no justification for what can only be called extortion, nor can the excuse that the UTME lacks credibility be enough reason to complement it with processes that are even more deficient in integrity.
Government will have to move decisively if this practice is to be halted once and for all. Offending schools should be named and shamed; where possible, sanctions should be imposed, including withholding subventions and instituting legal action. All funds raised through post-UTME charges should be subject to strict accounting procedures to ensure that they are put to proper use, and procedures for returning excess charges should be streamlined so that they can be returned to those who paid them.
As for the universities themselves, they must desist from engaging in practices that will only further damage their already-battered reputations. It is hypocritical to exploit vulnerable candidates while pretending to maintain educational standards.