Mixed reactions trail the reduction in Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) cut-off points for admission into tertiary institutions , with stakeholders in Northwest expressing divergent views.
In a survey conducted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), whereas some of the stakeholders viewed the development as being counter-productive, others felt the reduction in the cut-off points posed no threat to the system as the 140 points was only the ‘minimum’ marks requirement.
All the respondents however agreed that the mass failure that forced a reduction in the cut-off points, was a clear indication of the decline in quality of teaching in schools and products being churned out.
NAN reports that the cut-off marks for the 2020/2021 admission was 160 for universities, while 120 and 100 were fixed for for Polytechnics and Colleges of Education respectively.
In 2021/2022 admission, the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) gave schools the freedom to set their own minimum marks for admission.
For 2022/2023 admission, JAMB adopted 140 as the minimum cut-off mark for degree awarding institutions, and 100 marks for Polytechnics and Colleges of Education.
In Kaduna, some academics described the continued lowering of the cut-off marks for admission as an indication of a “crumbling education system” in Nigeria.
The academics attributed the development to poor students’ performance in the Unified Tertiary Institutions Matriculation Examination (UTME) being conducted by JAMB, which determines the cut-off marks.
One of them, Prof. Terhemba Wuam, a Professor of Economic History and Dean, Students Affairs, Kaduna State University, said that such development has severe consequences on the nation’s education system.
According to him, the continued lowering of the cut-off marks from 180 in the early 2000, to the current 140 for universities, shows that Nigeria’s education system is in crisis.
“If performance is good and highly competitive, based on the minimum expected standard, an applicant with 250 out of 400 points might not be able to secure admission.
“But 140 cut-off marks for entry into degree awarding institutions is a clear case of the Nigerian education system crumbling”, he noted.
Wuam said that the way out was to improve the country’s education system, adding that the planners needed to go back to the drawing board.
Dr Peter Adamu, Chairman, Academic Staff Union of University, KASU Chapter, also said that lowering the cut-off marks was an indication that the quality of education was declining.
“For example, 140 for universities means 35 per cent score and 100 for Polytechnics and Colleges of Education is 25 per cent; this is below the 40 per cent ‘E’ grade pass mark.
“The yearly reduction will discourage some bright students from putting in more efforts to obtain higher scores, and this is likely to affect reading culture”, he said.
Adamu suggested that at minimum, the marks should tally with the 40 per cent pass marks obtainable in tertiary institutions to pressurise applicants into putting in their best.
Mr Dauda Pikawi, a lecturer with the Kaduna State College of Education, Gidan Waya, described the development as “counter-productive” to the nation’s quest for quality and functional education.
According to him, lowering the cut-off marks is synonymous to lowering the standard of the already degenerated education in the country.
“This is a country where the Colleges of Education that produce the teachers that would teach the nation’s population are the ones allotted the least entry point.
Disturbingly, for 2022 admission, the cut-off marks for Colleges of Education, the teacher training institutions, is as low as 100 out of 400 points.
“In Malaysia and other countries, students with the highest points are the ones admitted into Teachers’ Colleges, while those with lower points are admitted for professional fields in the university and other institutions,” he said.
He advised JAMB to set a benchmark of 200 as entry points to all tertiary institutions in the country to maintain standard across the board, stressing that no educational institution was less than the other.
“Our experience in the classroom is very pathetic, with most students still struggling to understand simple parts of speech.
“The worst are those in Colleges of Education where the worst performing applicants, both in secondary certificate examinations and UTME, are admitted,” he said.
Also, Mr Daniels Akpan, Executive Director, African Centre for Education Development (CLEDA Africa) said that lowering the cut-off marks would discourage students from studying hard.
“This also means that the lecturers will be struggling to teach students who are not mentally ready for tertiary education, and the circle of churning out half-baked graduates continues.
“You do not help people by lowering standards; you help them by raising the standard, which is more sustainable, particularly in Nigeria, where we need functional education to move the country forward,” he said.
Akpan also said that the universities and other tertiary institutions would be overwhelmed with applications for admission due to the low cut-off marks that would result in tight competition for space.
“This development, if not checked, will breed corruption and sharp practices among the students and admission officers in the various tertiary institutions,” he added.
Dr Mansur Buhari of the Department of Modern European Languages and Linguistics, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, said lowering of cut-off marks by JAMB, amounted to “exchanging quality for quantity” in tertiary institutions.
“The cut-off mark reduction affects the quality of students admitted as the standard of education keeps declining due to mainly poor learning atmosphere.
“Another thing is that with this decision, JAMB seems to be much more interested in making profit than ensuring quality.
“This is because the decision may only encourage more ‘customers’ rather than producing quality candidates to sit for the examination.
“An example is how the examination body is seen bragging about how much billions in revenue being made from sales of forms and other add-ons for the candidates”, he said
However, Malam Isma’ila Muhammad, from Federal College of Education, Gidan Madi, Sokoto, said although JAMB and other stakeholders are empowered to determine the minimum UTME score for admission, tertiary institutions still had the choice of increasing their points.
“Years ago, before UTME became completely computer-based, JAMB considers curriculum changes in pegging cut-off points.
“The level of changes in curriculum normally affects the learner’s performance as every new development in curriculum calls for adjustments in instruction.
“Implementation (coverage) of syllabi is also a factor; JAMB considers the extent of curriculum coverage across the federation; prolonged strikes, vacations, availability of subventions, manpower and school safety, are all factor”, he said.
Muhammad added that the JAMB must determine cut-off points according to the realities on ground.
Also, Mr Ibrahim Binji, a lecturer with the Sokoto State University, said lowering of university cut-off marks had no serious impact on the university system, provided the learning and supervision mechanism remained intact.
He said when the students were admitted, all the initial grades would be kept aside and the students would have to struggle to achieve minimum standards for retention, continuation and graduation in whatever course of study.
According to him, lowering the cut off marks will not have serious impacts on the system, so long as standards and procedures during the learning process are not altered to subdue the graduation requirements.
Another University Don, Dr Danladi Sokoto, said the entrance procedures should not be so lenient to the extent of over-populating tertiary institutions , especially the universities.
Sokoto, who is a lecturer in the Geography Department of Federal University, Futsinma, Katsina state, stressed the need to safeguard the minimum entrance standards and routine measurements of students performance.
Also, Prof. Habu Mohammed, lecturer at the Political Science Department, Bayero University, Kano (BUK), said lowering of UTME cut-off marks would not affect quality of tertiary education in the country.
“This year, most of the candidates failed, according to statistics, and that is why JAMB lowered the cut-off points for entrance into tertiary institutions.
“So, for universities, instead of the normal 180 been the general entry points, they reduced it to 140.
“That has nothing to do with the quality of tertiary education; standard for admission by the universities will not change,” he argued.
He pointed out that big universities will start admission with normal 180 as entry point; they will only admit those with marks below 180 after accepting those with points above 180, if they still have spaces,” he said.
In Gusau, the Dean, Faculty of Education, Federal University, Dr Bashir Sulaiman, is also of the view that lowering UTME cut-off marks has no adverse effects.
According to him, the minimum 140 mark is average, and that when average students get in to the university, some of them might improve.
A Senior Lecturer, Federal College of Education (Technical), Gusau, Mr Nasiru Zabarma, said lowering the marks will give ample opportunities for the teeming youths to secure admission into universities.
Dr Muttaqha Rabe-Darma, a senior lecturer with the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Bayero University, Kano, said there must be set standard for quality to be achieved, otherwise the purpose of the UTME would be defeated.
“If JAMB continues to change the cut-off marks, it means the UTME is not even a valid thing in our education system, then it should be scrapped ”, he suggested.