People & Money

Is UTME Still Worth the Hassle?

The 2022 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) began on May 6 and is scheduled to run until May 16. During this time, around 1.7 million candidates seeking admission into Nigeria’s tertiary institutions will write the examination that will partly determine their fate. Founded in 1978 by the military regime of Olusegun Obasanjo, the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) manages the UTME and coordinates the admission process of the over 400 tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

While a unified, national entrance examination was created 44 years ago with good intentions, it is now time to question the relevance of the examination today to determine whether to retain or scrap it. According to JAMB’s website, “By 1974, there were seven (7) Federal Universities… Every one of these…conducted its own concessional examination and admitted its students. However, this system of admission revealed serious limitations and… waste of resources in the process of administering the concessional examination, especially on the part of the candidates.”

Whenever a programme is created to address a problem, it is crucial that the programme is assessed at intervals to determine whether the programme has proven to be the solution it was intended to be. While this is not something we regularly do in Nigeria, I propose that we perform an impact assessment test on the UTME. Has the examination meant an end to tertiary institutions conducting their own concessional examination? Has it curbed the cost of admission for candidates?

It’s true that the UTME’s precursor examinations, the University Matriculation Examination (UME) and Polytechnics and Colleges of Education (PCE), did, for a while, serve as the only entrance examinations into Nigeria’s various tertiary institutions. Candidates sat these examinations with the assurance that they would be guaranteed admission into their preferred course and university by scoring a certain score. JAMB would simply mail admission letters to candidates who made the cut-off marks, and the candidates would proceed to their universities to begin their studies. No lobbying or prayer was needed.

My dad still remembers how seamless his entry into the University of Ife was in 1986. By the time I was heading to university in 2006, things had changed and all the universities were introducing friction into the process. Making cut-off marks did not guarantee entry and one was required to write what the universities called post-UME (and from 2010, post-UTME). Even passing the post-UTME did not guarantee admission and in many universities, lobbying and prayers were required to make it onto the admission lists.

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Despite the fact that there are way more candidates than our higher institutions are able to admit, JAMB has consistently lowered its general cut-off marks for admission. In 2021, the cut-off admission was a mere 100 out of 400, or 25%. What’s the point of an examination system that treats 25% as its pass mark? It’s difficult to continue to argue that the UTME has remained relevant in the admission system when someone with a score of 150 could be admitted ahead of a candidate with a score of 250.

In 2018, less than 45.6% of admitted candidates scored 200 and above in UTME. In the 1980s and 1990s, when JAMB entrance examinations still mattered, this would have been unheard of. In fact, in its shameless defense of the debasement of its own examination, JAMB said its examination was “not an achievement test. It is not a qualifying examination; rather, it is a ranking examination.” But how is it a ranking system when the ranks are not respected by JAMB and the institutions?

Furthermore, the “general untidiness” of the old admission system that necessitated the establishment of JAMB has also afflicted UTME in recent times. From the points of registration to the examination centres, JAMB has displayed huge inconsistency in the quality of its service. While its deployment of the computer-based test (CBT) since 2013 has been effective in reducing examination malpractices that had hitherto besmirched the credibility of the examination, the teething problems associated with the CBT are legion and continue to affect the performance of candidates.

This year, thousands of candidates across the country faced technical problems with the complicated registration process for UTME and instead of sympathizing with the candidates and addressing their problems, JAMB blamed the candidates themselves for 100% of the problem. By the way, this has been the situation in recent years- candidates face problems, JAMB blames them.

There are also many issues associated with the conduct of the examination itself. This includes the limited number of examination centres across the country which force candidates to travel out of town in many cases to write the examination. Some candidates are also scheduled way too early in the morning. This year, some candidates missed their 7am examination slot due to heavy rain that limited mobility in their locality. JAMB has insisted that it would not give these candidates another chance at writing their examination. This inflexibility is difficult to understand considering unfavourable and unpredictable weather conditions and the long distances candidates had to travel to reach the centres. These candidates will waste one year at home because our admission system depends on a single, inflexible examination system.

With the foregoing, isn’t it high time we reassessed the relevance of UTME? What are we going to lose by scrapping this examination and letting the schools themselves conduct their own examination? We can retain JAMB to monitor and regulate the processes in the schools.

Sodiq Alabi

Sodiq Alabi is a communications practitioner and analyst who has experience in leading and supporting communication processes. He has expertise in organising media events, preparing reports, creating content, and managing websites and social media platforms.

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