Indeed, this was the main point of the August 22 meeting. Tertiary institutions in Nigeria are the ones to determine their own admissions process. Cut off marks are to be fixed by the Senate of each institution, not JAMB. What JAMB has created through the CAPS is an open market that empowers admission-seekers, promotes healthy competition and provides an avenue for students to raise queries when they feel they may have been short-changed. The insistence on reporting is to aid transparency and data collection, we were told.
If this works, in no time, every tertiary institution will establish its own brand equity. As is the case elsewhere, the labour market in Nigeria will soon begin to differentiate between the students who graduated from a school that admits with 100 over 400 marks and another school whose cut off mark is as high as 250, in the same manner in which there is a marked difference in the UK between a graduate of Metropolitan University and a graduate of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. This differentiation in quality and standards is perhaps long-needed in the Nigerian education market.
That is as far as the meeting went, and the report of what I saw and heard. My real concern, and a probable justification for the outcry over the reduction of cut–off marks below the average score is, however, traceable to the fact that Nigeria’s education system is now terribly commercialized and unequal. The law of supply and demand is probably at the root of the politics of cut-off marks. We have more than 524 institutions looking not for students but customers! Ordinarily, most students want to attend elite schools and the Federal institutions, which charge subsidized fees. For instance, Federal Universities charge as low as N35, 000, the state universities about N150, 000-N200, 000, and the private universities as much as N750, 000.
The competition for space in the schools with lower fees is much higher, often leaving the ones with expensive school fees with fewer applicants. While the more economically attractive schools can afford to have high cut off marks, it is not impossible that lower cut-off marks would attract more students to the less patronized schools! The implication is not far to seek. Beyond the policy meeting of August 22, and all expressed good intentions, and regardless of the choice of the stakeholders, therefore, JAMB’s next and biggest challenge, in my view, is to ensure that market forces do not ultimately subvert quality and standards in the tertiary education sector. It is also up to parents to determine the kind of school that they want their children to attend, and for every institution to choose between mediocrity and excellence.