Age limit for varsity admissions backward

26th April 2024

Tahir Mamman

Tahir Mamman

WHILE the Nigerian tertiary education landscape is plagued with problems that demand urgent attention, the Minister of Education, Tahir Mamman, seems interested in exploring a controversial policy. During his tour of the 2024 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination centres, Mamman said that the Federal Government is considering the adoption of 18 years as the entry age for admission into universities and other tertiary institutions. This is a backward proposal; it should be consigned to the dustbin.

Mamman’s grounds for this retrogressive proposal are that younger students are responsible for some of the challenges within the system. He suggests that they are not mature, unsuitable, and unable to manage their affairs.

He argues that some of these younger students are meant to remain in the controlled spaces of their parents rather than in the vibrant university environment. These arguments are fallacious.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities lends its support to the age benchmark. The President of ASUU, Emmanuel Osodeke, describes it as a welcome development and wants regulators to implement existing laws to enforce the age limit. This is overregulation. The position contradicts ASUU’s consistent activism for university autonomy as the age benchmark should be firmly within the purview of each university.

There is no guarantee that the policy will succeed. In Nigeria, parents will devise unwholesome means to circumvent it, as they are doing with the age policy to enter Federal Government Colleges.

The proposed policy can exclude younger, brilliant, and self-motivated students from admission into the universities of their choice.

In a digitalised world, the policy would drag Nigeria backward. Universities compete for the best in their admissions process. At inception, the Obafemi Awolowo University, in its wisdom, prescribed no age limit. There is nothing wrong with this.

For his brilliant performance, Oluwafemi Ositade, 17, a student at a secondary school in Ota, Ogun State, has just earned a Harvard University and 17 other Ivy League scholarships in the United States, Canada, and Qatar, amounting to $3.5 million. If the policy is implemented, that means Ositade would miss the golden chance. This is not logical.

One of the ills bedevilling tertiary education in Nigeria is the lack of autonomy. It is part of Nigeria’s flawed federalism in which the centre controls the affairs of the federating units in a master-servant relationship. Consequently, the Federal Government and the National Universities Commission render the authorities of universities redundant. This is ridiculous.

Therefore, rather than micro-managing tertiary institutions, the Federal Government should allow individual universities to determine the minimum age limit of their students.

In the United Kingdom, each university oversees its admissions. Swansea, Southampton, and Cardiff universities admit at age 16; Kent pegs it at 17 years. While the Open University admits at 16 years or lower, Cambridge prescribes an age of 18 for some courses, including medicine. Therefore, Mamman should face the real problems affecting education in Nigeria, especially the 20.2 million out-of-school children figure.

The tertiary institutions are bogged by shabby infrastructure and poor funding; in a dynamic world, their curricula are obsolete.There is a lecturer shortfall.

Nigeria’s universities rank low globally. In the 2023 Webometric ranking, the University of Ibadan, which ranked first in Nigeria, is 14th in sub-Saharan Africa, 21st in Africa, and 1,138th in the world. Cairo University (521) and the University of Cape Town (237) fare better on the impact, openness, and excellence criteria.

Despite the prevalence of incessant strikes and university closures, younger graduates have ample leverage in the labour market.

The Federal Government should look within. It creates problems by establishing more universities when it cannot adequately fund the existing ones. With better funding, the institutions will thrive. This deserves priority.

So, the age limit requirement is a chasing after the shadows, it must be dropped.


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