Curbing rising fraud in university admissions
A dark cloud of fraud is hanging over the tertiary education admissions process in Nigeria. Completely bewildered about this, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board is blaming key stakeholders, including universities and Computer Based Test centre operators. In what has become an annual ritual, JAMB caught hundreds of cheats in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination in 2020. This is all about the crooked, complex network of connivance between some mercantile JAMB officials and desperate admission seekers ready to pay any price to secure fake tickets to the higher institutions.
Essentially, the integrity of tertiary education, including universities and polytechnics, is at stake. Reviewing the last UTME, JAMB Registrar, Is-haq Oloyede, decried the fact that “over 400 candidates were involved” in malpractices. That is a grim warning sign of the rising fraud in admissions to the ivory tower. The gangrene is now spreading up North, hitherto considered a safe haven. In 2020, 96 CBTs abetted the fraudsters, some of who engage in the malpractices with their parents. That is setting a dangerously immoral precedent for the youth, who would wrongly assume that cheating can buy success.
In this nefarious network, tutorial centres rank prominently. “Tutorial operators are causing damage to education, because parents are just there because of results (they churned out) in previous years, so they go to any extent to get good results,” Oloyede explained. “They are not teaching these students anything, they are faking results for them, their work is to corrupt the system.” It is time to cut them to size.
In fairness, JAMB has introduced several measures to safeguard the integrity of the UTME, including biometrics and CCTV cameras at the CBT centres. The CCTV has been used to nab some mercenaries who hide in toilets, only to come out during the examination to impersonate the original candidates. This happens with the connivance of the invigilators in the CBT centres, some of whom are JAMB officials.
Since 2019, the examination body has banned key holders, erasers, ATM cards, watches, biro, spy reading glasses, earpiece, recorder and camera. All of them are proved cheating devices. A lot of money exchanges hands during this macabre ritual. Annually, JAMB punishes the CBT centres linked to cheating by suspending their accreditation. One hundred of 687 CBT centres got the axe in May 2019; 48 in 2017 and 38 in 2020. Interestingly, this has not served as enough deterrent because desperate candidates still devise a way out.
Part of JAMB’s limitation is that it owns only a tiny fraction of the CBT centres. Of the 702 accredited CBT centres in the country, only 16 are owned by JAMB, 223 are owned by public institutions and private operators run the rest. Oloyede says that JAMB does not possess the financial muscle to prosecute all the suspects, saying that out of the 400 cheats in the net for 2020, only 200 will be charged officially.
But JAMB should not give up. In Nigeria, 1.99 million pupils registered for the UTME and Direct Entry in 2019. But in China, where an average of nine million candidates sits the gaokao (the equivalent of the UTME) annually, the education authorities work with the police and other security agencies to tackle cheating. Indeed, since 2014, when more than 120 cheats were apprehended, China has upgraded its system to weed out examination fraud. The technology-based measures include facial and fingerprint recognition systems; metal detectors to keep phones and other electronic devices out of the exam room; detectors that can find wireless earphones; vehicles and drones that block signals around a school; location monitors that determine the whereabouts of test papers, says inkstonenews.com, an arm of the South China Morning Post.
In Inner Mongolia, the authorities have discarded the traditional fingerprint verification system altogether because it has been undermined. Instead, the region deployed the finger vein recognition system. To eradicate online cheating, which has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic because of virtual learning, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have banned essay writing websites in their domains using legislation. Universities UK, the Russell Group of universities and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education in Britain, are supporting the call for legislation to ban essay-writing websites in the UK.
For a start, JAMB should ensure the prosecution of the cheats. It should consider naming and shaming the candidates, the CBT centres, the parents, the tutorial centres involved and the culpable universities. It should establish a data bank for culprits and ban them from re-sitting the UTME for some years. In China, high school cheats are suspended from the gaokao for three years, while university students who serve as impersonators are expelled. Since the biometrics system has been tainted, JAMB should upgrade it to the National Identification Number as soon as practicable.
Oloyede’s threat to withdraw the licences of private universities linked to examination fraud without applying the same sanction to public universities is discriminatory. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. This is controversial and it leaves the door open for public universities to persist in compromising the integrity of admissions. Therefore, punishment should be similar across the board. To solve the dilemma, the officials of the culpable institution should be prosecuted.
Cheating is also rampant in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination. In the university, there is a thriving racket for final year students writing their projects. To address the menace, the Examination Malpractices Act 1999 needs to be regularly reviewed in line with new realities. Longer jail terms and heftier fines should be included in the amendment.