Concerns over freshmen’s inability to cope with studies
Recent rustication of students from various universities across the country due to their inability to meet the minimum academic requirements needed to proceed to another level of their programmes is a source of worry to stakeholders, UJUNWA ATUEYI writes.
Fresh concerns are arising over the dismissal of university students who could not meet the academic requirements needed to continue in their various disciplines. To start with the most recent, in January this year, the management of Federal University of Technology, Minna (FUTMINNA), issued withdrawal letters to about 460 students of the institution directing them to leave the institution without further delay.
The Guardian learnt that all the affected students were in 100-level and could not meet the requirements set for students to advance to the next level of the academic ladder by the National Universities Commission (NUC). The report stated that the rusticated students could not earn a 1.5 Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) at the end of the session and, by virtue of the NUC guidelines, they could not continue their programmes.
Information Officer of the university, Lydia Legbo, according to reports, informed that the students were asked to withdraw from the university due to poor academic performance, adding that the affected students were warned to be dedicated to their studies when they were offered admission.
Also, towards the tail end of February, about 100 students were rusticated from the University of Ibadan (UI), Oyo State, by the Senate of the institution. Report has it that the students were withdrawn because they were unable to obtain the minimum academic requirements at the end of the 2014/15 session. Information from the school’s bulletin, as signed by the Registrar, Olujimi Olukoya, shows that three out of 100 students voluntarily withdrew from the institution.
The statement read, “Senate at its meeting approved that the candidates whose names appear on this list should withdraw from the university for failure to obtain the minimum academic requirements at the end of 2014/2015 session.”
This, however, is not the first time the institution is taking such step as previous report shows that students had been withdrawn in the past over poor academic performance.
At Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE), Effurun, Warri, Delta State, the story is also the same, as over 150 students were recently dismissed from the institution due to poor academic performance.
However, the trend is giving many observers concerns and they call to question if undergraduates are truly aware of what awaits them, in the event that they fail to meet the standard benchmark required for academic progression. Their worries centre on what could become of a society still battling to widen access to higher education for its teeming youth, when those who have already gained access are being dismissed. This is even outside of those being rusticated for misconduct, examination malpractices, moral indiscipline or other social vices.
A lawyer, Jide Richard Lawson, who spoke with The Guardian on the issue wondered if there was nothing else schools could do other than outright dismissal, noting that the practice may not be good for the society. For him, reassigning the affected students to other programmes according to their capabilities would have been a better option than dismissing them to join the army of idle youth roaming the streets.
Lawson also argued whether the school authorities and university teachers were doing enough to sensitise students on the new grading system and the need to be on top of their game.
He said, “I read on the pages of newspapers about the rustication of some undergraduates on the ground that they could not meet the required academic benchmark. And then I wondered, is that the best solution? If these children truly passed through the hassles and tussles of WAEC, UTME and then post-UTME to gain admission in their various fields, then something is wrong somewhere.
“Again, I do not know the strength of guidance and counseling units in our higher institutions. I also do not know if these children are properly informed of the implication with regards to the new grading system; if not, schools should step up the awareness campaign so that these children would be careful.
“If you ask me, I would suggest that managers of our tertiary institutions should reconsider the option of rustication on the ground of poor academic performance. Instead, the affected students should be redistributed to other programmes, according to their abilities.”
Recall that the minimum Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) required to maintain studentship in Nigerian universities in the past was 1.0 until National Universities Commission (NUC) abolished the Pass degree from the grading and classification of degrees and pegged the minimum CGPA at 1.5 under the new grading policy.
Though many claim that the new grading system became effective in 2012, Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof. Julius Okojie, had actually informed during a one-day workshop on the review of the grading system in Nigerian University System last year, saying the policy was introduced in 2006. It was revisited late 2012 and 2015 respectively, when the commission observed that some institutions were implementing the directive discretionally.
A student whose CGPA falls below 1.5 under the new grading regime would, in the language of academics, be ‘advised to withdraw.’ That is a terminology for sending away students classified as performing below par.
When The Guardian contacted him on the issue, Dean, Student Affairs of FUPRE, Warri, Dr. Rim-Rukeh Akpofure, regretted that some students who were admitted on merit could not prove their competence. According to him, “At the moment, if I want to be conservative, about 150 students are out. At FUPRE, when we are confronted with any challenge we try to find out why. We try to x-ray this challenge. Students who came to us with five, six, seven and even eight credits, some with A1s and wonderful grades, only to get to year one in the university and ordinary Chemistry 101 they could not pass.
“We are worried about where the problem is coming from. Some claim it is social media distraction; others say they did not actually earn the grades that brought them to the university in the first place. But there is nothing we can do; the law says if you have your CGPA below 1.5, you have to leave”.
Akpofure who affirmed that the school has a functional guidance and counseling unit that helps students on probation, confessed that the issue should indeed bother the entire society.
He submitted, “For me, I think the society and parents need to worry about the situation where a student who scored A1 in Chemistry could not even get a pass grade in Chemistry 101. Some of the parents of these rusticated students came to complain that ‘their wards do not even read at home. He is always on the phone chatting with his friends’. That for me is a confirmation of the school’s decision. So, I personally advised them to take their child home, counsel and ask the child basics questions”.
However, still on what could be responsible for freshmen’s inability to meet the set standard, Vice Chancellor of Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU), Prof. Sola Fajana, said a number of factors account for it.
According to Fajana, “First is pre-entry factor. This arises from poor reliability index of the tests that was used to admit the students. There was a case at University of Lagos of a student who had won the highest score at the national level in JAMB for a particular year. The candidate was offered admission to study Accounting. This student was withdrawn on account of poor academic performance after spending only two semesters in the university.
“This anomaly of poor correlation between UTME score and performance on the programmes prompted the university to introduce post-UTME screening which later gained wide adoption in all higher institutions in Nigeria.
“Secondly, in-course factors such as irregularity in the institution’s calendar causing trauma and accentuating drop in the concentration of students at their studies. There are distractions arising from negative peer pressure, loss of focus, indulgence in drugs, inappropriate study habits, and other preferred lifestyles that predispose students to poor performance”.
On Programme Management Intervention factor, he said, “The lowest grade possible in each course in Nigerian university system is 1.0 for the score of 40-44. A preponderance of such scores would lead to a pass degree, a degree classification which has been recently abolished in Nigeria. To remedy the situation and encourage students to attain at least a Third Class degree, the CGPA of 1.5 is imposed by most universities to retain studentship. Consequently, a technical pass of 1.0 amounts to a functional failure. Hence, it is expedient to ask students scoring less than CGPA of 1.5 to withdraw.”
On how students who perform below standard should be handled, Fajana explained, “At JABU, our strategy for managing cases of students scoring between CGPA of 1.0 and 1.5 is to withdraw them from the courses they have attempted and give them a chance in another programme, provided such students possess the requisite requirements for admission into the new course. This is in recognition and appreciation of the demand for higher education in Nigeria, and the resolve of our university to enlarge the access of a large number of the candidates to higher education. Those who have failed in their first course(s) and have no luck in other programmes within the university are encouraged to seek transfer elsewhere, possibly to other universities”.
A professor in a private university, who does not want to be named, said rustication is one of the rules and regulations enshrined on students’ handbook. And one of the things it touches is examination malpractice, misconduct, inability to meet up with academic requirement and many others.
“So, if a student or group of students are rusticated they are being punished for their offence, and they know about it because those are set rules. And so it serves them right, because they were warned before the time. It is common practice that students would come to the university and would have CGPA as low as 0.9. That individual is not supposed to be called a student because it means that he or she played all through.
“So it is very important that students be made to understand what they are doing so that if really there is a sanction they will learn from it, because they were warned. Even in foreign universities this is also applicable. If students are discovered to be performing below the standard, most of the time, they are asked to withdraw”.