THE Minister of Education, Prof. Tahir Mamman, on Monday, said the Federal Government is considering the adoption of 18 years as the entry age for admission into universities and other tertiary institutions of learning.

The minister also accused underage students of being responsible for some of the problems being encountered in higher institutions.

The President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, described the proposition by the Federal Government as a welcome development.

“We are in full support. It is the right thing. What the minister said is the correct thing,” ASUU President told our correspondent in an interview.

He added, “The issue of age benchmark is not a new thing. It’s just that regulators have not been doing their work.

“In those days, you could not go to primary school if you were not six years old. Then you spend six years and finish at age 12; and then  by the time you get to secondary school you spend six years and then you graduate by 18,” Oshodeke explained.

The standard admission age currently set by most tertiary institutions in the country is 16 years unless a candidate is certified as gifted.

In 2021, the Senate announced plans to amend the law establishing the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, to limit the age of a candidate sitting the UTME to 16 years and above.

The then Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Basic Education, Senator Akon Eyakenyi, indicated during the committee’s oversight visit to JAMB, saying this would prevent underage from participating in the examination, to gain admission into universities in Nigeria.

But Mamman, speaking while monitoring the ongoing Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination in Abuja, cautioned parents against pushing their children and wards ‘too much’.

This, he said, would allow them to attain some level of maturity to be able to better manage their affairs.

The PUNCH reports that about 1,985,642 candidates are to sit 2024 UTME of the JAMB, which commenced on Friday, April 19, and would end on Monday, April 29.

Speaking during the inspection of one of the centres of the examination on Monday, the minister added, “The other thing which we notice is the age of those who have applied to go to the university. Some of them are too young. We are going to look at it because they are too young to understand what a university education is all about.

“That’s the stage when students migrate from a controlled environment where they are in charge of their own affairs. So if they are too young, they won’t be able to manage properly. That accounts for some of the problems we are seeing in the universities.

“We are going to look at that; 18 is the entry age for university but you will see students, 15, and 16, going to the examination. It is not good for us. Parents should be encouraged not to push their wards or children too much.”

The minister commended the JAMB for a seamless examination process, noting that the adoption of technology had helped in reducing the cases of examination practices.

“Right from screening to those who are here, the examination process is seamless. The environment is comfortable for students. That’s how it should be, especially the use of technology in our affairs and the educational system. It makes life easy for everybody and seamless.

“As we know this examination is going on throughout the country. It is being monitored everywhere seamlessly and from the report I have heard, the malpractice level is very low – just 100 out of the 1.2 million. It has gone down drastically and I believe that it is the use of technology that has made that happen, so this is very good,” he said.

Commenting on the high number of candidates seeking admission into the tertiary institutions with limited slots available, Mamman maintained that skills acquisition remains a critical component in preparing the youth for a brighter future.

“It is not a question of being employed but how many will be admitted from this set. I think the figure overall on average is about 20 per cent; universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.

“The question you ask is, where are the 80 per cent? They are our children, our wards living with us. This is why the issue of skills acquisition is important because any student who is not able to proceed to tertiary education should have a meaningful life, even after secondary school, or even primary education.

“The only solution to that is skills; by taking skills right from the time they are admitted into school, for the primary right through the educational trajectory. Somebody should finish with one skill or another. That is part of the assumption of the 6-3-3-4 educational system.

“It is assumed that by the time a student finishes up to the JSS level, he would have acquired some skills. If he did not proceed to the senior secondary level, he would have acquired some skills that would help him navigate life and cease to be a burden on his parents and society.

“That’s why skill is just the most important skill for us now that we are going to drive through the education sector for both public and private sector to empower the young ones.”

Minister of State for Education, Dr Tanko Sununu, announced that the UTME was ongoing in Saudi Arabia, as a result of the standards set by JAMB’s management, noting that the examination had transcended to a high level of objectivity and reliability of results.

“Right from when the candidates arrive, they would be seated comfortably in the waiting room, screening and other necessary instructions will be given and they will proceed to do biometrics.

“There are some instructions that will be pushed that even if you are just coming into contact with a computer for the first time, provided you have been using the handset or smartphone, that will properly guide you to have access.

“One of the major things I see here, which is a major characteristic of online exams, is the speed. The speed in the centre is really excellent; pages are turned as at when candidates need them without any delay of booting.

“Also in the exam, there are lots of steps to prevent examination malpractice. Adjacent candidates will be taking different subjects and even when you are answering the same questions, the question numbers will be different from the next person’s question numbers.

“The standard of the exam is commendable. I am not surprised that JAMB is conducting exams in other countries. Right now, the exam is also going (on) in Saudi Arabia.

“I have not heard people complaining that answers leaked, it shows that with online exams, we can do a lot,” he said.