Last month, there were concerns raised by some Nigerians when it was reported that the University of Ilorin, during its 36th convocation, churned out 180 first class graduates out of the 10,922 graduating students in the 2019/2020 academic session.
While the figures of the graduating students have remained fairly stable over the last three years, hovering between 10,000 and 12,000, this year’s first class figures witnessed a geometric increase.
The preponderance of the figure was most prominent during the convocation as the university authorities tried to respond to the reality of the ‘pandemic’.
Among the 10,922 graduating students, only the 180 first class were allowed into the main auditorium venue of the programme. They were only joined by masters’ and PhD graduates. Checks by Daily Trust showed that at the last convocation in 2019, first class graduates were 130, out of 12,009 graduates, while the figure was 103 in 2018, from 12,108 graduates.
During the 34th convocation of the school in 2017, only 89 graduated with first class.
The trend in the university has shown a steady increase in the number of first class graduates over the years, and has generated a lot of comments, especially in regard to how difficult it was years back to graduate with first class.
While many congratulated the graduates, others raised concern on such a high number.
A Facebook user, Mustapha Akeem, commented on the report thus, “They just produced problems to Nigerians, called graduates. Nothing graduated in their upstairs.”
Another user, Yusuf Adedayo stated, “180 first class; wawu! Some sets were having less than 20 back then.”
Abdullateef Akanbi said, “Compared to 6 produced during my first degree (2009), we wish them the best.”
However, looking at the statistics across the country, the trend appears to be similar as most universities now have a geometric progression in the number of first class graduates yearly.
Daily Trust’s tally of 59 universities that have had their convocations between 2019 to 2021 indicated that 4,017 first class graduates were recorded from a total of 189,353 students.
Years back, private universities were ahead in this relatively new-found penchant for awarding first class to graduating students. The 2018/2019 convocation of the Covenant University, Ota in Ogun State announced 215 first class out of 1,580 graduates while the Afe Babalola University produced 99 first class out of 979 in 2019. In 2021, it produced 125 first class graduates out of 1,306 students.
Government-owned universities have also joined the trend. Aside the University of Ilorin records, the University of Lagos recorded 271 first class graduates in its 2018/2019 session, out of 6,992 students, and 281 out of 6,727 graduates in 2020, as well as 281 out of 15,735 in 2021.
Other universities with higher numbers include the University of Ibadan, which produced 214 out of 7,330 graduates in 2019; Usman Danfodio University, with 213 first class graduates out of 10,994; National Open University of Nigeria, with 103 out of 15,642 graduating students. The University of Port Harcourt recorded 106 out of the 4,771 (combined convocation) and University of Benin produced 100 out of 6,977
For 2020, the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta produced 113 out of 3,226 graduating students, while the Lagos State University produced 76 first class graduates. Modibbo Adama University produced 131 out of 12,786 graduates while other universities have less than a hundred in most of the sessions.
Some educators who spoke to Daily Trust believe the process of awarding a first class degree has been commercialised in the spirit of competition.
A professor at the University of Abuja, Ben Ugwoke, blamed the spike in the award of first class degrees on the school managements’ desire to make their graduates “competitive.”
“I suspect that various universities are now in the habit of giving first class to many graduates just to increase their employability. I am not too sure it reflects their academic abilities,” he said
Speaking on the implication of this, Dr Ugwoke said, “If you want to destroy a country, all you need do is to lower the standard of education; and that is what we are seeing now. If you give a first class to someone not deserving it, the public, the employer will view them as first class students.”
He explained that because to whom much is given much is also expected, such students “will be placed in some serious positions to make decisions on behalf of the system, and if truly they are not first class graduates, their decisions can never be first class; their decision will be faulty, and that will be calamitous for the entire country.”
Professor Salihu Ingawa of the University of Abuja pointed out that the certificate had been commercialised, saying, “They pay for the first class, as everything has a prize. The lecturers now collect all manner of bribes because their salaries are never enough. So this gives room for those that can afford to pay for marks or grade to penetrate the system.
“Our university system has collapsed and being abused, so there is no way to move forward. The institutions are the weakest link and not powerful to implement policies; and that portends trouble.”
He also noted that just as the process of issuing first class degrees has been abused, it is the same for professorships.
“The biggest problem is that private universities are harvesting lecturers from public universities, so they get the tradition of what they are doing so that they can spread it out.
“Public universities are now granting undeserved qualifications to students in order to prove that they are up there with lecturers of private universities. Our institutions have cracks, and an inevitable collapse is looming if it is not corrected,” he said.
Prof Ingawa, however, said that to address this, “We have to strengthen the institution and establish due process, rule of law and establish policy implementation 100 per cent.”
Chigozie Aganigbo, a lecture in the Enugu State University of Technology believes that a lot has been compromised and the system needs to be revamped.
He, however, noted that these days, students are better informed because with their phones and other gadgets, they have access to the internet easily, which helps them better than what obtained in those days. He added that the learning condition has changed and made better.
For Professor Nasiru Idris of the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, the reason some universities are producing first class graduates these days might not be unconnected with the fact that some private and new generation institutions in the country have 21st century facilities, especially with the introduction of information technology equipment.
He said most of the courses were laboratory-based, coupled with communication skills due to internet access, as well as cheaper technologies at the disposal of most students today, which make it easier to produce first class materials.
For universities awarding degrees to undeserved graduates, he said, “Let me refer you to the NUC BMAS, where you have lower courses at science and arts faculties and other borrowed courses across the university. How would all these lecturers compromise?”
While noting that there are quality assurance committees at the departmental, faculty level and others, he said universities were doing their best to checkmate all lapses, but added that sometimes, as human beings they can’t be perfect.
He said there was the need to review monitoring and evaluation of all activities regarding examinations from time to time. He added that the appointment of competent persons at various levels in the university system is required at all times.
By: Chidimma C. Okeke, Haruna Ibrahim (Abuja) & Mumini AbdulKareem (Ilorin)