In this piece, Head, Education Desk IYABO LAWAL writes on the age limit imposed on potential admission seekers into the various public universities in the country. To many Nigerians, it is a retrogressive measure by the institutions that anybody under 16 years cannot become a university student.

At 14, gangly and shy, Tochukwu Nwafor had already completed his secondary school education. He was as tall as a 16-year-old. Following a successful outing in his West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), the sky was his limit. For a certainty, young Nwafor was precocious. His parents’ face had lit with pride and fulfilment – that their beloved son would likely complete his first degree by the age of 18. While they entered into the admission of a federal university in the South-East with grace, they emerged with grief. The verdict: the university would not accept Nwafor because of his age.

Elsewhere in the South-West, Mrs Edara Udoh was cursing under breath as she said: “Rich and influential people brought their children that are not even as old as my daughter for admission and they were approved. My daughter is 15 years old and they said she has to wait one more year to seek admission into the university. What kind of system is this?

“Is it a crime for my daughter to be brilliant and be ready to gain university admission at 15? Whatever happens to ‘catch ‘em young’? And we say youths are the leaders of tomorrow. Please, I am begging the university authorities not dash my hope and that of my daughter.”

Faith Oyende, Lagos State University’s best graduating science student in 2017 further illustrates the angst of those denied admission by Nigerian universities because of age. Twice, young Oyende was denied admission into a university because he had not attained the age of 16. She eventually graduated at the age of 21 having studied Biochemistry and graduated with a 4.68 cumulative grade point average, (CGPA), to emerge the best graduating student.

When asked about her story, she stated: “It is a long story. I actually wanted to become a medical doctor. But I was denied admission at the University of Lagos, (UNILAG), and LASU because I was not yet 16 years old. Having finished secondary school at the age of15, I wrote and passed the Joint Admission Matriculation Board Examination. But during post-JAMB test, I was told I must have attained 16 years on or before October 1, 2011.” Unfortunately for her, she did not turn 16 until January 1, 2012.

In September 2018, the issue of age limit for university admission seekers came up again when 15-year-old Orisheneye Okorogheye sat for the May/June 2018 WASSCE, made A1 in all his subjects and could not be admitted into the university, not a few Nigerians are wondering if the nation’s ivory tower are progressive and futuristic in their thinking regarding their admission policy.

Although the 16 years age limit requirement for university admission has no legal backing, it has become the gold standard for some universities in Nigeria, which had in their post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) advertorial stated that “candidates, who will not be 16 years of age by October 31, 2018, are not eligible and need not apply.”

It is little wonder that the brilliant youngster, Okorogheye, was stopped in his tracks while trying to apply to UNILAG despite scoring 332 in the 2018 UTME.
Said to be an indigene of Delta State from Warri North Local Council, Okorogheye graduated from Starfields School, Iju and he had wanted to study Neurosurgery at the university. A cloudy, retrogressive educational policy has momentarily beclouded that shiny ambition.

As of September 2018, the estimated population of Nigeria is about 200 million, according to the United Nations with an average of 17.9 years. Most of that is a young population, with 42.54 per cent between the ages of one and 14. There is also a very high dependency ratio of the country at 88.2 dependents per non-dependents.Against the backdrop of the statistics, education experts argue that the continued implementation of the age-limit policy is a waiting disaster. With more and more vibrant and precocious kids completing their primary and secondary education earlier than ever imagined in the past and the universities shooing them away, claiming that they must be 16 years old before they can be fit to learn at the ivory tower, the Nigerian government should not wait until many of these kids become despondent.

The Director of Studies at Starfields, Chris Eigbe, had argued that people like Okorogheye should be given a scholarship and admission into the university so as to achieve their dreams at a young age.Similarly, the Vice Chancellor of Caleb University, Prof. Ayandiji Aina, pointed out that children with exceptional performance should be given a waiver. According to him, using age limit to momentarily halt their academic momentum might not be good for the nation and the individuals.

Aina stated: “I think the law in place states that you have to be 16 years before you are allowed entry into the university. But I think there should be an exception to every rule particularly for exceptionally brilliant students.”

However, an education consultant, Mrs. Busola Adegbaju, thinks differently. She posited: “The national curriculum and age range should be followed as it is a yardstick for admission into any academic institution. At a certain age, a child is expected to exhibit some skills morally, intellectually, emotionally and socially. I can assure you that the standard of education should be maintained following the national curriculum that will produce a total child who will in turn face future challenges that may not be academic related.”

As the issue has become a recurring decimal, experts have called on the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to avert the looming disaster of wasting the brains of young, vibrant and scholarly youngsters. Three years ago, education stakeholders had engaged in spirited arguments – for and against – the age-limit admission policy by the universities. The age limit has become a norm with the exception of few universities admitting admission seekers as young as 14 and 15 years old.

For Dada Olanrewaju, a career guidance counsellor, the dynamic nature of contemporary society and the attendant globalisation are some of the factors responsible for the diverse changes witnessed along this line. Maintaining that 16 is still a reasonable age for a student to gain admission into a university, Olanrewaju, however, regretted that some parents and institutions have abused the policy.

“Globalisation has made students very smart in learning, due to the introduction of advanced learning gadgets, as well as the Internet. But it is not always advisable to allow students below the age of 18 into the universities owing to the fact that, most of them possess low Intelligent Quotient (IQ) and cannot meet up with the demands of the society,” he stated.

Arguing further, Olanrewaju noted: “Admitting students below the approved age could also lead to stress and mental instability. Some of these students are just not equal to the multi-tasking nature of life in higher institutions. We have seen a case at the University of Lagos where a student went berserk because his mental capacity was incapable of assimilating what he was learning and getting used to the way of life in the university.”

Adding another but familiar twist to the issue, an educationist, Adewunmi Peter, would rather accuse the elites of abusing the age limit in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions using their financial muscle. Peter claimed that 60 per cent of students below the stipulated age limit in different schools are children of the rich, whose parents could afford to spirit them through schools to acquire degrees at a tender age.

“However,” he said, “one thing they fail to understand is that these children are barely matured for some of the stages they find themselves. Nonetheless, the fast learners among them assimilate easily in terms of academics, while some of them are just unserious and end up becoming a bunch of nuisance. Yet, Peter admitted: “The good thing is that some of these students end up achieving their life’s ambition in good time, while their parents also put off the burden of funding their education quite early in life.”

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