Theophilus Femi Alawonde and James Chibor
Akilapa Janet* is a promising sophomore at the Department of Economics, University of Ibadan. Following a stellar performance in her first year, Janet was one of the first people to jump on the annual CHEVRON Scholarship. Having seen the scores for more than half of the courses she registered for in year one, Janet was sure that she would get one of the student supports out there – if not CHEVRON, she would get TOTAL, or the Federal Scholarship Board’s annual award. Janet sat the test, and she was shortlisted. It was at this stage that she was asked to present a copy of her transcript; and then did Janet’s many problems start.
As tempted as you are to wave off Janet’s story as yet another product of someone’s imaginative prowess, know that Janet is the name and the face for the scores of students whose hopes — of winning a scholarship, securing an internship placement or tapping into any other transcript-required opportunity — have been dashed. Transcript processing has always been an issue, one which the school management must have thought a unified Result Management System would solve. Two sessions into the use of a Unified Result Management System, and students seem to be facing worse problems than before. The malaise with the way students’ transcripts are processed brings about the loss of big-time opportunities.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s inflation rate jumped to 17.33 percent in February 2021, the highest reading since February 2017. This marks the 18th consecutive month of rising inflation, as the coronavirus crisis led to a plunge in oil prices and a weaker naira, raising the general cost of living. In simpler terms, things are now more expensive than they have ever been (pardon the obviousness). Food, transport, healthcare, housing… you name it; prices are skyrocketing and sadly, this does not exclude education.
In the University of Ibadan, asides from the recent increases in fees, there has been the creation of new categories of fees. There is the technology fee which is general, and an exorbitant professional health training levy for those in the Clinical Sciences. As if that were not enough, there are memos issuing an accelerated deadline for payments to students, with threats of deactivation of defaulters from the school’s Learning Management System (LMS) for good measure.
What about the peculiarities of this virtual semester? A time where even lecturers are complaining about data expenses; a time where agents and landlords have taken broad daylight extortion to new heights. All these, being considered, Thus, the issue of scholarships and grants ceases to be a matter of luxury but one of survival.
The claim that it is customary for high-flying students to try the hands at the myriad of scholarship opportunities that are always available early then ceases to look concocted. Students are actively seeking for scholarship opportunities, and they are doing so in their large numbers. Due to the preference of many of these scholarship boards for 200-level and 300-level students, those who often fall victims of the slow transcript processing are students in these levels. Most scholarships are merit-based, and to create a level playing ground, they demand transcripts of the applicants amongst other documents for identification. It is therefore beyond saddening that what severs students away from juicy financial help is something that their department is capable of working on; something they have the right to possess in the first place.
According to the survey conducted in the course of this investigation, 77.7% of our respondents had at one time or the other lost scholarship opportunities due to issues involving the processing of transcripts. Imagine losing out on what could have been a financial lifeline not because you do not have the required grades or did not pass the aptitude test, but because you don’t have the documents to prove those grades. And since most of these opportunities are time-sensitive, the slow processing described by the participants does little to help their cases. These opportunities are not only limited to monetary aid, there are also issues involving internships that went down the drain due to failure to process the necessary documents.
In the University of Ibadan, some students have yet to see their transcripts since they started their academic journey. All that they have as proof of their studenthood are the not-so-trustworthy scores on their Result Management System portal — not so trustworthy because the RMS is popular for the erroneous computation of students’ results. How exactly does this issue come about when the Senate sets apart some time to review students’ results? According to collated data, at least eight departments in six of the sixteen faculties at the University of Ibadan either fail to issue transcripts to students at the end of the session, or they do the issuing in a sluggish manner, so sluggish that it ends up hampering students’ chances of making use of their transcripts.
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After each end-of-session senate sitting, what is expected is that each student will either have access to their transcript online or through their course advisor, but that is not always the case. In our discourse with some aggrieved students, we found out that some departments do not issue transcripts at all. We also found out that students’ transcripts are always replete with errors in some departments, and a call for correction translates into transcript correction that lasts for a whole session. The question that comes to the mind and the mouth of all is: how time-consuming or energy-demanding is the processing of students’ transcripts, to the extent that departments would rather have their students miss beautiful opportunities than process their transcripts? Isn’t the eligibility of your students to apply for scholarships a mirroring of your success as a department? Why then should these students’ yearnings be treated with a dangerous level of unconcern?
While we reminisce on these questions, we must begin to take the issue of transcripts processing in the University of Ibadan more seriously than we currently handle it, as the missing of opportunities have rippling effects on the students. For one, a student who misses a scholarship opportunity in their second year of study may not be so keen to apply for another scholarship the next year, even if they had a better academic standing. The simple reason is that the lack of an academic transcript dashed their initial hopes of winning a scholarship, so, why spend time, energy and efforts applying for a one when the transcript issue still lingers. Who will be willing to go through all they went through in their initial attempt, when there’s almost a guarantee that they would go through the same struggles? It is this same reason that has hindered 55.5% of our respondents from applying for a new scholarship opportunity — because the transcript issue lingers, and many of them have yet to see their up-to-date transcript for close to two sessions now.
Disturbing problems are known to have multiple effects, and the problem of transcript processing at the University of Ibadan is not without its multiple problems. Apart from the lack of a clear-cut knowledge of their academic standing — as known academic standings go a long way in helping students become more serious — students who have missed scholarships and internships based on the failure to process their transcripts have learnt to recoil and be averse to claiming more opportunities. Such a blow is not without its consequences on students. According to the survey, 72.2% of the participants claimed to have suffered financial handicaps due to the loss of such opportunities. Scholarships serve as a buffer for the turbulent financial storms of student life. When such a benefit is denied, it exposes students to financial hardships.
What makes it worse is the knowledge that such students have been placed in that situation by nothing of their own making. This is indeed a psychological blow and as shown in the survey, 66.7% of the participants admitted to being weighed down psychologically by the situation; and this is not totally disconnected from the financial problems brought about by the loss of scholarships. Imagine the psychological troubles of a struggling yet promising third-year student of medical laboratory science who apart from being bombarded with tests, has close to a hundred thousand naira in professional health training levy to worry about; how disturbed such a student will be with thoughts of how things would have been better for them only if their department didn’t fail to process their transcripts. As can be imagined, the whole setup is not ideal for the necessary engagement of the mind that brings about academic excellence. Hence, it is no surprise that 33.3% of the participants claimed that their academics suffered as a result.
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A careful look at these problems will show that they are identical triplets from the same birthing source: missing out on a scholarship means missing out on a sure way of living a stable life as a student which in turn means incessant thoughts on the possibilities that could have been only if their department could process their transcripts.
A question that is bound to pop up on objective minds is: did the students make extra attempts to get their transcripts, or did they resign to fate? The answer lies in the data we collated, where 72.2% of the respondents said they went to great lengths to obtain their transcripts. These students claim that they made incessant visits to the offices of the lecturers in charge of processing their transcripts, some others claim that they wrote letters to the Head of their Department. All these efforts, and no scholarship, internship, not even the transcript to show for it. Another question that fails to be forgotten is: should lecturers be the ones in charge of collating and computing students’ results? Should the extra burned of result collation and calculation be laid on their shoulders?
As we round off this first piece in this series, the questions we should be asking ourselves are: how do we bring about a change in the way transcripts are processed in the University of Ibadan? Do we need to regulate the Result Management System and see to it that it is functional and error-free? How many students have fallen victim but are just too afraid to voice out, even anonymously? How many students are currently victims? Why would any one department fail to process students’ transcripts as and when due? Why does it seem so difficult to give students the result of their annual academic efforts and inputs? What do some departments have to say about this? Is there hope? Can there be a change in what is?
*The name used is a pseudonym.