Dreams die as graduates wait endlessly for transcripts

..... document now meal ticket for Nigerian universities

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Elvis Izekor graduated from the University of Benin in 2015. Two years later, he wrote to his university seeking his transcript to secure a spot among the bright African brains that the Africa Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) was offering a scholarship for a Master’s programme. That was when he discovered that a camel could pass through the eye of a needle much easier than he would obtain his transcript.

A transcript is a document commonly required in the application for postgraduate study. It consists basically of a list of the course units taken, the exams passed and the credit units gained. And AIMS needed it to assess Izekor’s capacity.

After initiating the process in November 2017, he learnt two months later that his full file was missing. Heartbroken but undeterred, he quickly opened a new file and, this time, it was worse. His record of raw score went missing three times before it was eventually found three months later.

“At that point it was belated because the scholarship admission was over,” Ikezor told BusinessDay. “There is nobody you can query or question. Even if you shout till tomorrow it won’t change anything. And it has been like this for many people.”

With the decline in the quality of education in Nigeria and employers’ increasing preference for overseas degrees, graduates in the country are constantly seeking international exposure through admission in foreign universities. Many of these graduates often strive to offset the cost of quality education with scholarship opportunities.

But many Nigerian graduates aspiring to pursue further studies overseas have lost opportunities to a dysfunctional system that unduly delays processing of an academic transcript.

Beyond the time it takes to process a transcript, the document has become a revenue source for the universities. A graduate of a Nigerian university applying for five different scholarships concurrently, for instance, with the hope of winning at least one would be made to pay five times to the same university for each transcript application. This way, the graduates have to keep navigating through a mesh of unending payments or halt aspirations that require transcripts.

“In Nigeria, I had to pay a lot of money for them to post my transcript to my postgraduate school because they wouldn’t hand it over to you,” said Damilola Apotieri-Abdulahi, an MA graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

“If you needed to send to 10 Institutions, you will have to pay 10 different times. But my South African university gave me my transcript for free during graduation,” said Apotieri-Abdulahi.
Local transcript processing and delivery rates at the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), for instance, were updated in 2018 to range from N15,000 to N17,500. The first foreign issuance is pegged between N27,500 and N45,000 while subsequent issuance is between N25,000 and N42,500.

In the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), the rates were hiked a few years ago to N15,000 and N30,000 for local and international transcript delivery, respectively, from the previous N1,250 and N2,500.

But while Nigerian universities are caught in this endless circus, their peers in other African countries have moved on, including Ghana’s University of Cape Coast where students are handed their certificates and transcripts upon graduation.

Weak electronic solution
To ease transfer of transcripts to institutions that require them, the Electronic Transcripts and Documents Exchange in Nigeria (ETX-NG) was created in 2013 by ETX Solutions Nigeria Limited. It works in collaboration with the university managements to accelerate collection of transcript.

This sort of digitisation is what most federal universities now claim to have upgraded to in recent times, saying only those who graduated before the digital migration were likely to experience minor hitches in accessing their transcripts. Yet, the problem persists.
Even private universities with the expectation of efficiency built into their pricy tuition fees often fall short in this regard.

Temilore Orekoya graduated from Covenant University in 2015 but her transcript was not available until 2017.

She attempted collecting it few months after graduation but the university management said it was not ready. The release was only accelerated by an agent who had it couriered to her office in Lagos where Orekoya picked it up to facilitate her applications. Then, it was only available in physical copy and cost N7,000. She had to scan it into a readable digital document before the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, could allow her pursue an M.Sc. in Business Analysis and Strategic Management.

Contrastingly, upon graduating from the University of Manchester, Orekoya was given access to a free digital copy of her transcript, with the hard copy attracting a charge of £25 (about N12,000).

“My transcript was made available to me after my M.Sc. in three days, whereas my Nigerian transcript wasn’t available until two years after graduation,” Orekoya said.

The nightmarish process of obtaining a transcript from Nigerian universities begins with an application letter, but approval from the university registrar is a needlessly protracted process. It gets complicated with requirement that payment must be in banks resident within the university campus.

The application is then forwarded to Exams and Records Department, which in most institutions is just a big room that holds more dust than files. With the wheels of bureaucracy turning slower than a herd of elephants going uphill, progress is painfully slow.
In a single request for transcript, there is a pile of expenditure on transportation, accommodation, monetary compensation for university staff efforts in digging the records, typing and photocopying among other things. The bid, in many cases, robs some Nigerian universities’ alumni deadline opportunities and financial resources channelled into a vain venture. In other cases, it also costs them their lives.

The rise in requests for official transcript of academic records is an offshoot of increased interest of educational bodies and other institutions’ in the detailed academic records of applicants. This is to strengthen verification and detect cases of fraud and malpractices.
In other instances, it is required for academic transfers, employment, visas or permits and scholarship awards. However, the inefficiency in the local system continues to put alumni of Nigerian universities’ steps behind their international peers.

Question of custody
The delays and the high rates charged for transfer are shifting the debate from why obtaining transcript is excruciatingly difficult to the question of who should be in custody of the transcript.
BusinessDay checks show there is no law emphatically giving the universities custody over academic transcript or denying graduates of same. But Nigerian universities claim they keep the transcripts in their custody and issue directly to requesting institutions to forestall falsification.

Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, vice-chancellor, University of Lagos, told BusinessDay in an interview that universities retain the custody of transcripts primarily because of the tendency for falsification and alteration of authenticity.

“There are a lot of problems we have with transcript being mutilated when they are given to people. That is why when we send transcript; we send it to where it is supposed to be used. As a requester, you must tell us where you want the transcript to be sent,” Ogundipe explained, ruling out the possibility of graduates having their transcripts at disposal.

“But we now give student’s copy which cannot be used for official transaction. The university cannot bear the burden of moving your transcript to another university,” he said.

Even though Benjamin Ozumba, a former vice-chancellor of UNN, admitted that there is no law stipulating that the university should be the custodian of transcript, he defended the exclusivity of right to custody under a universal code of ethics that backs the will to fight forgery.

“There is an element of fraud all over the world. The bodies that need these transcripts don’t receive it from individual students because they don’t trust it. That is why each time, they want it from the university,” Ozumba said in a telephone interview.

“If you want it 1,000 times, you pay 1,000 times because the services have to be paid for. And as a good alumnus of a tertiary institution, the money you pay should not amount to much,” he said.

Abiodun Olanrewaju, public relations officer, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, ascribed the university’s policy of withholding transcript to the culture of corruption and indulgence in the country.

“All of us want to advance in life, and particularly those who want to further their education. Even in Osun State here, they recovered over 750 workers who gained employment through forged certificates,” Olanrewaju said.

“If the transcript is in the custody of students, there is every tendency to want to alter grades to suit necessities of where they are going,” he added.

BusinessDay findings, however, show that host universities, especially in advanced climes, are more particular about submitting an authentic transcript, verifiable by the issuing institution, than ‘who’ is submitting the transcript. Indeed, most foreign universities now request the prospective post-graduate student to scan and upload the transcript alongside other documents, implying that they expect the student to have a handy copy of the transcript.
“The application is made by you anyway, an individual. They’re not too fussy about how it’s received, so long as it is,” Orekoya said responding to whether communication of transcript has to be solely done by the issuing university.

The Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC), a government agency which regulates higher education in the country, sees no reason why somebody’s transcript shouldn’t be released as being done in universities around the world.

“There is absolutely no reason why somebody will finish from the university and have difficulty collecting transcript. Anywhere in the world, they give you your transcript yourself,” said Ibrahim Yakasai, NUC public relations officer.

“If any university is doing that, they are wrong. Anyone requesting transcript and not getting it should petition the university,” Yakasai said.

Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria and human rights activist, said Nigerians should explore legal means to condemn any injustice perceived in the transcript access process.

“If graduates say it (the amount charged for transcript) is much, why are they not challenging them (universities)? You use the alumni association or unions to take up these matters. They can also take it up with the NUC. You have the National Human Rights Commission; people must learn to use established legal forum to challenge what they consider unjust,” Falana told BusinessDay.

Temitayo Ayetoto