A government minister likened it to “mass murder.”; According to university officials, the applicants lacked enthusiasm and did not have a basic grasp of English.

The “epic fail” of every single candidate — about 25,000 of them — in the admission examination to the University of Liberia provoked bafflement, consternation and heated debate on Tuesday, with some convinced that flaws in Liberia’s education system had been brutally exposed.

A government minister likened it to “mass murder.”

The results mean there will be no freshers at west Africa’s oldest degree-granting institution — one of two state-run universities in Liberia — when it reopens next month for another academic year.

According to university officials, the applicants lacked enthusiasm and did not have a basic grasp of English. Spokesman Momodu Getaweh told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that the university stood by its decision to fail the candidates and would not be swayed by emotion. “In English, the mechanics of the language, they didn’t know anything about it. So the government has to do something.”

Running out of excuses

Liberia was devastated by a bloody civil war in the 1990s and the rule of Charles Taylor, but Mr. Getaweh said the country was running out of excuses. “The war has ended 10 years ago now. We have to put that behind us and become realistic.”

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently admitted that the education system was “in a mess” and in need of reform. But this is the first time that all students who took the exam, which entails payment of a $25, fee, failed.

The Voice of America (VOA) reported that the university hired a private consultant to manage and administer this year’s entrance exam.

The consultant, James Dorbor Jallah, told the VOA: “There is a perception in our society largely that once you take the University of Liberia admission exam, if you do not pay money to someone, or if you do not have appropriate connections, you would not be placed on the results list. So, the university has been grappling with how they could manage the process whereby people’s abilities would be truly measured on the basis of their performance in the examination.” Liberia could draw a lesson from the mass failure, he added.

“For the country as a whole, I think this is a clarion call that we need to all see that the king is moving around naked and not pretend as though the emperor has his finest clothes on.”

Etmonia David-Tarpeh, the national Education Minister, intends to meet university staff to discuss the dismal showing. “I know there are a lot of weaknesses in the schools but for a whole group of people to take exams and every single one of them to fail, I have my doubts about that,” she told the BBC. “It’s like mass murder.”

David—Tarpeh said she knew some of the applicants and the schools they went to. “These are not just schools that will give people grades. I’d really like to see the results of the students.”

The University of Liberia was established in 1862 as Liberia College and became a university in 1951. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013

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