As crises continue to rock tertiary education in the country, stakeholders have lent views on why the Student Loan Act recently signed into law by President Bola Tinubu will not eventually be the panacea to higher education access for poor Nigeria.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, executive director of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) in his remark at a symposium held recently in Lagos, explained that the solution to the challenges beclouding education in Nigeria does not need rocket science, but a firm political commitment to prioritise the sector as a necessary condition for socio-economic development.
Oluwafemi explained that on the surface the Student Loan Act promises to increase access to public higher education by providing indigent students with interest-free tuition loans, but that is far from the truth going by the conditions, and requirements for accessing the loans.
“While this intervention may seem like a commendable stride in breaking the chains that bound tertiary education in Nigeria, a deeper inspection of the Act’s fine print reveals certain concerns that cannot be dismissed,” he said at a symposium themed “Will Student Loans Increase Access to Public Higher Education in Nigeria?”
“In particular, the loan criteria may paradoxically restrict the very strata it aims to support. As it stands, the loan only caters to tuition fees even as prospective loan applicants must provide two guarantors, a civil servant of grade 12, and a lawyer with at least 10 years post experience, among others,” he noted.
He insisted that while the federal government says it is working out modalities to begin operationalisation of the loans towards the end of the year, CAPPA stands in the firm belief that this policy risks further marginalising vulnerable groups, especially, indigent students.
Also, Achike Chude, deputy chairman at Joint Action Font (JAF) described the Act as a clear signal that the government intends to hand off on tertiary education and even sell off the various public universities to their political-business cohorts.
He reiterated that the elites are not after education for the people but for their children and wards; and that it is deliberate because they know that if there are citizens that are educated, and politically conscious, they would ask questions.
“The public-private partnership for the university system is where they are going to, for a very long time they have wanted to put their hands on the universities.
“You will wake up one day to hear that Orji Kalu now owns the University of Lagos, Otedola has bought over the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and another person at the University of Calabar that is their target.
“It is the same thing they did with our enterprises, over 350 enterprises in this country, immediately they took them over and it was asset stripped. They are not after governance,” he said.
Chude warned that there is a more pernicious thing waiting around the corner in this insidious quest, which is the reason Nigerians should not allow the Act to be executed.
“If we allow this, they might begin to ask the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to stop contending with the government and face the private enterprise owners, and that amounts to undermining the union and the system,” he noted.
Adelaja Odukoya, a senior lecturer at the University of Lagos, and the zonal coordinator of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) described the Act as a mechanism to take away education from the reach of the poor against the claim that it will give people access to higher education.
Gideon Adeyeni, spokesperson for the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) faulted the Act for lacking public engagement before it was enacted, bearing in mind that education is a social right.
Adeyeni reiterated that the lawmakers ought to have held a public dialogue with stakeholders before drafting the policy.
Zikora Ibeh, policy and research officer at CAPPA in her speech highlighted the position of the group as touching the Student Loan Act.
“CAPPA firmly believes that funding public education is a social responsibility of the government as such, we reject any attempt and call to privatise education in Nigeria.
“We are concerned that this loan scheme may inadvertently lead to increased tuition cost, encouraging the growth of for-profit schools in the country, and thereby undermining access to affordable and quality education,” she noted.
Furthermore, Ibeh maintained that CAPPA would have the Student Loan Act repealed and the education bank converted into a special intervention vehicle for dispensing grants and bursaries to indigent yet high-performing students in public tertiary institutions.
Besides, CAPPA called on the federal government to utilise funds drawn from various sources to increase budgetary allocation to education and ensure greater accountability and efficient utilisation of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), and other intervention programmes in the education sector.
“The government should embark on an intensive revitalisation programme aimed at improving teaching infrastructures in public higher learning institutions. This specifically involves enhancing classrooms, laboratories, libraries, and ICT facilities to ensure the delivery of quality education,” she said.