The Nigeria Student Loan Act, which is expected to kick off this month as introduced by President Bola Tinubu’s administration, is seen in some quarters as a progressive stride towards inclusive education and national development.
By promoting and ensuring financial sustainability, and incorporating mechanisms for adaptability, this Act is believed to be foundational to a brighter educational future for students.
While the loan provides an opportunity to pursue higher education, it also comes with a responsibility: its repayment by the students. Its success will redefine the country’s tertiary education landscape and its failure will complicate the already problems of inadequate funding in the sector.
Friday Erhabor, director of media and strategies at Marklenez Limited, believes the loan policy will bring about democratisation of education in the country, but thinks the conditions attached to it may derail the process.
“The students’ loan will go a long way in democratising education. That is one easy way that the children of the poor can access tertiary education given the skyrocketing school fees. The only thing that might mar the execution is the condition attached to obtaining the loan as it concerns the income level of the parents,” he said.
Erhabor urged the federal government to look into the Student Loan Act again and give it a human face.
“Any student whose parents are earning less than N2 million in a year should be qualified for the student loan,” he said.
In the 1970s, the federal military government promulgated the Nigerian Students’ Loans Board decree to provide funding to students based on loans repayable 20 years after graduation but it collapsed after a while due to massive indebtedness and corruption.
Experts say if the repayment conditions do not make it easy for those who borrowed the money to pay back, and the managers of the loan are not sincere, it will certainly fail.
They added that the inadequate allocation of funds to education in Nigeria translates to poor infrastructure, an outdated curriculum, and non-payment of lecturers.
According to the federal government, the Student Loan Act seeks to provide access to interest-free loans to Nigerian students in tertiary institutions and establishes an Education Loan Fund to help Nigerians fund their higher education.
Currently, less than half of the 1.5 million candidates who take the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), the entrance examination into tertiary institutions, gain admission.
While a number of the candidates fail to meet the cut-off marks, many public schools lack the resources and infrastructure to accommodate all candidates.
In 2019, only 612,098 of 1.8 million candidates, 33.7 percent, who sat for the UTME, were admitted. Data from JAMB indicates that for the faculty of medicine, about 367,499 candidates applied for 43,717 available slots, in social sciences- 231,907 candidates applied for the 93,277 slots available, same as in other faculties.
Progressive countries see education as an important pillar of transformational development and a significant source of foreign exchange.
Experts believe that the way the federal government disburses the students’ loans will largely shape the education sector in 2024.
Hassan Soweto, national coordinator of the Education Right Campaign, does not see the Act as a scheme that would ameliorate the hurdles indigent students face in accessing higher education in Nigeria.
He said: “The student loan Act is a fraudulent contrivance by elements who have no interest of the poor and indigent at heart, and whose only real achievements would be an increase in the cost of education through the introduction of tuition fee and subjection of loan beneficiaries to life-long indebtedness and misery.
“If truly the government wants to help poor students, who are in millions, then it would recover trillions of naira being stolen legally and illegally from public coffers by big businesses and politicians to ensure that there is adequate government funding for public education.”
Emmanuel Osodeke, president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, described the move as the government’s attempt to “systematically wash its hands off” the funding of public universities and put university education beyond the reach of poor Nigerians.
Few days after the introduction of the Act, the Ministry of Education announced that the federal government would no longer continue to fund universities, which led to an astronomical hike in tuition fees across universities.
Gideon Adeyeni, a member of the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, said the loan is not a panacea to the myriad of challenges beclouding education in the country, as it only takes care of tuition fee, which is a fraction of the total payable fee by students in tertiary institutions.
“If a student pays tuition fees through a loan but has no money to pay for other fees such as acceptance fee, development levy, and library fee, among others, will such a student be able to attend lectures, sit for tests, examinations and graduate?” he asked.
According to the World Bank, about 40 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line of $1.9 per day.