By Uche Amunike
President Bola Tinubu has signed the student loan bill, titled: ‘Students Loans (Access to Higher Education) Act 2023′, into law, as promised in his manifesto, during the last presidential election, making it possible for Nigerian students seeking for higher education to have access to interest-free loans.
According to an aide to President Bola Tinubu, Dele Alake, while addressing State House correspondents, President Tinubu has already assented to the bill which was sponsored by the immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and introduced in 2016 as a part of the measures that were meant to address the loopholes that affect the funding of the country’s tertiary education sub-sector.
Gbajabiamila has currently been appointed as the Chief of Staff to the President Tinubu and will assume office as the Speaker of Nigeria’ Green Chamber, today, after stepping down as Speaker of the country, just yesterday.
Recall that in his manifesto, while running for position of president, under the aegis of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu assured Nigerians that he would pursue the establishment of the Education Bank towards making sure that Nigeria students enjoy quality education at the tertiary level.
His words: ‘We will institute a pilot student loan regime…this will expand access to education to all Nigerians regardless of their backgrounds,’ he wrote in his manifesto, Renewed Hope. ‘At the same time, this will give institutions the ability to charge more cost-reflective tuition fees. Because of the current employment rates and other conditions, the loan program will have a maximum limit any student may borrow and must have flexible repayment provisions.’
Note that in Nigerian public schools, the first nine years of education from primary to junior secondary school, which is called basic education, is free and compulsory. However, these public schools are not enough and have introduced different methods of demanding fees from parents by providing basic needs like desks, infrastructure, chalks, etc.
Aside from that, even though these public tertiary institutions lay claims to free tuition, some payments are sually introduced in order to support allocations from the Nigerian government.
As a result, because education is on the concurrent list in the Nigerian constitution, many of the 36 states in the country have introduced tuition in their tertiary schools, which are mostly very unaffordable for these students.
According to stakeholders in the education sector, funding has always been a major part of the problems facing the country’s education sector, which has usually led to constant strikes by workers in the sector.
In the 2023 budget, about N1.8 trillion naira was set out for education, which is about 5.3% of the total N20.5 trillion budget below the 15% minimum spending that is recommended for developing countries by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO.
Stakeholders in the education sector seem unimpressed as they watched President Tinubu sign student loans bill into law, stating that even though the passage of the bill seems noble, sustaining it would be difficult, considering the rate of unemployment in the country.
The President of Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Anderson Ezeibe voiced that the signed Act might lead to serious problems.
His view: ‘The Act obviously downplayed the unemployment crisis in the nation, as well as the southern trends in other economic indices expected to support the students’ loan scheme.’
‘The Act as signed may end up triggering a serious crisis in tertiary institutions as the foundation for the introduction of tuition fees has just been laid without a guarantee that students will be able to pay up through the loans as proposed in the Act.’