Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, CAPPA, and other stakeholders in the education sector have trashed the Student Loan Scheme recently signed by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, describing it as an unworkable piece of legislation that should be neglected with immediate effect.
They made the statement at a symposium in Lagos on Friday, with the aim of analyzing its potential to revitalize public higher education in the country.
It can be recalled that on June 12, president, Tinubu in the company of his chief of staff Femi Gbajabiamila, the then speaker of the 9th assembly signed the Student Loan Bill into law, to enable Nigerian students to access loans at interest-free rates.
The Civil society then brought parents, students, lecturers, education rights activists, and other stakeholders into the sector to brainstorm on the loan scheme.
Speaking at the symposium, the Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said: President Bola Tinubu’s recent signing of the Student Loan Act has caused a flurry of reactions as the policy on the surface promises to increase access to public higher education by providing indigent students with interest-free tuition 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.
According to him, the loan criteria may paradoxically restrict the very demographic it aims to support, as the loan only caters for tuition fees.
“CAPPA stands in firm belief that the policy risks further marginalizing vulnerable groups, particularly those from lower socio-economic background”. He added.
Meanwhile, in his statement, Professor Adelaja Odukoya, zonal coordinator, Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU said the scheme is a sham targeted at privatizing Nigerian public universities. He thereafter called on all civil society for proper analysis for an average Nigerian.
He charged the federal government to focus on creating an enabling environment for studies, which includes the welfare of staff, academic facilities, and students’ welfare.
Professor Odukoya says the poor funding of education is so bad, leading to many lecturers quitting for other high-paying jobs. He said at the University of Lagos, not less than five lecturers quit every week, leaving the university understaffed.
Also, CAPPA Presented its finding of a cross-analysis of the loan scheme and established several disabling factors. One of them is the income cap, which is captured under Section 14(b). The section states that to qualify for the loan, an applicant or family’s income must be less N500, 000 per annum.
The group says the provision neglects the economic realities in Nigeria; the exclusion of the least-paid employees in the public service who earns N30,000 as the minimum wage.
Also, the loan scheme, as reflected in Section 13, only caters for ‘tuition fees. CAPPA says this provision, therefore, suggests a plan to introduce tuition fees in universities and other tertiary institutions, which would raise the cost of education significantly for other students who do not qualify for the student loan.
The NGO also noted that despite the tuition-free policy, students of government-owned higher institutions pay a series of charges and levies generally called school fees.
Among the speakers at the event are: Zikora Ibeh, Policy and Research Officer at CAPPA; Gideon Adeyeni, Spokesman of Education Rights Campaign; Juwon Sanyaolu, National Director, Take It Back, Mojeed Alabi; Chairman, Education Writers’ Association of Nigeria; and Achike Chude, Deputy Chairman of Joint Action Front, and many others.
In calling for the trashing of the student loan scheme, Zikora Ibeh recommended higher funding for education and ensuring greater accountability and efficient utilization of TETFUND and other intervention programmes of the government.