The Education Rights Campaign has called on the Federal Government to make grants available to students of tertiary institutions in the country as opposed to the recently signed Student Loan Act by President Bola Tinubu.
The ERC’s National Mobilisation Officer, Adaramoye Michael, and Deputy Coordinator, Ogunjimi Isaac, while addressing a press conference at the International Press Centre, Ogba, in Ikeja, Lagos, on Wednesday, noted that the students’ loan “should be turned into a grant to support the living expenses of undergraduates in public tertiary institutions whose cost of living has risen astronomically due to the fuel subsidy removal and other economic measures.”
The Student Loan Bill was proposed by the former Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and it was passed by the lawmakers in late May 2023 and assented to by President Tinubu in June.
The loan provides funds for all education-related matters, including textbooks and research.
However, mixed reactions trailed the interest-free loan bill even as the FG notes that it will aid access to tertiary education.
The National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, in an earlier interview with The PUNCH, had described the loan as discriminatory.
Osodeke said, “Everyone knows our position on the student loan because it will end up encumbering the children of the poor with loans and debt after graduating. This is discriminatory.”
On the contrary, a former Vice-Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin Akungba University, Ondo State, Prof Femi Mimiko, envisaged that the dying universities would be greatly enhanced, if the intention of the new Act was properly delivered.
“The contentious issue of an effective repayment system that takes cognisance of the realities of our economy can be worked out in a future amendment, with a view to allowing a longer moratorium, before the commencement of repayment,” he said.
But the ERC maintained that the loan would not solve the problems of access to public education because other costs like acceptance fees, accommodation fees off campuses, and other expenses were still prevalent. According to the group, unemployment in Nigeria is also a major challenge that can make payment of the loan difficult.
The group said, “While the government has been going about saying it is a non-interest loan, the repayment plan is onerous and could subject beneficiaries to a miserable existence. Section 18 (1) of the Act says that ‘Any beneficiary of the loan to which this Act refers shall commence repayment two years after completion of the National Youth Service Corps programme.’ This means that it does not matter whether or not the beneficiaries have succeeded in getting a job or not, they must start paying. This is in a country where the unemployment rate is at least 40% for the general population and at least 53.6% among young people.”
“We went at length to undertake a clause-by-clause examination of the Act for the benefit of those who applaud the loan out of ignorance because they do not have a full understanding of the details and what they mean. Even if the Student Loan Act is reviewed such that all the absurdities we noted above are removed or amended, the scheme will still not in any way solve the problem of access to higher education.
“This is because the solution to the problems of public education in Nigeria is proper funding and democratic management of schools. This is the only way to ensure that children of working people and the poor masses are able to go to school,” the group said.