Student loan plan sparks controversy in universities

Abuja—Labour centres in the universities are divided over the student loan policy initiated by the Federal Government due to begin in September, the Nation newspaper reports.

The policy has further deepened the division between the Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

While CONUA is in support of the policy, ASUU described it as discriminatory against poor parents. But, parents are backing the Federal Government’s plan.

CONUA said students could approach an education bank for loans to fund their studies under the law.

ASUU argued that those whose parents’ yearly earnings surpass N500,000 would be excluded.

Although CONUA also picked holes in some clauses of the law, it said that the scheme was a welcome development. The association lauded President Bola Tinubu for signing the bill.

The “Bill for an Act to provide for easy access to higher education for Nigerians through an interest-free loan from the Nigerian Education Bank established in this Act to provide education for Nigerians and other purposes connected thereto” was signed by the President early this month.

CONUA’s National President, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, told The Nation yesterday that the scheme was not unique to Nigeria.

Sunmonu said: “It is a welcome development. It is one of the best practices internationally.

“Students who study through loans will also make sacrifices for the nation. The beneficiaries would be committed to their profession.”

Admitting that the union had yet to sight the original copy of the new law, the CONUA chief said its members noticed grey areas in the bill in circulation.

He said: “On the loan bill, the one we saw has some grey areas. If the grey areas are wholeheartedly worked on and implemented, it will ensure access to uninterrupted education and also guarantee employment. The government will want to recoup its money.

”So, it will have no choice but employ graduates who went through school with the loan. The copy of the bill we saw in circulation came with grey areas because the government didn’t carry stakeholders along.

“One of the grey areas is the repayment. Will the surety pay back if the loanee defaults? If this area is not cleared, those who want to apply may not get guarantors.

“It is difficult to make a categorical statement because we have not seen the original copy the President assented to.”

ASUU President Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke described the law as discriminatory between the children of the rich and the poor.

According to Osodeke, a student whose parents (father and mother) earn the national minimum wage of N30,000 per month is excluded from being a beneficiary of the loan.

“Everyone knows our position on student loans because you will end up encumbering the children of the poor with loans and debt after graduating. This is discriminatory.

Read Also: ‘Student loan will revolutionise access to higher education’

“If what I read online is correct, it said it is only for children whose parents earn N500,000 per annum. That means if your both parents earn more, you won’t benefit.”

ASUP, which like CONUA, welcomes the scheme, however, agreed with ASUU that the law is discriminatory.

Its President, Anderson Ezeibe, said: “It (the law) is good because we need to have a sustainable funding platform for tertiary institutions.

“But the law as it is makes it impracticable. The groundwork has been laid now for the introduction of tuition fees in tertiary institutions. It is a subtle way of introducing tuition fees.

“The provision in the law, which spelt out the conditions, is not sustainable. It is expected that after two years, graduates who took the loan would be employed. If unemployed, they cannot repay the loan.

“Repayment would help others get loans but the majority of our graduates after two years are still unemployed. So, for people who studied through that loan, how will they start repaying?

“If they don’t refund, how would others receive? The household that is earning less than N500,000 per annum can only benefit.

“This means that in a family where the father and mother are earning N720,000 per year based on the minimum wage of N30,000, children in such families cannot benefit.

“Technically, the law has disqualified parents on minimum wage level. “

Meanwhile, the Vice-Chancellor of Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago -Iwoye, Prof. Ayodeji Agboola, said that the loan scheme will “reduce drastically, the number of students who drop out of schools yearly.”

Agboola, who noted that about 2,000 out of every 10,000 students drop out or apply for leave of absence every year due to lack of funds, believes the trend would drop.

He spoke after his investiture as the 11th Vice-Chancellor of the university.

The event had in attendance the Pro-Chancellor, Prof. Toyin Ashiru; the Akarigbo of Remoland, Oba Babatunde Ajayi, the Ebumawe of Ago – Iwoye, Oba AbdulRasaq Adenugba and Senator Gbenga Kaka.

Also yesterday, the National Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN) described Tinubu as a true democrat, who had brought succour to parents and students through the law.

“President Tinubu has done very well. In our days, there used to be a Students Loan Board in Surulere, Lagos, but all that is no more. The military government didn’t believe in it.

“Thank God Tinubu has brought a big succour for parents. Indigent students can apply for a loan. It is a good development,” NAPTAN’s Deputy National President, Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, said.

Meanwhile, explaining how the scheme will run, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education, David Adejo, said the law would provide easy access to higher education for indigent Nigerians through interest-free loans from the Nigerian Education Loan Fund.

The loan, he said, covers the loan students in private and public schools.

He said President Tinubu had also approved a committee made up of ministries and agencies to see to the fruition of the loan scheme. The committee met on Tuesday.

According to him, the bill is to ensure that every Nigerian has access to higher education through what we called the Higher Education Nigerian Bank.

“Learning from past mistakes, the bank is not going to be the type that will sit down and be collecting application loans.

“It will also perform normal banking functions and make sure loans are given because we had cases of loan recovery in the past. The Act tells us the process.

“The president has also directed that by September to October of this 2023/2024 academic session, he wants to see recipients of these loans,” he said.

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