The Academic Staff Union of Universities says poor and indigent students will not benefit from the students’ loan recently introduced by the Federal Government because of the conditions attached.
Chairman of the University of Jos chapter of ASUU, Dr Mwolwus Jurbe, who spoke on Saturday in Jos, maintained that the conditions attached to the loan were not for the children of the poor who were supposed to be the target beneficiaries.
President Bola Tinubu in June signed the Access to Higher Education Act, 2023, also known as the Students Loan Act.
The law ensures provision of interest-free education loans for Nigerians seeking tertiary education.
Some of the conditions are that; students who wish to apply for the interest-free loan must first obtain admission into a public Nigerian university, polytechnic, College of Education or Technical and Vocational Education and Training School.
The applicant’s income or family income should not exceed N500,000 per annum, and he/she must provide a minimum of two civil servants as guarantors.
These guarantors should either be at least on Level 12 in the civil service or a lawyer with at least 10 years of post-call experience, a judicial officer, or a Justice of Peace.
Students, or their parents, who have previously defaulted on loans, or have been found guilty of exam malpractices, felony, or drug offences would not be considered eligible for the loan.
It further added that repayment of the loan would commence two years after the completion of the graduate’s National Youth Service Corps scheme and the money would be deducted directly from the beneficiary’s salary at a rate of 10 per cent by the employer.
Self-employed beneficiaries would remit 10 per cent of their total monthly profit to the designated Students Loan account to be prescribed by the bank.
However, Jurbe said that part of the reasons for the union’s last strike was the revitalisation of the university system, noting that the union received backlash from Nigerians for embarking on strike.
“We believe that the government can fund education; because federal and state governments spend huge amounts to send students abroad for studies.
“If this huge sum is harnessed into our education system, it will be the envy of many countries and foreign students will come here to study too.
“So, this loan will force parents to fund education, and it simply means that children of poor Nigerians can’t go to school,’’ he said.
According to Mr Jurbe, any country that wants to make meaningful progress must also fund its education sector.
The chairman, who also decried unemployment in the country, said that most students who would access the loan might not be able to pay back within the stipulated time.
“Giving bursary awards to Nigerian students is better than the provision of loans. This is because students may not be able to pay back the loan due to inadequate employment opportunities in the country.
“The fact remains that many jobless graduates that obtain such loans while in the higher institution would definitely become indebted to the government and unable to repay in time.
“Such policies thrive in the western countries like the United States of America, simply because there are job opportunities awaiting students even before they graduate from their various schools.
“But that is not the case in Nigeria, and we will not support the commercialisation of education because it is a social good, and no one should be denied that on the basis of status,’’ he said.
Meanwhile some stakeholders in Taraba State commend the loan initiative but added that it should be reviewed to make the conditions flexible for the benefit of Nigerians.
Some of the stakeholders who spoke in Jalingo, expressed doubts over the success of the scheme, saying its implementation might be difficult.
Also, Executive Director, Alheri Centre for Educational Development, an NGO, Malam Magaji Bello, stated that the conditions attached to the loan, such as that the parents of a beneficiary must be earning less than N500, 000 per annum was unrealistic.
According to Bello, parents who earn less than N500, 000 per annum in Nigeria at the moment, cannot even feed their families and take care of other basic needs with the current economic situation.
On his part, a public affairs commentator, Mr Solomon Angyu, noted that the students’ loan scheme needed a review to make it accessible by Nigerian students.
Angyu explained that the conditions of surety by high ranking officials of government, enshrined in the document, would make it difficult for the common man’s children to access.
He noted that though the scheme was welcomed by Nigerians when it was first announced, when they learnt of the stringent conditions, they were discouraged because they knew it would be difficult to access.
A lecturer who spoke on the issue, Mrs Rosemary Agabison, said the scheme was a good idea, but must be revisited to expunge some conditions that were inimical to its success.
Agabison also said when the loan scheme was announced, Nigerians were happy to have a system that would ensure opportunities at getting education, explaining but some conditions dashed the people’s hopes.
However, a secondary school teacher in Benue State, Mr Fred Injua, lauded President Bola Tinubu for initiating the scheme.
Injua, who spoke in Makurdi on Saturday, said if properly implemented, the scheme would take the burden of school fees off parents’ shoulders because of the current harsh economic situation.
“It is my earnest desire and hope that the Federal Government would sustain the scheme for the overall good of both the parents and students,” Injua said.
He further advised those saddled with the responsibility of implementing it not to be selective in granting the loan, but to ensure that all eligible students accessed it with ease.
He further appealed to the Federal Government to put the right modalities in place to sustain the scheme, saying that it should not be allowed to go the way of the School Feeding Programme.
Besides, a civil servant, Mrs Grace Ochai, said that enlightenment about the scheme was low.
Ochai said that people must be made to understand the workability and accessibility of the loan, aimed at helping youths without the means to adequately take care of their educational needs.
Also speaking, a member of a civil society organisation, Mr Kenneth Ogah, said that the organisation was trying its best in enlightening people in the rural areas about the scheme, stating that it was making progress in that regard.
Ogah, however, urged the government to do proper screening of beneficiaries, adding that people, especially young persons, could not be trusted with money.