In response to the barriers hindering the Student Loan Act, OrderPaper Nigeria hosted a high-level discourse featuring lawmakers, active citizens, and students.
The Students’ Loans (Access to Higher Education) Act, 2023, which aims to provide interest-free loans for public higher education in Nigeria, gained Presidential assent on 12th June 2023 and has since been making the rounds in the media and among Nigerians.
As the name implies, the law will enable indigent students in public tertiary institutions to take government loans to pay their tuition fees, but there however seem to be so many reactions as to limitations surrounding it and calls for its amendment.
According to the latest data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, there are 20 million non-school-going children in Nigeria, rating Nigeria as the 124th best country in the global education system, which reflects its fallen standard at all levels of learning.
In addressing these issues and imitations and in commemoration of this year’s International Day of Education (IDU), OrderPaper Parliamentary Engagement Nigeria (OPEN) Space held its monthly discourse on X on 24th January 2024 featuring prominent thought leaders who spoke on “Breaking Barriers: Addressing Educational Inequality through the Student Loan Act.”
Panelists who were featured in the discourse include the Chairman, Ethics, Code of Conduct and Public Petitions, Senator Neda Bernards Imasuen (LP, Edo South) joined by Rep. Terseer Ugbor (APC, Benue)
Other panelists featured in the discourse were, Prof. Uwakwe Abugu, Professor of Medical Law at the University of Abuja, and Aisha Ouwakemi Yusuph, a 500-level student from the University of Abuja.
Speaking on the issues facing the student loan and ways to make it realistic and feasible to implement, Senator Imasuen advocated for more substantial steps as well as a collaboration between the government and commercial banks to make it easier for students to get loans at low interest rates.
He said, “I want to use my own personal experience. I had my Masters at the Long Island University, Brooklyn campus in New York, USA. I took a student loan for that program. For it to spread that everyone and every student who wants it can get it, what I would suggest, is for one, the government to partner with commercial banks or two, set up a fund that is going to be almost like a bank, just like your pension fund that can be managed by a consortium or whoever is appointed to manage it, where students can go and borrow this loan at a very, very low interest rate.
“When I took my student loan in the U.S, it was 1%. Not only that, for post-graduation, they give you three to six months to start paying and if you can’t start paying at that period, you also tell them, I don’t have a job and I’m not in a position to pay and they keep extending it for you until you have a job and you start paying.
“You can imagine if the student here takes a loan for say 200,000 or 300,000 and then when it’s time for him to start paying they say be paying 20,000 a month or 15,000 or 5,000 a month, i think students will be able to pay it.
“So for me, we have to go back to the drawing board and look at the method that everyone can buy into and that regardless of your economic status, you’ll be able to access this and will not have to sell any property or do anything extraordinary to pay back when you graduate. We must look at it again and make it so easy and friendly for students,” he added.
Expressing concern over the difficulties students are likely to face in getting a guarantor prior to becoming eligible for loans, he recommended adopting alternative techniques like the National Identity Number (NIN), which may be used to identify or verify a person’s information when required.
“I keep using myself as an example, when I applied, there was a form they gave me to take to my school and as a matter of fact they even have a unit in almost all the campuses and you go there they give you a form to fill, you take that form to your registrar in the school. The school will check if you are truly a student, and then they will recommend it, stamp it and give it back to you, you go and submit. Once they have that, they don’t need any other guarantee. I didn’t have to go to any one or know anyone.
“Why do we have the NIN today? Over there you have what they call the social security number which is equivalent to NIN which is individualistic. In other words your NIN and mine are not the same so if they have an NIN, that’s enough for them to know that you went to this school, you studied this particular course, you took this loan which is tied to it and as a matter of fact they don’t give you that money, they pay it direct and if there’s anything extra, then the school reforms that money to you. That’s the way it should work so that everyone will be able to access it”
In his assertion, the primary aim of tackling the issues is to build a society of learned persons, as it is a more cost-effective approach than providing for prisoners, attempting to deter criminal activity, or safeguarding national resources such as the pipelines that are constantly under threat.
He also said, “I heard that one of the terms is 10 years repayment, i just think that’s not workable because as a senator, I can tell you I have volume 3 of files already filled up of people who have graduated in the last 5, 10, 14 years looking for jobs and if we have to peg it at 10 years, i don’t think that is going to be doable given this economic reality where jobs are not easy to come by students or by graduates.
“We have a lot to reflect upon before we can actually come about with a clean document that will be workable in respect to the students who may want to avail themselves of this opportunity,” he maintained.
STAR Check: Nigerians, particularly, constituents of Edo South district, can keep tabs on the legislative performance of Sen. Imasuen throughout the 10th senate here.