To qualify for student loans, students’ or their parents’ annual income must not exceed N500,000; they must provide two guarantors, who must be either level 12 civil servants, a lawyer with at least 10-year post-call service, a judicial officer or a justice of peace; and they must not have defaulted on any loans.
These were some criteria laid down in the 2023 Student Loan Act.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on Monday, assented to the bill as part of efforts to make higher education accessible to all Nigerians.
The requirements, however, have caused some to think otherwise.
Critics on social media question the accessibility of the loan. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) also questioned its feasibility.
On Saturday, FIJ visited Lagos State’s Mile 12 market to find out traders’ reactions to the act.
Many of the traders we spoke to were unaware of the Student Loan Act, and like clockwork, they all reacted the same to the news. First, they were delighted; then they didn’t want it again.
When FIJ told them about the loan and its purpose, which was to help more Nigerians access higher education, they agreed that it was a good development. But once they learned of the requirements, the excitement waned, and for the majority, immediate disinterest followed.
Funmilayo, a trader who sells dried cassava, yam, potato and plantain flour, had never heard of the Student Loan Act before our conversation, but she was very excited about the news.
It would relieve her and her husband of some bills, she said, but as we went over the loan’s conditions, her joy faded. Her daughter, a 200-level business administration student at Kwara State University, was not a perfect candidate for the loan.
Funmilayo made more than N50,000 monthly from the sale of dried yam, potato, plantain and cassava. This placed her annual earnings above the N500,000 cap, exclusive of her husband’s earnings.
Their child’s school fee is presently N80,000, but Funmilayo said the institution had already notified them of an increase in tuition costs for the next academic year.
Although the government has yet to make an official pronouncement on the introduction of tuition fees in the country’s state and federal colleges, suspicion has grown that it is a foregone conclusion since the signing of this act.
Olusiji Sowande, the national treasurer of ASUU, dubbed the act discriminatory, adding that “except the government wants to introduce tuition, students in public universities in Nigeria don’t pay tuition but sundry fees”.
Akinkunmi Olawoyin, the National Coordinator of Education Rights Campaign (ERC), was also quoted to have said, “The law has only provided the government with a weapon to abdicate its responsibility of funding education and transfer the burden to the students and their parents.”
When FIJ informed Funmilayo of the likelihood of tuition increase and inquired if she could pay a fee of N300,000 to N500,000, she let out a sharp exclamation, and asked where she was going to get that amount of cash for fees.
Kehinde, on the other hand, could not have been pleased about a law that had excluded her based on her earning potential, especially because her wages has declined as a result of the elimination of the fuel subsidy.
She was in the same business as Funmilayo, but unlike Funmilayo, she was aware of the Student Loan Act.
Kehinde, who makes around N3,500 daily, is already ineligible for the loan because her annual earnings sum up to more than double the N500,000 ceiling.
“Transportation is now expensive, since the removal of subsidy. Somewhere that was N500 is now N1,000. To grind yam and potato is now N700. Before the day is over, all the N3,500 that I make is finished,” she said.
She lamented how things have become increasingly difficult for her since fuel subsidy was removed, with her commute cost doubling and significantly reducing her income.
“I just collected N200,000 ajo (cash contribution) to pay for my daughter’s school fees,” she said.
Kehinde’s daughter is a 300-level student in the school of nursing, Ijebu Ode, while her son, a 200-level student, studies at the University of Ilorin.
Their school fees sum up to around N250,000. While she and her husband comfortably pay for their children’s school fees through yearly cash contributions, she said an increment in tuition fee would become an impediment for them.
There was also Mrs. Afolabi, who sold salt and sugar in the market. Her biggest concern with the Student Loan Act was providing the calibre of guarantors stipulated in the act.
“Where will I see a judge or a lawyer?” She asked.
She was unfamiliar with the act, but the more she learned about it, the more uninterested she became. Neither she nor her husband knew anybody who had reached Level 12 in the civil service, a judicial officer or a justice.
They both also make over N500,000 annually and have a daughter at Kwara State University, who studies mass communication.
She said if this act was intended to help, the children of people like her should be able to qualify for the loan, but these criteria seem like a strategy to prevent them from accessing it.
Mrs. Afolabi told FIJ that she currently paid a little over N180,000 for her daughter’s school fees.
When asked if her finances would be able to cover the fees if they increased to N350,000, she said, “It’s too much. If the government wants to help us, they should just grant the loan without increasing school fees, so even those that have been borrowing to pay tuition will no longer borrow but access the loan.”
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