By Olakunle Olafioye

The first phase of the Federal Government Student Loan scheme is already in full swing and barring any late minute change of plans, the second phase of the scheme will take off two weeks from now. 

The scheme, according to the government, is designed to guarantee sustainable higher education and functional skill development for Nigerian students and youths.

As lofty as the aims and objectives of the scheme appear, many intending beneficiaries of the scheme said they are approaching the scheme with cautious optimism.

A week after opening the portal for the registration of intending beneficiaries for the first phase, about 60,000 applicants, according to the management of the fund, had shown intention to enroll for the scheme.

This represents five per cent of the projected number of beneficiaries which the government pegged at 1.2 million.

The first phase of the scheme takes care of applications from students from the nation’s 229 federal tertiary institutions comprising Federal Government-owned universities, polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of education while a total of 336 state government-owned institutions of higher learning are billed for the second phase of the scheme which is slated to kick off on June 25, 2024.

Concerns, however, have been mounting over the scheme since the idea was mooted during the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari.

And despite the series of amendments effected by the new administration to ensure that no Nigerian student is excluded from the scheme, stakeholders in the nation’s education sector are still entertaining some misgivings about the scheme.

Taofeek Adeyemi, a student of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta, Ogun State, who lauded the government for coming up with the scheme is of the opinion that the two year-post NYSC repayment period and the three year jail term prescribed for defaulters will make the scheme unattractive to many intending beneficiaries.

Adeyemi said that the prospect of securing a good job two years after the mandatory national service is almost a tall order.

“I know some graduates who are still jobless more than three years after national service. What this means is that anyone who subscribes to the loan scheme, but who is unlucky to get a job might find it difficult to start the repayment two years after the national youth service scheme. Such a person will be courting a serious problem. That is definitely a sort of demotivation,” he observed.

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A similar view was echoed by David Ikhile, an undergraduate of Delta State University, who said that he was still weighing his options as far as the student loan scheme is concerned.

According to him, the scheme, when it eventually gets underway, will come as a huge relief to most students in public universities, particularly those from humble backgrounds.

He is, however, concerned about the possibility of having to be bogged down with debt as a student and after graduation.

Like many Nigerians, he viewed the whole idea of the student loan programme as an exit door for the government to relieve itself of the burden of financing tertiary education and shifting the responsibility wholly to the parents.

His words: “My understanding of the idea behind the initiative is that we might be getting to the stage when the government may back out from financing education and shifting the whole burden on Nigerians. What this, therefore, means to me is that schools may begin to charge more school fees and forcing the students to resort to taking out loans and incurring more debts which may become too burdensome to pay back in future. One will then get bogged down with huge debt after graduating. More worrisome is the consequence that will follow should one fail to pay back. All these, to me, call for deep consideration before making a decision as to whether or not to subscribe to the scheme.”

Similarly, many analysts are of the opinion that the scheme could be a smokescreen by the government to suppress the widespread anger against the recent increase in school fees in federal institutions of higher learning and to find a basis to justify the hike.  Most tertiary institutions in the country had recently raised their tuition fees by over 100 per cent, thus putting further strains on the finances of parents and guardians who also have to contend with the poor state of the economy which has reduced their purchasing power and savings.

An educationist, Mr Oludele Jegede expressed doubt over government’s sincerity about the student loan initiative, which he described as a well-crafted getaway ploy by the government to dodge its responsibility and to douse the ill-feeling that greeted the recent hike of tuition fees by most tertiary institutions in the country.

He said: Personally, I have my fear about the whole idea and motive of the student loan arrangement. The government, over the years, has consistently attempted to shirk away from its responsibility of financing education, especially tertiary education in this country. And whether we like it or not, it is just a matter of time before this reality finally dawns on all of us. What I interpret this to mean is that sooner or later, the government will gradually divest itself from financing education in this country the moment it is able to put the scheme to work. And meanwhile I doubt if the scheme is sustainable.”

He noted that should the government succeed in divesting itself from the responsibility of financing tertiary education, all incentives and cushions such as bursaries, grants, and scholarships to brilliant and indigent students would definitely give way.

“That will automatically spell doom for students from poor background because the government would have succeeded in further narrowing access to higher education in the country,” he stated.

Corroborating Jegede’s view, a retired education administrator, Dr Nelson Ifejokwu, pointed out that history has not been favourable to the idea of student loan, maintaining that previous attempts by governments in the past had been uneventful.

“This is not the first time the government will be considering this initiative. We have had between three to four attempts in the past which ended in fiasco.  The bottom line is that successive attempts at floating loan scheme for students were never backed up by strong political will by their initiators. If the scheme could fail as far back as in the 1970s when one could say we had a better system, I doubt its feasibility at a time like this when the entire system has been turned upside down. I hope and pray the government get it right this time around. Otherwise it could spell doom for the nation’s education and the children of the poor masses could be the ultimate losers,” he said.

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