It is heartwarming that the long-awaited student loan scheme of the federal government has finally commenced. The idea of the student loan was first mooted last year by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu but could not take off as earlier scheduled. Instructively, thousands of Nigerian varsity students have listed for the scheme since the Nigerian Education Loan Fund portal opened.

The managing director/chief executive officer of the Nigeria Education Loan Fund, Akintunde Sawyer, said at a pre-application sensitisation press conference in Abuja that 1.2 million students in federal tertiary institutions, including federal universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, and technical colleges, would benefit from the first phase of the scheme. There are about 226 federal tertiary institutions in the country, comprising 62 universities, 41 polytechnics, 96 monotechnics and 27 colleges of education.

Similarly, there are 63 state universities, 54 state polytechnics, 57 state monotechnics and 111 state technical colleges. There are also 51 state colleges of education. Nigeria has about 147 private universities, 51 polytechnics and 20 colleges of education.

The flagging off of the loan scheme came on the heels of President Tinubu signing the Student Loans (Access to Higher Education) Act (Repeal and Re-Enactment) Bill, 2024, into law in April. The assent was sequel to scrutiny by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the report of the Committee on Tertiary Institutions and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund. This is a welcome development.  

The Student Loan Act  empowers the Nigeria Education Loan Fund to provide loans to qualified Nigerian students for tuition, fees, charges and upkeep during their studies in approved public tertiary institutions and vocational and skills acquisition establishments in Nigeria. It replaced the Student Loan Act, 2023, by removing the family income threshold so that students can apply for loans and accept responsibility for repayment, according to the guidelines of the fund.

According to Sawyer, the loan, which will be paid directly to the institutions will be 100 per cent tuition fee per session while monthly stipends will be paid directly to the benefitting students to serve as support. The loan will be repaid two years after the completion of the compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corps scheme. 

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It is expected that the student loan scheme will increase Nigerian youths’ access to higher education. President Tinubu underscored this fact soon after the Student Loan Act was signed at the State House, Abuja. “This is to ensure that no one, no matter how poor their background is, is excluded from quality education and opportunity to build their future,” he stated. 

Although the student loan scheme will in its first phase accommodate about 1.2 million beneficiaries from federal universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, it is expected that students from state universities and other tertiary institutions owned by the states will be considered in the second phase of the scheme. We also enjoin the government to factor students from private universities, polytechnics and colleges of education in the scheme. 

In fact, every Nigerian student in a higher institution should be accommodated in the scheme.

No Nigerian student in higher institution should be excluded from the laudable scheme. To accommodate more students in the scheme, the government should significantly increase the number of beneficiaries. We urge the government to ensure that the implementation of the student loan scheme is transparent and seamless. The loan should be given to those who are qualified for it. On no account should the scheme be politicised or used to settle party supporters.

Since this is a federal government initiative, the state governments can also introduce a similar scheme in their domains to cater for other students that could not be accommodated in the present scheme. As a developing nation, there is urgent need to widen the access to higher education so that many Nigerian students will actualise their higher education dreams.

While the student loan scheme is commendable, the government must begin to equip universities, polytechnics and colleges of education across the country. The government should increase the funding of these institutions. Let there be emphasis on technical education and skills acquisition, which will make our graduates self-employed as well as enable them create jobs. 

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