Is Students Loan Scheme a Solution to Education Underfunding?
While it is true that Nigerian public universities do not officially charge tuition fees, students are still subjected to the payment of outrageous fees. In fact, in most schools today, new intakes in federal universities pay more than 100,000 naira, while in state-owned institutions it can go as high as N200,000 to N600,000.
By Michael Lenin, National Mobilisation Officer, Education Rights Campaign (ERC)
Despite this already exorbitant fee regime in public tertiary institution, proposals for the introduction of tuition fees are always placed on the table by the government as a solution to the crisis bedevilling public education in Nigeria. This is often done with empty promise to provide indigent students with loans through the education bank and other schemes; something which would be a crude attempt to use ethnic divisions to divide opposition to fees. Education unions and activists must condemn any attempt to introduce tuition fees. This is because introduction of tuition fees is only an attempt to further place the burden of funding the education sector on students and the working masses while further entrenching the policy of commercialization of public education.
Can students’ loans truly bail out Nigerian students?
In the speech given by BolaTinubu after being confirmed by the INEC as the President-elect following the controversial presidential election, he declared the introduction of students’ loans as a central part of his policy for the education sector. But Tinubu has said nothing new! Student’s loan has always been on the agenda of the ruling class whenever they want to deceitfully raise the need to introduce tuition fee. During the meeting of Pro-chancellors in 2014, they bemoaned the resistance of ASUU to the introduction of tuition fees in federal universities, citing that the students’ loan scheme, among others, would mitigate any negative effect of introducing tuition fees.
In developed countries, like the United States of America, where students’ loans have been institutionalized, many students find it difficult to repay these loans, some become life-long debtors. When Barrack Obama, the former president of USA, declared openly that he was not able to pay repay his student’s loan until just before he became a member of the US Senate, the whole world was shocked. But if this chain of debt could be so gripping in USA, the most advanced capitalist country in the world, what would be the fate of students in a neocolonial and backward capitalist economy like Nigeria where graduates can be unemployed for years after leaving school? It is clear that this loan scheme if allowed will throw thousands of students into lifelong indebtedness and at the mercy of shylock loan companies who will go to any length to retrieve their loans as we already see with the activities of several registered and unregistered loan sharks who give out personal loans. This is the tragedy the Nigerian ruling class want to inflict on the children of working people. The students’ loan scheme, just like many pro-capitalist, is an affliction that must be rejected! However, this can only be defeated through a united struggle of students, education workers and the working masses.
What is the alternative to students’ loans?
In the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), we argue for the need to properly fund the education sector by the government and not place the responsibility at the door step of the masses, who are already victims of an economy made ill by pro-capitalist politicians. It is not true that the government does not have enough resources to fund public education. Nigeria’s enormous wealth and potential if put under democratic control and judicious management can be enough to fund public education, and other services, adequately. Unfortunately due to capitalism and the greed of corrupt politicians, Nigeria’s wealth is not being used to develop the country and instead systematically stolen by the capitalist ruling elite and their business cronies.
This is why nothing is left to fund public education and it is why over the years, the ruling class continues to underfund the education sector leading to the current poor state of the education sector. In public tertiary institutions, facilities to aid proper learning and teaching are both inadequate or largely in poor state or an eyesore. Clearly, the government has failed in its responsibility.
Now having robbed the country blind and stolen the money required to fund public education, they now want to increase fees and force students to take education loans handed out by private loan companies which, as we see with the DISCOs (private electricity companies) which emerged after the sale of PHCN, will be owned by or linked to members of the same corrupt ruling elite. This is a cycle of oppression and exploitation that must not be allowed to take root.
We need to act now to demand that first and foremost, politicians in power cut their expenses and take a monthly salary not more than the minimum wage in order for the remainder of the trillions spent annually on salaries and allowances of political office holders to be added to the budgetary allocation for public services like public education and health. Secondly, we must also demand an end to the fraudulent contract system through which corrupt politicians and the business cronies game the system and pilfer public money into their pockets. Instead, all public infrastructural projects must be handled by the ministry of works which must be well funded and provisioned with adequate tools and also placed under workers control to prevent nepotism and graft. This alone can save the country tons of billions of naira annually stolen through the fraudulent contract system.
Last but not the least; we need to demand nationalization of the key sectors of Nigeria’s economy, that is banks, oil and gas companies, private refineries and electricity companies, big agricultural and manufacturing companies, mining companies etc., and their placement under democratic workers control and management. This will immediately ensure that Nigeria’s economy stops producing profit for a few billionaires and instead starts working for the benefit of the mass majority. In this kind of situation, it would be possible for society armed with a Socialist programme to plan production to meet people’s needs and for the wealth of the country to be democratically allocated to ensure that important social services like public education are well funded thereby improving quality and expanding access for children of the poor masses to be able to have an education.
As things stand today, it seems clear that the Tinubu government will try to impose students’ loans and introduce tuition fees. Hence the need for the students’ movement and the workers’ movement to begin to prepare resistance and propose an alternative way to rescue education. We believe the way to reposition the education sector from ruins is to struggle for proper state funding and the democratic management of institutions by democratically elected representatives of workers’ and students’ unions, this is to ensure funds are not siphoned as it is now always the case. Students and education workers must be prepared to struggle against the introduction of tuition fees and the students’ loan and demand proper funding of the education sector and democratic management.