STUDENT LOAN SCHEME IS A SCAM: Resist Hike in School Fees at Public Tertiary Institutions
On June 12, 2023, the students’ loan bill was finally signed by President Tinubu and announced to begin the implementation by September. This has revived the discussions around the students’ loan policy and the crises in the education sector. Lackeys of the government are sparing no effort in whitewashing the policy, with some declaring that the policy would provide more access to higher education for the poor masses, we have also been told that the swift signing of the loan signified that the present Tinubu led administration is making education its priority.
By Michael Lenin, National Mobilisation Officer, Education Rights Campaign (ERC)
This is a deception and must be rejected. The student loan scheme is nothing but an attempt to send students of poor background into generational indebtedness while transferring the responsibility of funding public education to students. In other words, the Students Loan Act and the plan to introduce tuition fee are a smokescreen to take public education out of the reach of the poor. We, therefore, call on Nigerian students, education workers’ unions, the labour movement, and the generality of Nigerians to reject the students’ loan act.
It should be recalled that the federal government has declared its intention to introduce tuition fees across tertiary institutions, something which means a planned increase in payable school fees. So, the loan scheme is to create an impression that it has taken care of students who cannot afford the obnoxious school fees. We call on students and working people not fall for this deceit.
The fact is that the vast majority of students will not be eligible for the loan or able to fulfill the condition for it. This is because by the act only students whose parents’ income totals N500,000 or less annually are qualified for the loan. This means that any student whose parental monthly income is N42,000 or above is not eligible for the loan. By the current high cost of living, high inflation and devaluation of naira, the national minimum wage must be much higher than N42,000 at the moment. This means that children of workers on what should be the minimum wage are not eligible for the loan. In any case, by the prevailing economic reality how is a family surviving on less than even N100,000 not within the poverty line? Yet they are not qualified for the loan!
Moreover, it will be difficult for even the eligible students to get a lawyer or civil servant to serve as a guarantor for the loan and thereby not being able to meet requirements for the loan. This is because of the fact that hat there is no guarantee that students who collect the loan will be able to get employment after graduation to be able to pay repay the loan. Even, if the Student Loan Act is reviewed such that the encumbrance to eligibility we noted above is removed, the scheme should still be rejected.
At the moment, the unemployment rate for university graduates in Nigeria is at 25% according to the World Bank. This is as a result of the failure of the successive capitalist governments with their structural adjustment program or neo-liberal capitalist agenda of the last three decades.
Therefore, without any guarantee of employment after graduation, a majority of students that take the loan may find themselves burdened by a massive debt but without a good-paying job to easily pay back thereby leading to a situation where every little income that comes to them goes into servicing a usurious loan whose interest will continue to increase, thereby locking people in a permanent debt-trap. This is not the kind of future Nigeria’s youth deserve!
Practical examples from all over the world show the failure of such students’ debt schemes. Presently, the USA which is popular for such schemes is coming to the end of a student loan repayment freeze introduced in early 2020 because a lot of people could not afford to get gainfully employed or pay their debts. This means that, for the Nigerian government, the only gain from this bill is the increment of school fees, while students and workers stand to gain nothing especially in times of crisis.
Moreover, the fact that the government is planning to use the revenue from the fees to run public schools means that the school fees will be not be affordable for students from the working class families. This must be resisted.
Therefore, we again call on students, working people, education workers and the labour movement to reject the loan scheme and be prepared to organise with actions to resist the planned increase in school fees at the public higher institutions which are already bedeviled with deepening commercialisation. The primary objective of the capitalist ruling elite is to increase fees through a commercialisation programme and eventually privatise all tertiary institutions in order to hands off public intervention in education at higher level.
We demand a NANS Congress to allow genuine students representatives from the campuses to deliberate on what position the students’ movement should take on this policy. This should not be too much to ask if truly these so-called NANS leaders are truly representative of their members. We also encourage students unions and students organisations on the campuses to organize congresses and public meetings of their own and begin to campaign against the students loan and the attempt to introduce tuition fee.
We, in the ERC have initiated a series of activities to conscientise and call for resistance against the students loan scam and the planned introduction of tuition fees. At different points, we have issued statements, produced e-flyers, organized a well-attended press conference and held a hybrid symposium. We are also visiting different campuses with leaflets and posters. We also call for joint work with other groups towards building a mass movement to defeat this anti-poor policy.
Given the ideological capitulation of the official leadership of the students’ movement to the side of the government, we believe that it is necessary to build a mass struggle from below.
For us in the ERC, we believe that Nigeria is rich enough not only to fund public education but to provide free, functional and democratically-managed public education at all levels. The only obstacle is corruption and capitalism. This is why the ERC is committed to play a part in building support for the public ownership of the commanding heights of Nigeria’s economy and their democratic control and management in order to ensure that Nigeria’s wealth is secured from the tiny rich dominating it and made available to be used for the benefit of the mass majority.
- We demand that the Students loan should be turned into a grant to support the living expenses of undergraduates in public tertiary institutions whose cost of living has risen astronomically due to the fuel subsidy removal and other anti-poor economic measures.
- We hereby call on all Nigerian students, parents, civil society organisations, education workers unions and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to reject the Student Loan Act and the plan to introduce tuition fee.
- We call on the government to fund public education adequately, ensure democratic management of allocation and finance of institutions and meet the demands of unions.
- For the nationalization of the commanding heights of Nigeria’s economy under democratic workers control and management in order to secure the resources needed to fund public education and other social services adequately.