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Nigeria: New student loans legislation

EducationWorld August 2023 | International News Magazine

Scholars have expressed hope that Nigeria’s introduction of tuition fees and student loans will end the underfunding of its universities. One of the first acts in office of new president Bola Tinubu in June was to sign into law a student loan bill, seven years after it was first introduced to the country’s parliament.

Until now, higher education in Africa’s most populous country (218 million) has been funded by the state and has been free at the point of entry for students. But this was seen as driving the underfunding of the sector, which tried to shore up its losses by charging students levies and sundry payments.

Ebenezer Obadare, Douglas Dillon senior fellow for Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the bill “recognises the unsustainability of that model and takes a step towards shifting the burden of payment for education to the student and parents”.

Every student will be eligible to apply for a loan if they have secured a university place and if her family’s income is below a threshold equivalent to about £850 (Rs.90,000) per year. Obadare notes that the bill had been welcomed by the National Association of Nigerian Students and predicts an influx of applications from prospective students once the government infrastructure, including an education bank, is in place.

Moses Oketch, professor of international education policy and development at University College, London, says the reforms have the potential to address long-running funding problems in the higher education sector. “There are continuous strikes by faculty asking for better pay. By establishing the education bank and the loan scheme, universities in Nigeria will likely be winners. Students are winners, too, because, if this move ends up stabilising university finances, then perennial strikes will disappear, and students can be assured of graduating on time,” says Oketch.

Repayment — which begins two years after graduation — comes in the form of a 10 percent salary deduction. “The good aspect of an interest-free loan is that it doesn’t saddle students with an ever-ballooning loan when they are not able to make repayment due to personal circumstances,” he says.

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