President Bola Tinubu has signed the Access to Higher Education Act, 2023, also known as the Students Loan Act, paving the way for Nigerians to acquire tertiary education through interest-free loans.
The Act establishes an Education Loan Fund, managed by an 11-person special committee, to facilitate the disbursement and recuperation of the loans. Eligibility is based on criteria including the applicants’ income, institution type, and clean legal record. The Act emphasizes non-discrimination and equality in access to loans
President Bola Tinubu, on Monday, signed into law a bill that provides interest-free education loans for Nigerians willing to pursue tertiary education. The Access to Higher Education Act, 2023, otherwise known as the Students Loan Act, is a significant step towards achieving educational equality and enabling more Nigerians to access higher education opportunities.
The History and Intent of the Nigeria Students Loan Act (Access to Higher Education Act)
The bill, first introduced in 2016 by Femi Gbajabiamila, the immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives, was reintroduced in 2019. It gained more attention from the National Assembly in November 2022, just a month after an eight-month-long industrial action by the nation’s university workers’ union who were protesting poor working conditions, among other demands.
The Act establishes the Nigerian Education Loan Fund, which will handle all loan requests, grants, disbursements, and recuperations of the loans provided. The goal is to help Nigerians fund their higher education, and beneficiaries are expected to pay in installments two years after completing their participation in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme.
Education Loan Fund: Sources and Management
According to the Act, the Education Loan Fund will receive funding from various sources, including profits from oil and other minerals, taxes, levies and duties from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), education bonds and endowment fund schemes, as well as donations, gifts, grants, and endowment.
The Fund will be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and managed by an 11-person special committee chaired by the CBN governor. The committee comprises representatives from various sectors, including education, finance, universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education. The committee will establish regulations and guidelines for managing, disbursing, and recouping students’ loans.
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Nigeria Students Loan Act Eligibility and Application Process
The Act stipulates that only students of government-owned tertiary institutions are eligible to apply for the loan. To qualify, an applicant’s income or family income must be less than N500,000 per annum. Applicants must also provide at least two guarantors, each of whom must either be a civil servant of at least level 12, a lawyer with at least 10 years post-call experience, or a judicial officer, or a justice of peace.
Students can be disqualified from the loan if they have been found guilty of examination malpractice by any school authority, convicted of a felony or any offense involving dishonesty or fraud, or if they or their parents have defaulted in respect of a student loan or any loan granted to them, or has been convicted of drug offenses.
Repayment of the loan begins exactly two years after the completion of the participation in the NYSC programme. A beneficiary shall remit 10 per cent of their income to the Fund at the end of every month. For self-employed individuals, 10 per cent of their total monthly profit shall be remitted as part of the repayment plans. Defaulters risk a N500,000 fine, two years jail term or both when they fail to repay their loans.
The Way Forward
The implementation of the Access to Higher Education Act, 2023, signals a significant breakthrough for higher education in Nigeria. The law is a beacon of hope for students facing financial constraints in their quest for tertiary education. However, the effectiveness of the law will depend largely on its implementation, the robustness of the fund management, and the willingness and ability of beneficiaries to repay their loans.