NATION

Students’ Loans: Clarifying the misconceptions

By Frederick Akinfala

 

The Nigerian Education Loan Fund, NELFUND, was established under the Students Loans (Access to Higher Education) Act 2024, which replaced the Students Loans (Access to Higher Education) Act 2023.

NELFUND’s primary role is to receive, manage, and invest funds to provide loans to Nigerian students for higher education, vocational training, and skills acquisition.

In simpler terms, NELFUND’s primary responsibility is to administer loans to students in tertiary and mono-technic institutions, manage the funds entrusted to it, and invest them in worthwhile ventures to generate higher returns in the future.

As a newly established agency, NELFUND’s management acknowledges its significant responsibility, particularly towards the millions of Nigerian students and parents who are potential fund beneficiaries. It is crucial to balance public expectations and the powers and duties granted by the NELFUND Act. Therefore, it is necessary to define the limitations of the agency as well.

One recurring topic of discussion in various forums attended by NELFUND’s management and the public revolves around the loan application process and the eligibility criteria for potential beneficiaries.

As previously clarified, the loan scheme applies to Nigerian students in public tertiary institutions. The fundamental aim of the fund is to ensure educational equity, providing an opportunity for financially disadvantaged students to start and complete their studies just like their counterparts from more affluent backgrounds.The goal is to prevent underprivileged students from dropping out due to financial constraints during their research. It is unnecessary to define this specific eligibility factor extensively, as it is self-explanatory and highlights the difference between financially privileged and underprivileged individuals.

A parent who can afford tuition fees of one million naira or more is not in the same circumstances as someone who struggles to make a living and educates their child through the public education system. Similarly, while a student in a high-end private university may graduate quickly, their peers in public universities may face various challenges, including financial difficulties. NELFUND exists to address such obstacles, promoting fairness and equality in accessing higher education.

Another issue is whether inmates are eligible to apply for the loans. According to the NELFUND Act 2024, individuals convicted of a crime do not qualify for the loans. Specifically, Section 25, sub-sections (a) (b)(c)(d) of the Act prohibit the following categories of individuals: those who previously received federal and state government student loans but defaulted on repayment, those found guilty of misconduct, plagiarism, education malpractice, cultism, possession or use of hard drugs, those convicted of dishonesty or fraud, violence against individuals, and drug offences.

This eligibility criterion should not be up for debate, just as one would not question an employer for not hiring a drug addict or a convict if they so desire. NELFUND gained existence through an act of the National Assembly, the highest legislative body in Nigeria responsible for making laws and ensuring good governance. The content and context of the Act reflect the consensus among the 109 senators and 360 representatives elected to enact laws for the country.

Understandably, the lawmakers aligned the eligibility clauses with the provisions outlined in Chapter 6, Part 2, Section 182 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended). These provisions, among others, exclude mentally unstable individuals, convicts of fraud and dishonesty, and those involved in occult activities. NELFUND will certainly not exceed its powers or fall short of the genuine expectations of underprivileged Nigerians who hold high hopes for establishing the student loans scheme.

NELFUND is determined to fulfill the desires of President Bola Tinubu and the Renewed Hope agenda. It is a pan-Nigerian policy, non-discriminatory, and will ensure equal access to every eligible Nigerian student regardless of tribe, religion, and language.

– Dr. Frederick Femi Akinfala is executive director, finance and administration of the Nigerian Education Loan Fund (NELFUND).

 

 

 

 

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