People & Money

ASUU and University Funding: Is Student Loans the Answer ?

 

ASUU strikes impose great costs on students, parents, and the economy. FGN-backed student loans could fix our broken university system. A loan-based funding model means more funding, fewer students, and better quality. Very low university fees, around $35 per annum, attract too many students than the government can fund and too many graduates than the economy requires.

 

I completed my undergraduate degree at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife in 2022. My parents found it quite easy to pay the fees – N30,000 per annum for tuition and N3,000 per annum for a hostel room. The quality of the accommodation was very terrible. We were twelve in a room meant for four; we had to fetch water almost every day like villagers. The sanitary conditions in villages were much better than in our hostels.

A visitor from Kiribati would see the gross underfunding of Nigerian universities in five minutes on any of our campuses. A new lecturer earns around N110,000 per month after spending an average of seven years earning a Ph.D. It is no surprise that some lecturers have lost their passion for teaching. In the newer universities, some lecturers rarely came to class, sending teaching notes for students to photocopy two weeks to examinations.

Like most students, I didn’t think too much about the poor quality of the accommodation in OAU. I am wondering what my view would have been if the Federal Government of Nigeria, the owners of the university, had announced a policy to increase tuition fees to N600,000 and offered to guarantee a N1,000,000 per annum bank loan for every student to cover tution, accommodation, and living expenses?

I decided to get the views of Nigerians on that offer i.e N1,000,000 per annum In guaranteed student loan that the FGN has made to the Academic Staff Union of the Universities as a way of meeting the Union’s demand for increased remuneration and generally enhancing quality of the university experience.

Most of the interviewees agreed that the quality of university education in Nigeria is poor and everyone agreed that since the rate of unemployment is high in the country most graduates would not be able to pay back loans taken for their education.  The view that students should not contribute towards the cost of improving the quality of university education or a better quality university experience (by paying higher fees) because “are the universities not government universities” is very popular. This seems to suggest that Nigeria’s highly indebted government should cough out more money or that the funds to invest in improving quality in the universities would somehow magically appear just because the universities are owned by the government.

Also Read: Our Universities and ASUU’s Archaic Ideas

There is also a great deal of confusion about the FGN’s proposal; many of the people we spoke to assumed that the loan would not be available to poor students who would then miss out on the opportunity to attend the university once fees are increased to cover the real cost of providing quality university education.

Paul Kande, Taxi Driver, Economics Graduate, University of Lagos

“If the government considers loans as the way to resolve the ASUU strike, then let them give out loans to the student. After spending 4-6 years in the university, they will graduate into the unemployment market. The loss will be on the government at the end of the day.”

“I graduated with a Second Class. My parents are poor even though we never begged for food. My dad was an okada rider and my mother was a full housewife. My parents struggled to send me to university thinking that when I graduate, I would get a job and be able to pay for my siblings to also attend university. But Nigeria has failed me. I have not been able to get a job after almost twelve years of graduating.

Nigeria is a daily source of amusement. If the government wants to give out loans to students, the students should take them. We are in a country where nothing happens. A country where the future is not even certain. A country where graduating with good grades does not equal good employment. A country where nothing works. If the government considers loans as the best way to resolve the ASUU strike, then let them give out loans to the student.

After spending 4-6 years in the university, they will graduate into the unemployment market. The loss will be on the government at the end of the day. A government can even wake up one day and say that they are canceling all student loans. So, people who took loans will be educated and debt free. If this is passed into a bill, I will encourage everybody I know to take the government loan. Nothing will happen. Our system is not even strong enough to track all the students in the nation. For a nation with a crumbling economy like ours, the loan will be everybody’s share of the national cake. It is the government that will lose at the end of the day”.

Sarah Adegbite, Fashion Designer, English Education Graduate, Obafemi Awolowo University.

“It is just sad that as we grow, we have to kill some dreams just to survive. If I were a teacher now, I would be earning less than N50,000 a month”

“It was my dream to become a teacher because I have a passion for teaching. It is just sad that as we grow, we have to kill some dreams just to survive. If I were a teacher now, I would be earning less than N50,000 a month. In 2015, I got my first job as a graduate. The pay was N7,000 per month. My parents were poor. They died before I gained admission into the university. I sponsored my education myself by doing odd jobs and begging from relatives.

The Nigerian government now borrows to do everything. It would have to borrow more to provide loans to university students. We have to be bold and face the real issues. Ministers, senators, big civil servants etc., suck our economy dry. There are a few places in the world where a few people corner so much of public funds through lavish perks, fictitious contracts, inflated expenses and so on.

We need to scream at the top of our voices asking our leaders to change. After we block all leakages, we can then have a debate on how much is required to fund good quality university education, what the government can afford to invest sustainably in the system and how much parents have to contribute. As someone who struggled to put herself through school, I value university education and I believe that parents and the government should share the responsibility of reviving the quality of our universities. But the government has to come with clean hands”.

Tajudeen Alao, Professional Caterer, Business Administration Graduate, Yaba College of Technology.

 “The universities belong to the government hence we cannot ask students to pay more.”

“I have dropped my certificate and I am now using my skill to earn a living. Nigeria has always been hard for me. While I was schooling my parents were poor farmers who couldn’t afford my school fees which was less than N50,000 then. The desire to go to school was strong in my heart. My peers were all in university and I felt I was the only one without a future. I was determined to get a tertiary education even if I had to pay for it myself. I couldn’t get admission into a university but I was extremely happy when I was admitted into a polytechnic. Paying my own way through school was tough. I had to do all sorts of manual labour. I often went to bed without food. I learned catering during this period.

Also Read: Many SMEs Divert Business Loans to Building Houses

Education is the key to a better future but the government keeps changing the padlock. Education is not only training in a formal environment. When a girl goes to learn fashion design, she is receiving an education. When a boy is being trained at a mechanic workshop, he is receiving an education.  What the government should do is ensure that every Nigerian gets high-quality training whether in or outside the university and that they can be very fulfilled working with the training.

The idea of a student loan is dangerous. Nigeria’s economy is very weak. Even in advanced countries where student loan is a popular way of financing universities, there is a lot of frustration over difficulties to repay the loan. The minimum wage is N30,000 per month yet many states owe salaries over many months.  A lot of graduates spend 5-10 years searching for jobs.

So, when are they going to start repaying the loan? Even in the west people delay getting married and having children because of student loans. The loans will generate interest. Paying back would mean that graduates would have to delay having good things in life such as buying a car or a house. Even if the government introduces an education bank to give the loan to students they still won’t be able to repay the loan because there are no jobs.

If ASUU accepts the government’s offer to increase funding for research and facilities in the universities and improve the lecturers’ remuneration by increasing tuition and accommodation fees, Nigerians from poor home would automatically not be able to go to university. In solving a problem, you shouldn’t create another one. Government should borrow or look for another alternative to fund our universities. The universities belong to the government hence we cannot ask students to pay more”.

Paul Giwa, unemployed, Industrial Chemistry Graduate.

“It is the gross corruption that makes it looks as if our universities are underfunded. Let ASUU take their battle to university management.”

“My father is a nurse while my mum is a pharmacist. I went to a private university. I graduated two years ago. I spent four years as envisaged to get my degree as there were no strikes. I am now planning to travel abroad for a master’s degree.

Education is not cheap anywhere in the world. We all complain minimum wage is low, but the same people will still give birth to 6 or 7 children and then shift responsibility to the government. Nigeria is not as rich as we would want to believe. There are over 200 million people to budget for. Everybody doesn’t need to go to the university.  We need a lot more focus on improving the economy and creating jobs. We should upgrade our technical colleges which could impact many skills for which there is a strong demand in the economy. There is an acute shortage of technicians and artisans in the country.

Many construction companies in Nigeria now hire masons from Togo and Benin Republic. Our youths who cannot afford university education should be redirected to technical colleges. This suggestion will help find a lasting solution to the problem of having many universities that the government cannot fund properly. We need more technical and trade schools.

We have too many universities. We do not need a lot of graduates in social sciences and the arts as much as highly skilled people in technical areas such as brick making, railway maintenance, electricians, etc. These are the skills that build a country. The same group of persons who struggled to pay N90.00 for accommodation and a few hundred Naira for registration in those days are the ones who are fixing exorbitant tuition fees for our universities.

I daresay that the Nigerian economy was better and there was less poverty in those days compared to now. I am not surprised that many of our political office-holders that mismanaged our commonwealth are now asking young people to pay exorbitant fees. They received free education. I consider it cheap talk that a government that thrives on deception will promise a loan scheme that will cater to the need of the teeming indigent but diligent students.

Even in South Africa where you have a better-managed economy, lower poverty level, higher wages etc., graduates are finding it difficult to repay loans due to soaring unemployment. A student loan scheme in Nigeria will have a high rate of default because so many graduates can’t find jobs. It is simply not true that University education is not free anywhere in the world; students in Scandinavian countries don’t pay fees.

Fees in German universities, at around EUR750, is very low compared to incomes in the economy. The government needs to fix itself before fixing tuition fees. The funds flowing into the universities (Government allocations, TETFund, IGR, Grants, etc) are sufficient if spent properly. It is the gross corruption that makes it looks as if our universities are underfunded. Let ASUU take their battle to university management”.

Gideon Omofemiwa, Businessman.

“My mother wanted me to go to university but seeing so many unemployed people around discouraged me and I decided to do business.”

“I started my business quite early in life. I was born into a poor home where eating one meal a day was an achievement. My dad passed away while my mother was pregnant with me and I have three elder sisters. My mother never remarried. She did all kinds of odd jobs to put food on our table. My mother wanted me to go to the university but seeing so many unemployed people around discouraged me and I decided to do business.

I only learnt how to read and write in school. I learnt the art of multiplying money outside of school. I do not even have the secondary school leaving certificate but I am doing well in business. My business is booming and I am making sufficient income. Education is not the way for everyone. Knowledge is. I do not employ people based on their certificates. I employ them based on what they know and what they can do.

The people who run our universities are like those who run our government – they cannot add their figures. I told a friend that paying N25,000 tuition fee in the university will never deliver any worthwhile quality. In advanced countries research is funded by private and public companies, and publications by lecturers are funded by the school.

The school also funds the maintenance of structures and equipping of the laboratories. The government is only concerned with salaries and regulation of standards. We have a huge population and a lot of people want to attend university. But the economy is not doing well and we have so much corruption. The APC government spent 1.69 billion dollars on the railway to Niger. This is the equivalent of almost a trillion in naira. There are many other cases of mismanagement of public funds. Government establishes new universities even when it is underfunding the existing ones.  This is also mismanagement.

It’s high time the government is held accountable for every penny they spend. You do not mismanage public funds and expect the masses to reason with you. We cannot keep fleecing Nigerians to cover for the incompetency, failures, and cluelessness of the government and our present crop of greedy leaders. Nigerians will not support using student loans to fund universities if they think they are paying for government corruption”.

Ifeanyi Obiora, Apprentice.

“I am from Ogun State. I moved to Lagos in 2019 to learn spare parts trade. My father was a government school teacher and my mother was a seamstress.

I believe it won’t be a bad idea if a nation borrows to improve its human development index especially if such a loan is anchored on sustainability and tied to academic excellence. Such a strategic loan is more reasonable than fuel subsidy. Nigeria is simply in a classic Catch-22 situation. That is, as long as the nation produces a great mass of uncritical thinkers in the name of half or even non-baked graduates, the leadership quotient would keep getting worse.

Ironically, it’s the same university system that produces the uncritical thinkers who then grow into uncritical leaders that cannot think outside the box for solutions to leakages and strategies for producing and sustaining development. Our agitations aren’t rocket science in the real sense if only we could sit back and think through and not use the uncritical mob approach. I believe a leader is just a reflection of the mindsets of the majority. When the majority becomes critical thinkers, the leadership becomes strategic.

My opinion is that the greatest challenge is not outside the school system. And as long as our education isn’t equipping us to ask critical questions and develop critical solutions, it is a waste of time.  Now, in most of these federal universities’ students are paying through their “noses”. Most parents can’t afford the fees.

At the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, some of the hostels have become excessively monetized. The hostels are no longer habitable; they are very unkempt. The good hostels cost between N70,000 and N150,000. Students still have to pay for field trips and practicals. Why do we have to monetize education? What’s the minimum wage for the workers in the country? Inflation is battering even people working in private organizations. It is too much for the government to give tertiary education free to its citizens”?

Nigerians often cite the corruption and waste in government as reasons to block extremely important reforms. Parents, students, and commentators resist the possibility of significantly increasing the funding of Nigerian universities through student loans using this old argument.

But the undoubted existence of government corruption is not an excuse to bury Nigeria under a pile of debt. In 2023, Nigeria will earn only N6.3trillion and would have to borrow over N11trillion, pouring N6.7trillion into fuel subsidy and using N6.4trillion to service existing debt.

Even if no one in government stole a single kobo in the next five years, Nigeria would still need to apply giant scissors to its expenses. Resisting urgent fiscal reforms because the government is corrupt amounts to cutting our noses to spite our faces. The poor masses rather than the corrupt people in government are the ones who suffer from mounting public debt, a broken economy, and a broken university system.

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