May 9, 2013

Low access to higher education: Will Education Bank stem the tide?

Low access to higher education:  Will Education Bank stem the tide?

House of Representatives members and the President Goodluck Jonathan

By Amaka Abayomi

As hope rises for the emergence of the proposed Nigeria Education Bank, which scaled the first reading last Thursday in the House of Representatives, Nigerians wonder if planned intervention bank will boost access to higher quality education in the country.

Though educationists, parents and students have commended members of the House of Representatives for this laudable initiative, they raised pertinent questions that need to be answered to ensure that, if operational, it doesn’t go the way of other government policies.

Commending the representatives, the Vice- Chancellor, Bells University of Technology, Professor Isaac Adeyemi; Provost, Michael Otedola College of Primary Education, Professor Olu Akeusola; and Policy Advisor, Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All, CSACEA, Mr. Wale Samuel, called for adequate modalities to be in place to ensure the smooth take-off and success of the bank.

House of Representatives members and the President Goodluck Jonathan

House of Representatives members and the President Goodluck Jonathan

According to Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who sponsored the bill, this would provide easier access to higher education for Nigerians through students’ loans and increased access to education for all indigent students.

“This will increase access to funding and prospects for young people, there will be a reduction in the crime rate and other social vices in the society.”

Titled: A Bill for an act to provide easy access to higher education for Nigerians through interest-free loans from Nigeria Education Bank, it seeks increased involvement of government in the education of Nigerians by offering loans to poor students in varsities and other higher institutions.

Students’ loans are not new in most developed climes of the world as countries like United States of America, United Kingdom, Australia, among others, have such schemes which have facilitated increased access to education. This, Gbajabiamila intends to replicate here as, according to him, Nigeria cannot develop with majority of her citizens not having access to quality education.

In agreement is the VC, Bells University, Prof Isaac Adeyemi, who advised that the bank should not be seen as an arm of government and adequate modalities be put in place to ensure its success.

“Such schemes work elsewhere because there are control mechanisms in place to ensure that there are no defaulters. The older generation benefited from scholarships and non-repayable government loans so there is nothing wrong in implementing this.

“To ensure its success, it should be private-sector managed while strategies be put in place to monitor the students when they graduate to ensure that they repay as soon as they start work.”

In the same vein, Mr. Wale Samuel of CSACEA called on government and institutions of higher learning to ensure that students’ trainings are tailored to meet the needs of the nation so as to ensure the success of the Education Bank. “In as much as it would accelerate access and competition at tertiary level and lead to job creation, which is the ultimate end result, but the loans should be for specific courses, else, it would amount to waste.

“These loans would be more beneficial at the basic education level and promotion of vocational studies because Nigeria needs more hand-on skills to achieve our national objectives.” Calling on government to create more jobs rather than giving bank loans which the students are not sure of being gainfully employed after school, the Provost, MOCPED, Professor Olu Akeusola, urged government to revive the free education policy.

“Government is in the habit of formulating policies that are not user-friendly. What should be done is to create employment opportunities for graduates, create scholarship schemes for indigent students, and make education more entrepreneurial by equipping the schools with functional laboratories.”

These, Akeusola said, would allay the fears of the society to know what they need and how to adapt such to work for us.

According to a parent who declined to give his name and whose two children are about to proceed to higher institution, this is a right step as it may afford him the opportunity to send his children to university.

Students were not left out in commending members of the House of Representatives for such laudable policy which, if successful, would alleviate the plight of the common man.

But despite the praises and commendation, some questions that need to be answered are: how sincere is government or would this go the way of other government policies; would it be private sector or government driven; what mechanisms are on ground to ensure that it doesn’t get hijacked by politicians; what would be used as collateral; and what impact the loans would have on job creation, among others.