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Student loan: 1.2m beneficiaries listed as scheme begins Friday

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Student Loan Bill

The long-awaited student loan programme will take off on Friday with 1.2 million students in federal tertiary institutions across the country, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Education Loan Fund, Akintunde Sawyerr, has said.

Sawyerr, who spoke at a pre-application sensitisation press conference in Abuja, on Monday, said 1.2 million students in federal universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, and technical colleges would benefit from the first phase.

 Data obtained from the National Universities Commission website indicated that the nation has 226 federal tertiary institutions comprising 62 universities, 41  polytechnics, 96 monotechnics and 27 colleges of education.

President Bola Tinubu, on April 3, signed the Student Loans (Access to Higher Education) Act (Repeal and Re-Enactment) Bill, 2024, into law.

The assent was sequel to the separate considerations by both the Senate and the House of Representatives of the report of the Committee on Tertiary Institutions and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund.

The executive bill titled, ‘A bill for an Act to repeal the Students Loans (Access to Higher Education) Act, 2023 and Enact the Student Loans (Access to Higher Education) Bill, 2004 to Establish the Nigerian Education Loan Fund as a body corporate to receive, manage and invest funds to provide loans to Nigerians for higher education, vocational training and skills acquisition and related matters,’  was signed in the presence of the leadership of the National Assembly, ministers and major stakeholders of education.

The Act empowers the Nigeria Education Loan Fund to provide loans to qualified Nigerian students for tuition, fees, charges and upkeep during their studies in approved public tertiary institutions and vocational and skills acquisition establishments in the country.

The new law which repealed the Student Loan Act, 2023, removed the family income threshold so students can apply for loans and accept responsibility for repayment, according to the Fund’s guidelines.

Access to education

Speaking after he signed the bill, Tinubu said no Nigerian, regardless of their background, would be excluded from obtaining quality education.

“This is to ensure that no one, no matter how poor their background is, is excluded from quality education and opportunity to build their future,” said the President at the State House, Abuja.

Although the government initially announced that the scheme would be launched in September, it suffered several delays leading to an indefinite postponement.

The Presidency had linked the delay to Tinubu’s directive to expand the scheme to include loans for vocational skills.

Last Thursday, the Nigerian Education Loan Fund announced May 24 as the official date for the opening of the portal for loan applications.

Addressing journalists on Monday, ahead of the opening of Friday’s portal, Sawyerr said, “There are approximately 1.2 million students in federal tertiary institutions owned by the government. Today, by inference, 1.2m  students maximum at the federal level (will benefit), but there might be an opportunity to increase the capacity in terms of more institutions, and when we begin to bring in state-owned institutions, then the numbers can go up.’’

He explained that only students whose institutions had uploaded their data on the Fund’s dashboard would be eligible to apply.

While calling on students in federal tertiary institutions to visit the website, www.nelf.gov.ng to apply from May 24, the CEO added that students in state universities and vocational skills centres could apply at a later date.

He said the requirements to apply include the admission letter from the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, National Identity Number, and Bank Verification Number as well as completed application forms from its website.

“The loan application process has been streamlined to ensure easy access for all eligible students in federal tertiary institutions. Applicants can access online support to assist with any questions or concerns during the application process.

“We believe that education is a vital investment for the future. We envisage that the student loan initiative of Mr President is a testament to this commitment,” he said.

One of the key features of the programme, he stressed, is the absence of physical contact between the loan applicant and NELFUND.

‘Portal user-friendly’

 According to him, the portal provides a user-friendly interface for students to submit their loan applications conveniently.

He encouraged students in federal tertiary institutions to take advantage of the opportunity to secure the required financial assistance for their education, even as he urged the applicants to submit their applications as soon as possible to ensure timely processing.

He revealed that in addition to the interest-free loan, applicants will also receive monthly stipends for upkeep.

He, however, did not state the amount, saying, “That figure will be capped. And we will look very closely at each application and make a decision based on several factors as to what fees will be paid to them.’’

“The fees for the institution are going to be paid not to the students but to the institution. And that will be paid at the maximum of that fee per session. We will only pay for a session at a time because people drop out of institutions, they change institutions,” he clarified.

The NELFUND boss also pointed out that the institutions have vital roles to play in providing the Fund with data on fees payable by students at the departmental, faculty and other levels.

According to Sawyerr,  the agency is also working with security agencies to ensure that people do not take advantage and defraud the process.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has called on state governments to ensure responsible and transparent use of the matching grants allocated for the implementation of the Universal Basic Education Commission programme.

The Executive Secretary of UBEC, Dr Hamid Bobboyi,  emphasised the directive during the inauguration of a six-day training programme for accountants and auditors from UBEC and State Universal Basic Education Boards in Abuja.

Addressing the participants, Bobboyi condemned the undue pressure often placed on financial officers by state officials, urging SUBEBs’ financial officers to uphold integrity and resist such pressures to avoid compromising standards.

“The training aims to update participants on the revised accounting manual and to provide a comprehensive understanding of financial infractions and sanctions,” Bobboyi stated, adding, “This knowledge is essential for ensuring effective service delivery in basic education.”

Highlighting the mandates of UBEC and SUBEBs in implementing the Universal Basic Education programme, Bobboyi stressed the importance of a robust accounting system to ensure the judicious use of government funds.

He stressed the imperative of fidelity to accountability regarding the management of the Federal Government’s UBE Intervention Fund.

To achieve these objectives, continuous enhancement of professional competence among UBEC and SUBEB staff is necessary, he noted.

Bobboyi lamented that despite previous training efforts, there has been limited improvement in financial practices.

He cited findings from regular quarterly financial monitoring by UBEC, which revealed poor record-keeping and infractions against established guidelines.

He explained that the findings and recommendations from these monitoring activities had been communicated to SUBEBs for corrective actions.

 Bobboyi stressed the importance of adhering to existing rules and guidelines to ensure accountability and transparency in financial transactions.

“As finance officers, it is your duty to comply strictly with these government stipulations. Engaging in or condoning wrongdoing will not be excused. Remember, reports from UBEC’s financial monitoring can be requested by agencies enforcing compliance with laws and regulations,’’ he warned the officials.

He further urged the participants to fully engage with the training and return to their offices equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to improve accounting practices at both the commission and boards.

To protect the FGN-UBE Intervention Fund, the Director of Finance and Accounts at UBEC, Adamu Misau, noted that a new sanction regime developed in 2022 had been approved for implementation.

The delay in its implementation, he said, was to ensure all financial managers received adequate training, which the current programme aimed to provide.

“We expect that by the end of this training, financial officers will be better prepared to manage the FGN-UBE Intervention Funds responsibly, adhering to financial regulations and due process,” Misau concluded.

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