ASUU declines membership as board holds inaugural meeting ahead of rollout

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has declined to be part of the management of the student loan scheme introduced by the administration of President Bola Tinubu.

Ahead of the rollout of the scheme scheduled to commence on Monday, 26 February, the 11-member special committee chaired by Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Olayemi Cardoso, held its inaugural meeting recently.

But according to a communique drafted by the office of the executive secretary of the scheme, otherwise known as the Nigerian Education Loan Fund (NELFUND), ASUU wrote to decline its membership of the special committee.

Section 7 of the scheme’s enabling law- Access to Higher Education Act 2023, provides for an 11-membership special committee chaired by the CBN governor while the executive secretary of the scheme serves as the secretary. Other members are expected to be drawn from the ministries of finance and education, Nigeria Labour Congress, ASUU, committees of vice-chancellors, provosts of colleges and rectors of polytechnics, Nigerian Bar Association, NUC, among others.

However, the communique noted that while ASUU declined participation, others with the exception of the representatives of committees of provosts and rectors participated in the inaugural meeting.

Cardoso pledges commitment

Speaking at the meeting, Mr Cardoso charged members to use their diverse skills to ensure the success of the programme which he said is one of Mr Tinubu’s signature projects.

He said the ongoing engagement of various stakeholders must intensify in order to achieve a hitch-free rollout of the scheme.

Mr Cardoso pledged his commitment and support towards the success of the programme and praised the commitment of the President to the scheme which he noted will reduce the burden of funding the education of Nigerian students.

Access to Higher Education Law

In June 2023, Mr Tinubu signed the law that creates a legal framework for granting loans to indigent or low-income Nigerians to facilitate the payment of their tuition fees in Nigerian universities.

The primary objective of the Act is to foster the accessibility of higher education for Nigerian students. President Tinubu has asked that the scheme be extended to cover Nigerians undergoing vocational training.

The Nigerian Education Loan Fund (NELFUND) is the creation of the Access to Higher Education Act, 2023.

NELFUND is the body created by the Act to handle all loan requests, grants, disbursement, and recovery of the loans provided.

The Fund, according to the Act, is to be funded from multiple streams and will engage in other productive activities.

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It will also be funded through donations, gifts, grants, endowment, and revenue accruing to the fund from any other source, according to the Act.

ASUU’s rejection of Students loan

ASUU has consistently rejected the law which introduces the scheme. The union accused the government of clandestine plans of starving the universities of adequate funding, a development that has repeatedly caused conflict between the union and the government.

The conflicts have also consistently led to academic disruptions that have characterised the nation’s tertiary institutions for years.

In 2022, for instance, academic activities were put on hold in Nigerian public universities for eight months when about four staff unions embarked on industrial actions to protest the government’s underfunding of the institutions.

The unions are the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) and the Non-Academic Staff Union and other Allies Institutions (NASU).

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ASUU, the largest academic staff union in the universities, only suspended its strike when an Industrial Court in Abuja gave the order on the prayer of the government. The government had also invoked a “No Work, No Pay policy” against the workers for the period they were on strike.

Meanwhile, since the suspension of the strike a year ago, students in Nigerian universities have witnessed a sharp rise in their fees schedule even though the government maintains that the institutions remain tuition-free.

Most of the universities hiked the fee by more than 100 per cent, some of them in defiance of the president’s directive in July that the institutions should avoid arbitrary increments of the sundry fees.

Despite students’ protest across many institutions, the fee hike largely remains.

Qosim Suleiman is a reporter at Premium Times in partnership with Report for the World, which matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on under-covered issues around the globe

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