Amidst the academic crisis and recurrent strike actions in Nigeria’s public tertiary institutions, it is evident that the present funding model is overtly flawed. With the Higher Education Bill, the federal government has been working to fix this recurring issue. Importantly, fixing this situation means that the whole system must be rethought and redesigned to address these poignant problems. Financial sustainability, investment and graduate employability remain some of the challenges faced by public tertiary institutions in the country. However, the new bill, merged with improved governmental processes, is shaped to help deliver a better financing model with an improved quality assurance for the educational sector.
The Higher Education Bill is designed to propose an interest-free student loan that will assist students in paying their tuition fees at universities, polytechnics and vocational colleges established by the federal and state governments. Eligibility requirement is set at N500,000 yearly to applicants with a source of income or family income with over 133 million Nigerians qualified. Also, applicants will be required to tender at least two guarantors and must complete repayment within two years of completing their National Youth Service Corps. However, some challenges remain affective to this scheme.
Higher Education Bill lacks a governance structure.
Current value of money, as well as the lack of it is one important problem to be surfaced. The student loan model in the United Kingdom for instance, has the customer rights of the students at its core. This means the fee-paying students are within their rights to question the quality, support and services provided by the universities. Credit hours, courses and contents must also be fully delivered. Also, for laboratory-related courses, there are provisions for all necessary equipment that complement the subjects.
For a proper execution of this scheme in Nigeria, the fee-paying students would be within their rights to expect the provision of necessary laboratory equipment to ensure that the value of their invested funds is being met. However, the present reality indicates inefficient or inadequate equipment in most government-controlled tertiary institutions. Also, the Higher Education Bill lacks a governance structure that would tend to the complaints of fee-paying students. It is also immensely important that the government consider the skills or employment opportunities available for these students.
Public tertiary education system to be necessarily rethought & redesigned.
Another challenge this scheme is facing presently is employability. Graduate employment is one cardinal principle by which repayment are structured. Graduate students must be provided with job opportunities for them to be able to repay the loans. However, with Nigeria’s unemployment rates at a climaxed 33 percent, the Higher Education Bill scheme is flawed. Also, this government plans to manage the flow of public money to public tertiary institutions should also be scrutinized. For instance, the bill does not reference future levels to tuition fees on the basis of inflationary pressures. This cost-sharing paradigm does so little in addressing the funding challenge in tertiary institutions.
Thus, there is a poignant need for a rethink and redesign of the country’s public tertiary education system. For instance, a free market style, driven by the forces of supply and demand can be enacted. Here, the tertiary institutions are granted the autonomy to charge fees that indicate their values, ensuring a value complementarity and job opportunities in the future. With this, public institutions would be overtly commercialized and students would be able to demand adequacy from the institutions. This would also bring an end to the incessant ASSU strikes. However, this approach would deal a huge blow to the state directive of providing public education, as enshrined in the Constitution.
Model merging interests of universities and cost-sharing mechanism needed.
Nigeria, however, needs a model that meets both the public institution interest and the cost-sharing mechanism that involves the government., students and institutions. A perfect starting way around this would involve adjusting the bill to suit the needs for a governance structure that addresses the identified challenges. Institutions should improve their teaching methods to match the student’s’ expectations, in exchange for government funding. Institutions must also complement or give value to the money being paid and reshape courses to the needs of the national economy.
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