Education bank, a difference maker
Minister of Education Mallam Adamu Adamu’s announcement of the establishment of an ‘Education Bank’, to provide funds and support for all direct stakeholders in the education sector is a welcome development that can make some difference in that critical sector.
According to the minister, the bank would meet the financial needs of both teachers and students ‘from not-well-to-do families’ to enable average Nigerians achieve their dreams. This is a welcome pronouncement. But a mere intention it would be till government starts the implementation in a convincing manner. Any permanent structure put in place by government to ease the burdens of education on individuals should be remarkably supported.
Education is the bedrock of society. It provides manpower that would drive the process of growth, development, and harness the other resources. It is for this reason that the human resource capital has been identified as the most important of all resources. Sadly, education has been poorly funded in our country. Whereas UNESCO prescribes 26 per cent of national budgets be dedicated to education, the two main tiers of government in Nigeria – federal and state – have not met this minimum. Hundreds of billions of naira have been spent on security although we are not officially at war, to the detriment of other sectors. A well-funded education system is a guarantee to peace and stability.
It is indeed a paradox that in the midst of this paucity of funds in the education sector, the government has by fiat declared that tuition is free in federal universities and other institutions at the lower level. Primary and secondary schools suffer utmost neglect in most states of the federation. Primary and secondary school teachers are the first salary-casualties once the system suffers a hiccup.
What is worse, facilities in the secondary school system are not good enough to produce science graduates in spite of the much-vaunted preference for science students. Yet enough funds are never provided for universities and other levels of the school system to meet their basic needs. In the real sense as we know, education is never free. Somebody pays for it. It is this gap that the proposed Education Bank should fill without question.
The Federal Government policy that education at tertiary level should be tuition-free is good. However, from all indications enough funds have not been provided to bridge the gap of the free tuition policy. Lecture facilities are below standard generally. Power supply, which is fundamental to research is problematic. Some universities remain in the dark after 7 p.m. daily because of insufficient funds to power generating sets after power failure. Hostel accommodation for students is appalling with an average of 15 students sharing room facilities even in some of the first generation universities. Research grants for academics are insufficient when available. Some university administrators mismanage the institutions because of institutional challenges. The bottom line is that funding education needs better attention than it currently receives.
An Education Bank can therefore be successfully implemented if the national will is summoned and coordinated over a period of time. Often some government officials in Nigeria make certain pronouncements without broad consultations. The result is that shortly after they quit office the idea dies with them. Such renewed and fundamental policies should have the buy-in of heads of tertiary institutions, the financial institutions, educational bodies such as the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), National Universities Commission (NUC), National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), the Federal and States’ Civil Services, and other external bodies which have provided support for education in the country.
How will the bank function? Where will the seed money come from? How much would each beneficiary be entitled to? Would the loans be interest-free or at single digits? How do we ensure a hitch-free process of disbursement? How would repayment of loans be guaranteed? Would there be a law to back it so that defaulters can be held to account? Is the National Assembly involved in this effort? How do we insulate the body against the unethical practices that engulfed the Scholarship and Loans Board in the past?
The Education Bank should be established without delay. But in doing this, all stakeholders should be carried along. Private sector initiative should also be involved. Loans’ guarantee and guarantors’ process should be spelt out. Insurance of the scheme is also important. In other words, institutional guarantees that the Education Bank would not be seen as another drainpipe or where politicians would dispense patronage should be enshrined in the enabling statutes. The entire process should be computerised to ease administration and to minimise manipulation. Potential beneficiaries should be told all the conditions and repayment terms. Above all, the overriding interest of the nation as the driving force of the idea should be properly stressed. There should be no attempt to create an overwhelming bureaucracy that would ultimately spend more time and energy creating offices and nomenclatures to facilitate corrupt practices. Government should provide the initial capital in concert with the organised private sector (OPS). That way, continuity and strict compliance with the ground rules would be ensured. All told, a well-capitalised Education Bank is really an idea whose time has come.
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