Financial aid: Should bursary scheme be dropped or fixed?

A backlog of unpaid bursaries dating back up to three years, irregularities in the management of the funds by some government officials and the insufficient size or buying power of the allocations, including paltry sums as low as NGN10,000 (about US$22), are fuelling calls from Nigerian student organisations and experts to rethink this form of financial aid to poor students.

The bursary is meant to assist indigent students to pay tuition fees, buy learning materials and food, among other things, but some experts believe scholarships and loans will offer a better solution.

To qualify for state bursaries, students are required to apply online by providing evidence of their citizenship, their student identity card, the name of the institution they attend, their course of study and their current year of study. Disbursements follow after applications have been verified.

But, several state governments have not been disbursing the grant annually, leading to a backlog that consequently denies qualifying students access to the grant.

Though some governors blame the irregular payments on the state’s lean purse, students have dismissed this defence on the grounds that public office holders and government functionaries receive huge amounts in salaries and allowances.

After three years, the Yobe State government has just started disbursing a NGN23,000 bursary which students from the state applied for in 2019.

President of the National Union of Yobe State Students Auwal Gambo Salisu said many indigenes, who were supposed to benefit from the grant have graduated without receiving it.

He said he has been appealing to several students, assuring them that the state government will pay everyone.

“Since 2019, we have not applied for any bursaries again. The payment for 2019 bursaries is still ongoing. Maybe when it [the payment] is completed, another application may commence. The government should ensure they pay bursaries regularly,” Salisu told University World News.

Kazeem Adeoye, the president of the National Association of Osun State Students, said the state government did not pay out bursaries between 2018 and 2021.

“The state government pays students a NGN10,000 bursary, but not on a regular basis. We were not paid for four years, but we got it last year. We hope that the current governor will give us this year too,” he added.

Ibrahim Abbas, a student at the University of Lagos, who hails from Kwara State, said the state increased the bursary from NGN5,000 to NGN10,000 just last year after several complaints.

“The bursary is small and hardly makes any impact, yet a lot of students who apply don’t get paid. The NGN10,000 can’t even feed me for two weeks, let alone pay my tuition fee which is about NGN100,000,” he said.

Marred by irregularities

In December 2022, the National Association of Niger State Students (NANISS) highlighted the state government’s failure to pay out a NGN85 million bursary backlog, alleging that. out of NGN120 million appropriated to the state’s 2022 bursary budget, only NGN35 million was disbursed.

NANISS President Khalid Baba-Abudu, at the time alleged that, of the NGN150 million approved in 2021 for bursaries, only NGN20 million was paid out, with a number of students excluded.

But Niger State Scholarship Board Executive Secretary Usman Mohammed said the board had disbursed what it had received from the state ministry of education.

In 2020, three officials of the Kwara State Scholarship Board were tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for diverting NGN6.269 million out of NGN50 million released by the state government for 10,000 student bursaries in 2018. Punch reported.

A prosecution witness, Abdulkareem Ismail, had testified during a court hearing that the officials forged the signatures of 326 students.

Rethinking the scheme?

Some experts believe the bursary scheme had failed to meet students’ needs, advising that the state governments should rather come up with student loans and scholarships.

Kaduna State has started toeing these paths by replacing bursaries with scholarships and student loans.

In July 2022, the state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, inaugurated the state’s Merit and Needs-Based Local Scholarship programme to replace a bursary system in the state, which awarded between NGN10,000 and NGN20,000 per annum to students, Daily Nigerian reported.

The governor explained that the government offered merit-based scholarships and loans, adding that NGN819 million has been disbursed through the education loan scheme to 509 beneficiaries for their tuition fees and upkeep.

He said the state government approved NGN524.12 million in scholarships for the tuition fees of 1,251 deserving students.

“Between April 2019 and February 2022, under the new Kaduna state scholarship and loans board, 6,858 students benefited from NGN675 million the board paid out under the state bursary scheme.

“All the beneficiaries were paid NGN109,000 per session, which is much better than what was being paid previously,” the governor added.

Bashir Mohammed Jumare, a professor of public finance at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, also maintained that bursaries have not been working, due to some factors such as corruption, and he advised state governments to emulate Kaduna state.

“A bursary is given to a student who is not [necessarily] deserving of it. This and other implementation gaps have made the scheme fail. The number of applicants must be streamlined to ensure that it serves the needs of the poorest among the poor students. The government must develop comprehensive criteria for those who need this bursary most to access it.

“Decades back, the bursary used to be sufficient for us to pay our tuition fees and accommodation and to feed ourselves properly. But, now, you can hardly get it on time and the amount [of money] is very insignificant,” Jumare stated.