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In November, Azerbaijan’s Education Ministry launched the country’s first-ever student loan program

It is aimed at making university more accessible. But there are several catches, and student advocates argue that it would be better to eliminate tuition altogether.

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A third-year philology student at Sumgayit State University, Amirli has had trouble paying the yearly tuition fee of 1,700 manats (about $1,000). Both his parents are unemployed, and he works part-time in a small grocery store both to help support his family and to pay for school.

When he fell behind on his payments, he was not allowed to take his final exams his second year and was automatically failed. But still owes the university money for those courses, and his record is now marred by all those failed classes.

Financed by a new Student Education Credit Fund to the tune of 80 million manats ($47 million), it will provide assistance to 40,000 students, said Education Minister Emin Amrullayev. It offers low-interest loans, which students don’t have to pay while they are in school, doing their military service, or on maternity leave.

But when Amirli looked into the program, he told Eurasianet, it turned out that there were a number of conditions , one of which was that a student can’t have any outstanding debt, or failed courses on his record. So he didn’t qualify.

If I’m not eligible for it, why are they allocating millions of manats from the state budget for it? he asked.

The loans are offered at a rate of 6 percent, well under Azerbaijan’s average loan rate of 14 percent, and must be paid back within 10 years. Students from underprivileged backgrounds including those with disabilities, who receive state assistance, or both of whose parents have disabilities, are unemployed, or retired get the loan at just 2 percent.

Those rates look fair but they can be deceiving, said economist Elchin Rashidov.

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