NUL should not be a battlefield

NUL should not be a battlefield

THE National University of Lesotho was established prior to its sister universities being University of Botswana and the University of Swaziland. However, NUL’s progress, when compared to its counterparts, leaves a lot to be desired.
The 2017 statistics by the Council on Higher Education indicate that the then 72-year-old institution had about 9 638 students and 70 programmes. The 70 programmes are inclusive of both the undergraduate and the post-graduate programmes.

This is despite the fact that the University of Botswana, formed 19 years after NUL has about 18 000 students.
The slow progress by NUL may have a negative impact on the projections of the Higher Education Strategic Plan 2013/14-2017/18 which state that, “the impact of higher education on the economy can only be seen in a longer period as opposed to the five-year period within which this plan will be implemented.”

We are one year from the expiry of the strategic plan but institutions like NUL are still too deep in crises mode.
Why is NUL not progressing? Who is to blame for this poor progress? The frequent disruptions that occur at the institution may be playing a significant role in its failure to improve.

The NUL has been at it again, this time, it is not the students or lecturers striking but it is the Senate holding the students hostage. I was more than shocked last week when the NUL Senate announced that it had stopped the end of year examinations until the government has paid their subvention.
The decision by the NUL Senate shocked me to the core because most of the NUL students come from poverty-stricken families that cannot even afford to pay their rent let alone tuition fee if they fail.

This means that the halting of the examinations will adversely affect students more than it will affect the government. In fact what is happening between the government and NUL is a case of when two elephants are fighting, it is the grass that gets hurt.
The NUL Senate laments that the government has not been listening to their woes of financial constraints resulting from the reduced subversion. The NUL subvention was first cut in 2008 from M132 million to a M100 million; an act that the government never bothered to explain to the university.

This act was in actual fact just too cruel to the university as no explanation was given for the cut. Another cut to the subvention has occurred again this year with the explanation being that the government has low resources and it can no longer adequately cover the higher institutions subventions.
The very same government that believes education is the key to success finds it easy to endorse sanctions on the institutions of higher learning when it comes to budget allocations.

Fortunately, for the NUL students, the Council, a body established under Section 22(2) (a) of the Higher education Act, 2004, and which has more powers than the Senate, was able to reverse the Senate decision and made way for the examinations to continue with effect from Monday 14 May 2018.
Even though the Council reversed the Senate decision, it stands by this body as it feels the latter was given a raw hand by the government.
The Council also believes that the Senate action was a cry for attention from the government that seems to have ignored the university’s problems for far too long.

The decision by the Council, although favourable to the students and disgruntled parents and students, does not mean that the government will comply with the demands of the university Senate. While the Ministry of Education and Training acknowledges its duty towards institutions of higher learning, it is also concerned by their lack of accountability. We have since learned through the Public Accounts Committee that most institutions of higher learning are nor very compliant with submitting their audited accounts to the MOET.

The MOET argues that this failure to comply with accountability demands by the institutions of higher learning makes it difficult for them to allocate more money or to even get grants from donors. The point of accountability raised by MOET is sound and institutions of higher learning should stop playing hide and seek and comply accordingly.

Although the Senate may be justified to demand their fair share of subvention from the government, their anger should not be at the expense of the people they are supposedly protecting. It is absurd to hold the students and their future hostage while anticipating that the government will pay ransom in the form of a subvention. The emotional turmoil that the students have endured at the hands of the Senate before the Council stepped in may have long-term effects on the poor students who nearly lost a year of schooling in a blink of an eye.

In a similar breath the dilemma that the Senate is facing of running the university on a deficit should not be taken for granted by the government. It is time that the MOET engages seriously with the NUL to come up with long lasting solutions to the financial crises that has haunted the university since 2008 when it suffered its first major financial blow.

The NUL cannot solely depend on fees and subvention, there is need for drastic means to increase the university’s financial injection if the crises is to be averted. Suspending examinations and frustrating the students will not put money into NUL accounts, but devising other ways of raising finances will be beneficial to the University. Let NUL be an institution of higher learning that produces world-class graduates not a battlefield.

By:  Kelello Rakolobe

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