A think-tank  for Lesotho

A think-tank for Lesotho

ROMA – AT long last, the National University of Lesotho (NUL) is on the path to be what it should be – the think-tank for the Basotho nation.
This, thanks to the able brains of the university’s Masters of Economics student, Pabatso Matsoso.
She has established a company called Acumen Consuls (Pty) Ltd, which will make it easy for you to tap into a sea of knowledge at the esteemed university.
The company is being incubated under the NUL Innovation Hub.

“My company is gathering highly organised collection of NUL experts and their expertise, in all fields,” Matsoso said.
“My team will always bid for consultation jobs and invite the most suitable NUL experts to deliver.”
This arrangement will free NUL lecturers from the administrative part of the consultation work.
They will focus on what they do best, which is, research.

NUL soil, they say, has more professors and doctors per square metre than any other soil in this country.
However, Lesotho has a special affinity for foreign experts.
You meet experts in Lesotho coming anywhere from Malawi to Sierra Leone.

“This is hard to understand because the same country is spending more on education as a percentage of GDP than most developing countries,” Matsoso said.
The same overlooked experts NUL boasts were trained by the Government of Lesotho in universities all over the world.
But, could it also be that NUL itself is doing something wrong?

“Ordinary Basotho themselves contact NUL every day for help,” Matsoso said.
“They know NUL has deep expertise in numerous fields. The only problem is that NUL does not have a clear mechanism on how to deal with their requests.”
Let’s say you want someone to assist in the area of Linguistics or Process Control, and you are willing to pay for the services.
The question is, who do you contact?

Not only do you not know, NUL does not know either.
The university does not have a clear arrangement not only on how to find such people but also the terms and conditions with which to work with them.
How many linguists do we have? In what areas of linguistic expertise are they? Are they available to assist? How much will you be charged if they assist you?
As it stands, NUL doesn’t have such information — not for the lack of trying though.

Over the years, the university managed to invent some structure in the name of NUL Consuls.
“In theory, it was supposed to bring NUL to the people by searching for possible areas of consultation by NUL experts and then linking NUL experts to such areas,” Matsoso said.
In practice, it didn’t work hence it was later closed.

Much could have contributed to the downfall of the unit.
We are in no position to pass judgment on the matter.
However, the new company will work differently in the following manner.
First, note the first and huge difference.

This is a company, not a unit. NUL is evolving into an entrepreneurial university.
Many universities have a hard time understanding what that means and that is where they get it wrong. It doesn’t mean a university itself runs a business.
For large bureaucratic organisations such as universities, fiddling with running a business is always a recipe for disaster.
Asking a university to run a business is no different from asking a government to run a business.

Such businesses may survive if they have a charismatic leader but they will surely die with him.
That is because businesses need speed and universities and governments are not known for speed.
“Today NUL has had the courage to adopt a policy that allows numerous business ideas to be created and tested through its Innovation Hub without interfering directly in running those businesses,” Matsoso said.
“And that bold policy is already setting NUL apart from traditional universities.”

Matsoso is talking about “courage” because the wisdom to let go off some power, when necessary, is the rarest wisdom in the world.
Secondly, look who is pushing the company.
It is a young passionate student, not some old extremely educated professor of insects (they call them entomologists).
Studies after studies have shown that university-run businesses are also bound to fail because universities believe in letting them be run by highly educated old professors.

Well, seniority may be good in academia but not in business.
Having discovered a certain number of new insects does not necessarily make you a good entrepreneur (it does, however, make you a good academic — which is good).
However, here is where the good old professor comes in.
All of a sudden, Lesotho is building another giga-dam.

It needs someone somewhere to do an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
This is a huge study that needs a lot of experts in many different fields.
Among the experts needed are entomologists (how will the project affect insects?).

Lesotho is now ready to search through the continent, as it usually does, and to go as far as Sierra Leone.
But, Lo and behold! Through Acumen, the highly educated NUL professor of insects now steps in.
He will only go there to do what he knows best (and loves) — studying insects — and then leave, after being compensated by Acumen, for his services.
All that, plus the fact that the company will be incubated under the NUL Innovation Hub, makes for an explosive combination.

Own Correspondent

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