NUL tries new funding model for postgraduates

NUL tries new funding model for postgraduates

ROMA – Good news for potential postgraduate students in chemistry and chemical technology. When the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Department of Chemistry and Chemical Technology accepts you into its reviewed Masters programme, it offers competitive funding.
“We are the first Department in the University to develop and test-drive this model,” says Dr Emmanuel Tanor, head of the Department. “Surely, we won’t be the last Department”, he added.
Before you start thinking that maybe the Government of Lesotho is now injecting thousands of maloti into the University, take a breath before reading further. “This has more to do with innovative thinking than thousands of maloti coming our way,” says Professor Mosotho George, the former Head of the Department and the driver of this model.

Innovation, in this case, means doing more with less. It means letting go of the out-dated models and embracing new ways of thinking. Indeed, critics may be laughing their lungs out that NUL is now “boasting” about something other universities had figured out ages ago.

Well, the critics should also take comfort in the fact that NUL is doing it, no matter how late.
Before this model, postgraduate studies have always been a “financial conundrum” both for the NUL and would-be students.
Students, who have just completed their undergraduate degree at the NUL and want to enrol for a postgraduate degree at the university, can hardly get sponsorship from NMDS, the only public sponsor for tertiary education. Rumour has it that the NMDS, understandably so, requires the students to start paying what they already owed it for sponsoring their first degree.
Maybe that works for a “privileged few.” But for average folks, that is an impossible asking. “How are we expected to start paying when everyone is fully aware that there are no jobs?” asked one potential postgraduate student at the NUL.

So it was always a “lose-lose” situation for both the University and the potential postgraduate students. Everyone loses, but the ultimate loser is the nation. The narrative feeds well into the desires of our big brother next door, South Africa, whose universities’ prying eyes are fixated on NUL graduates.
Most people may be surprised by this, because some people in Lesotho are known for their very low opinion of NUL and its products, much as they look down on anything in or originating from Lesotho.

“But the South African universities are always laughing their way to Lesotho when it comes to picking the same students that Lesotho disdains,” says Professor George. “South African university professors”, he said, “have an amazingly high opinion of NUL graduates and they never miss a chance to say it.” As one put it “The trail of good students from (sic) Lesotho is remarkable…….”
“Now, think about this, how could we compete with South Africa universities which offer them full funding while we offer them nothing?” Professor George asked.
What’s the result? “About 80% of our Chemical Technology graduates are now studying in South African universities and providing the much needed teaching assistantship,” he added.
So how does the new NUL funding model work?

The Department had to be quite savvy. Bringing changes to a large organisation, such as a university, is not something that’s done in a day.
Your proposal has to be incremental, practical and convincing enough.
“We had to convince the university management that we could reduce the number of permanent posts and free the funds to sponsor postgraduate students,” Dr. Tanor said. “We didn’t do this through retrenchments, but when a position became vacant, it wasn’t filled up,” he added.

Thankfully, the current university management embraces innovative approach to problem-solving. So the response was, “Try it and let’s see.” “First, they hired temporarily, a number of our graduates as interns to assist with the work and they did a sterling job. Now we have admitted most of them as MSc. students.”
“The argument is simple”, explains Dr. Tanor. “You can hire six students with the same budget of, say, two demonstrators. That means, if you have postgraduate students, you hit two birds, if not three or four, with one stone.”

“On one hand, these are students, so they do research, which increases our research output, thus raising the academic profile of the university. On the other hand, they are workers, which means, they double or triple or even quadruple the work that was previously done by one person.”
They are also multi-tasked; they do laboratory preparations, work as technicians; administer tutorials, supervise laboratory sessions, work as demonstrators; and assist in marking, which is every lecturer’s nightmare. All these are achieved with much less money.

It’s a win-win. The department is happy, students get the much needed funding, acquire work experience, after all, they’ve been working as technicians, demonstrators and teaching assistants, all in one package. Can you think of any better deal? “The Department is at an advanced stage of talks with some of these South African universities so that our students can have access to their well-equipped laboratories,” Dr. Tanor said. “And our South African colleagues can never be much happier about this potential collaboration.”

Staff Reporter 

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