The National Health Training College (NHTC) finds itself in a tight spot due to the limitations set by the government on how the college can organise internal decision-making, internal resource allocation, and staffing.
NHTC currently exists as merely a department of the ministry of health, Newsday has learned.
As a result, it does not even have a bank account to its name, a strange weakness which has apparently even shocked the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS)
These were disclosed by the ministry of healthâ€™s Principal Secretary (PS), â€˜Maneo Ntele, while addressing the parliamentâ€™s portfolio committee on social cluster.
Ntele assured the committee that the ministry was working to ensure the college has autonomy.
She said during discussions with the Council of Higher Education (CHE), the latter suggested that the college will have to be closed if it continues failing to meet higher education standards.
â€œThe discussion came up when CHE was thinking of closing NHTC because of its failure to comply, poor performance, and the way it is managed,â€ she said.
But CHEâ€™s director of policy, strategy, and information, Motlalepula Khobotlo, told Newsday yesterday that the aim was not to close the institution.
Khobotlo said CHE was advocating that the school should have its laws and regulations.
â€œWe are just looking for the school to have and manage its operations so that it can run smoothly,â€ he said.
He, however, confirmed that CHE wanted NHTC and other institutions such as Lesotho Agricultural College (LAC) and the Lesotho Institute of Public Administration and Management (LIPAM) to be autonomous.
â€œWe want to go where the schools can hire their staff and run their schools independently even when they are still owned by the government,â€ he said.
According to some studies, colleges are better suited to pursue the goals of adding value to the talent or competencies of their graduates as well as improving their research output when given more autonomy.
For example, Lesotho College of Education (LCE) began its life in 1975 under the name of National Teacher Training College (NTTC) and was at that time, made a department of the ministry of education.
It, therefore, operated under the rules and regulations of the civil service.
But on 31 July 2002, the college was granted autonomy and renamed LCE. Since then, it has had the authority to determine its own programmes and strategic plan and to allocate its own resources internally.
Since 2002, LCE has substantially increased the enrolment in the Distance Teacher Education Programme (DTEP) from 500 to about 2000.
Studies at the LCEâ€™s second campus in Thaba-Tseka began in 2006.
NHTC was established by the National Health Training College Order number two of 1992 to encourage and provide education in the field of health for present and future members of the health profession â€œand to such other persons as the Board may determine.â€
It was established to also provide facilities for and undertake (relevant) research.
Ntele told the portfolio committee that NHTC should be independent for it to grow.
Because the college is a department of the ministry of health, she explained, it is usually negatively affected when the ministryâ€™s budget is cut.
â€œThe other problem is that the fees paid by the students go directly into the governmentâ€™s bank account,â€ she said.
That is why the NMDS stopped giving NHTC money because that money goes into the governmentâ€™s account,â€ she added.
NMDS is also a government department under the ministry of finance and development planning mandated through the National Manpower Development Council Act of 1978 to provide loan bursaries to deserving Basotho students pursuing higher education and training.
NMDS specifically administers partially reimbursable loan bursaries on behalf of the government for students pursuing priority fields of study at tertiary and vocational schools locally, regionally and internationally.
â€˜Malefela Lehana, NHTCâ€™s director-academic also told the parliamentâ€™s portfolio committee that it was necessary to have NHTC as one of the colleges in the country because it offers unique academic programmes.
â€œOf all colleges in the country that offer health programmes, NHTC is the only one that is a government department. Other institutions are independent,â€ Lehana said.
According to Lehana, this means NHTCâ€™s budget is included in the ministry of healthâ€™s budget.
â€œWhen the ministry budget is cut, the budget that was supposed to go to NHTC is also automatically cut. Amongst all other institutions, only NHTC gets a full budget while all others get subvention and they have their ways of generating income. NHTC depends entirely on the budget,â€ she explained.
She further explained that after NMDS became aware that NHTC does not have a bank account and the tuition fees it pays on behalf of the students do not go to the college but go straight into the governmentâ€™s account, it advised that the college should have its bank account.
This, she said, was denied by the ministry of finance which said that a department cannot be allowed to administer its own bank account.
She emphasised that the only option was that NHTC should be an independent body established by an act of parliament.
â€œSo we are pleading that something has to be done so that we can have access to the money paid by students as tuition fees,â€ she said.
â€œAs a result of the mentioned challenges we are unable to meet the full accreditation standards of higher education. We score zero on the finance standards because we do not manage our own finances.
â€œEverything is done for us by the ministry, we just make requisitions. We also score zero on human resources because we do not directly employ our staff. We operate under the regulations of the civil service,â€ she added.
The power to appoint persons to hold or act in offices in the public service, including the power to confirm appointments, and the power to terminate appointments of such persons, is vested in the public service commission by the public service act of 2005.
The chairman of the social cluster committee, Mokhothu Makhalanyane, pleaded with the ministry of health to ensure that the issue of NHTC is dealt with.