Threatens to push government to sponsor 800 students
The National University of Lesotho Student Representative Council (SRC) has vowed to bring the government to its knees in a bid to rescue the school from a possible closure due to financial problems.
Speaking to Newsday this week, the SRC President Reatlehile Makateng, noted that the committee has already mobilised students to embark on a national strike which will advocate for the university.
â€œAs the studentsâ€™ council, we are saying should the government continue with its intention of not sponsoring deserving students and hardening their hearts from solving the financial problems of the school, as the Studentsâ€™ union we have plans in this academic year to stage the biggest strike this nation has ever seen. We are going to fight until they do something about this, after all, it is our future hanging in the balance,â€ Makateng said.
During its 368th special meeting held on Monday May 13, 2019, Senate considered a report from the school management highlighting the deteriorating financial state following a steep decline in the allocated subvention for the 2019/2020 financial year, coupled with the announcement that the Government of Lesotho (GOL) through Ministry of Development Planning has suffered a highly reduced budget which has implications on the scholarships with the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) finances.
The Senate noted with alarm that the GOL presented three options to the institutions of higher learning for consideration and implementation to address the current financial short-fall. The proposed options are that; firstly, institutions should maintain the 2018/2019 tuition fees and not implement any fee increases while also maintaining their 2018/2019 student absorption and not insist on filling their allocated quota. For NUL, this converts to 1,630 sponsorships against the allocated quota of 2,330 sponsorships. This is the preferred option for the GOL.
NUL is an institute that depends entirely on the government to run its day to day business. This is how it depends on it; the government has to sub-stand the university with a certain portion of money that helps the university to run, it is with that money, the university buys or facilitates all the resources that are needed to run the university.
Makateng indicated that in 2008 they (University) had a subvention of about M130 Million as the University and as Basotho, they expected the university to grow and the Government increasing that money.
â€œIt is with frustration that the subvention was cut in 2017 to M110 Million and it was that same year the school experienced erosion of lecturers in the highest rate than ever before,â€ the president explained adding that in that same year, the Senate of the university petitioned the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to sort this issue.
â€œThe Prime Minister directed this issue to the Ministers of Development Planning, Education and Finance to sit down with the University Management and try to come up with a contingency plan on how to solve this matter. To date, this meeting never happened. On the contrary, we have experienced a cut on our subvention in two consecutive years, the last academic year it was cut to M99 Million and this very year when the budget was being made it was then cut again to M78 Million,â€™â€™ Makateng said.
He added, â€œRegardless of everything experienced at the university, the government has continued to cut the subvention funds in two consecutive years.â€
â€œThis year the school has received M78 Million and the Senate is contemplating on closing the school, that is unacceptable,â€ he said.
He noted in trying to mitigate the problem both the Senate and Council agreed to increase tuition with 10% but that was shot down by the Development Planning Minister.
â€œMinister of Development Planning actually issued out a statement and gave the university three options to choose from. The options note; that NUL must not increase the funds and should the school push to increase tuition fee, must not increase the number of students for admission. The Development Planning Ministry noted that if NUL increases its fees, they are going to cut the number of students they are sponsoring this year and the fact is none of these options are workable to help the school,â€ he said.
Makateng revealed that the university is going to continue as if nothing has happened.
â€œIt is going to increase the fees and accommodate any number they wish to. So, this coming academic year, Council is going to stand side-by side with both the school and the 800 students who will not be receiving scholarships.
â€œAs the president and the leader of the studentâ€™s union, I along with the council will not allow and sit and watch the Basotho children return to their homes.â€
â€œI am warning the government that we are going to war to show that we matter and investment in our future is vital,â€ he said.
In a statement, the Senate indicated that having deliberated on the matters extensively, it decided to advice the Council that in the light of the permutations worked out from the proposed options (by the Development Ministry), none is advisable to implement.
â€œThe Council should instead reiterate the required level of funding for NUL to operate to the GOL for it to make the relevant decisions and take appropriate action; form a task team made up of representatives from four public institutions of higher learning that would adopt a common action plan for consultations with the government and engage with the Basotho nation on the prevailing financial crisis facing institutions of higher learning, and allow them to contribute in finding a lasting solution.
â€œIn the event that none of the above strategies bear fruits, the University should prepare to shut down until the GOL is able to finance it to the required level,â€ the statement signified.
Speaking with Newsday in a separate interview, Minister of Development and Planning Tlohelang Aumane indicated that the government will not be able to provide NUL with the amount of money it needs, as the Ministryâ€™s money was decreased with 30% during the budget speech.
â€œIt is really confusing if NUL acts as if it is the only one given those three options since they were made for all institutions.
â€œIt is really frustrating if NUL can decide to shut down the university on the basis that only 800 students are without sponsorships, I really donâ€™t believe it and I think it can be possible for such a big institution to shut down. I plead to Basotho to calm down, because such a thing can never happen,â€ Aumane stressed.
The reason they have decreased the number of sponsored children, Aumane said it is that NUL decided to increase tuition fee.
â€œThe role of the Ministry of Development and Planning is to see that Basotho children get sponsorships and be educated, again it is the one who makes sure that the University is sustaining for Lesotho and Basotho,â€ he said
Chairperson of the Parliamentâ€™s Social Cluster Fako Moshoeshoe when contacted to comment on the NUL issues, showed no knowledge of the problem.
â€œI have no idea that our university has such challenges and I have not received any communication,â€ he said.
He added, â€œThe school should have written to the cluster to bring to light their problem so that we can look at amicable solutions. I have not been in Maseru thus I truly have no idea of the plight of the university,â€ he said.