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NUL future hangs in the balance

as talks with gov’t hit a snag  

Lerato Matheka

The National University of Lesotho Vice Chancellor Nqosa Mahao has vowed business will remain suspended at the troubled institution pending a new decision by the school governing Council.

The Council is expected to urgently sit on Friday May 11 to discuss the university’s plight following an abrupt decision by Senate on Monday to cancel final exams and all academic business citing financial crisis.

In a statement issued by Registrar Maqalika Lerotholi on Monday, the school Senate expressed concern over dwindling subvention the university receives from government.

But in defence, the Education and Training Minister Ntoi Rapapa has refuted the financial crisis claims in a counter statement he issued on Monday night.

The NUL, Professor Rapapa noted in the statement, had just received M24. 8 million additional batch from the government to sustain the school’s business from April to June, 2018.

Rapapa’s statement was however not directly addressing the Senate’s main concern, which was that the government subvention had, over the past ten years, dropped from M132 million in 2008/09 academic year to M110 million in the current 2017/18.

The Senate had resolved to petition Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in October last year     over the matter.

According to the Senate statement, Dr Thabane had in response directed ministries of Education and Training, Development Planning, and of Finance to sit together with the NUL authorities and solve the issue.

But worse, the Senate noted it was “further shocked” that instead of responding to the crisis, the subvention was further cut from M110 million to M99 million in the projected 2018/19 fiscal year.

Speaking to the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNNCIJ) earlier today (May 8, 2018), Professor Mahao said until a new decision is reached by the Council, the school business will remain suspended. The Council, he added, is expected to meet on Friday.

“The Council is expected to sit on Friday and maybe it will override the decision of the Senate, but as of now, all businesses are still suspended until the government gives us audience,” he said.

Mahao added yesterday Rapapa invited the NUL management to his office “to tell us that the government was not pleased with the Senate’s Monday decision”.

Mahao was however firm that they were not there to negotiate “so the decision still stands. I thought he would give a commitment to addressing our issues but he made no commitments, he instead said the government will address the university, but this is not the first time so as of now, all businesses are still suspended”.

In the counter statement, Rapapa noted the government expected the Senate to lift the suspension.

“The government is concerned with the decision reached especially when NUL has money still in possession of the ministry to carry out its operations. It is unfortunate to have reached such a decision which hinders students’ final examinations,” Rapapa noted.

The statement continues showing shock that the Senate reached its decision without having consulted the school governing Council and the government.

“The government has just given NUL M24 800 million additional money for three months, from April to June,” the minister said. He added NUL was a public institution that the government took no pride in its financial struggles.

Mahao told the MNNCIJ the university demands continued increasing despite the ever-declining government subvention.

“I have written to the ministry countless times without response. I have even taken the ministry before parliament to address the university challenges. The minister said he would address the issues but until now, nothing has materialised,” he charged.

About the M24. 8 million, Mahao refuted it was an additional batch but part of the projected M99 million given to the university for the first quarter.

“That money is the NUL first quarter payment from the M99 million of the subvention. Here is a quick fact about the NUL, our monthly salary bill is M19 million. When one looks at the M24 million the minister is referring to, it is enough for only one month for salaries and I have not even mentioned daily operations,” he said.

The VC added: “The statement in my view is that the government is not ready to support the NUL at all. When we look at the university of Swaziland which is smaller than NUL with 6000 students compared to our 10 000 students, the university received M343 million in the last financial year. It is important to note that Swaziland is slightly below Lesotho with its economy.”

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