THE Council on Higher Education (CHE) has urged the government to increase capital investment into higher education institutions (HEI) to increase their carrying capacity without compromising the quality of teaching and learning.
This was said by CHE Principal Research Officer ’Makaizer Mohlouoa on Thursday while presenting a report outlining the state of HEI in the country between 2013 and 2014. The report was released during CHE’s second biennial conference held at AVANI Lesotho and assesses the state of 14 HEIs recognised by the council.
The institutions include the National University of Lesotho (NUL), Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, Lesotho College of Education, and Center for Accounting Studies, Lerotholi Polytechnic, Lesotho Agricultural College, National Health Training College and Lesotho Institute of Public Administration and Management.
CHE is a statutory corporate body mandated with regulating the tertiary education sector to promote academic excellence.
According to Ms Mohlouoa, the total number of students enrolled in all HEIs in 2013/14 was 23 545 — a decline from 26 580 in 2010/11, 25 507 in 2011/12 and 24 073 in 2013/14.
“Enrolments by programme across all institutions indicate that most students were studying towards diploma qualifications followed by those in bachelor’s degree programmes,” she said.
“There were 11 535 diploma students and 10 073 degree students in 2013/14. Of great concern is the fact that there are very few postgraduate programmes and students at both master’s and doctoral levels.”
Lesotho’s Gross Enrolment Ratios between 2010 and 2014 also declined from 12.4 percent to 11 percent.
“In comparison to the Sub-Saharan Africa, Lesotho’s ratios were higher. However, compared to Botswana and Mauritius which had 27.5 percent and 38.7 percent respectively in 2014, Lesotho is much lower,” said Ms Mohlouoa.
People with disabilities, she said, faced a lot of barriers which impeded their movement and access to some facilities and amenities at a number of the HEIs.
“This ultimately affects their ability to access facilities and therefore, their success rates,” Ms Mohlouoa said, adding that only 20 students enrolled in three HEIs.
She said the number of foreign students studying in Lesotho were declining, whereas the number of Basotho studying in other countries were increasing.
“In 2014 there were 2 912 Basotho students studying outside the country. About 897 of them enrolled in South African universities, which constitute almost 30 percent,” said Ms Mohlouoa.
“Most of them were financed by the state through National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) while others were financed through other various foreign scholarships channelled through NMDS.”
On HEI staff, the report highlights the high turnover rate which resulted in personnel moving in and out of institutions.
“For instance, in 2013/14 there were 226 staff members who left from 10 HEIs. This is very high and it results in instability and lack of consistency in the offerings of these institutions,” she said.
“The staff quality index for all institutions except NUL was calculated at master’s level, while for NUL it was calculated at PhD level. The reason for using master’s level for other institutions is that they mostly offer sub-degree programmes which require lecturers with minimum qualifications of a bachelor’s degree to teach.”
As a result, Ms Mohlouoa said, research output was generally low in HEIs.
“There were 237 researches done from 2012 to 2014. There has been an increase in performance from the previous period, but the figures were of a low base,” states the report.
“One of the reasons advanced for the low output was that there was no dedicated funding for research from the government subvention for public institutions, thus, they had to make budgetary allocations from their already meagre resources.
“Another important trend observed is that audits for most public institutions are not up to date.”
Among the recommendations the council makes in the report is for the government to increase student support and focus it specifically on needy students in light of the downward enrolment trajectory.
It calls on HEIs to endeavour to work on staff retention strategies so as to address the massive staff fluctuations which result in academic instability.
“Government should increase capital investments into public HEIs so that they can increase their carrying capacity without compromising quality of teaching and learning,” the report states.
“There is a dire need for HEIs to diversify programme offerings at the post graduate level and increase intake, particularly at the master’s and doctoral levels.”
Ms Mohlouoa said some lecturers were underqualified to teach the programmes they were tutoring.
“Data indicates that some institutions have teaching staff who teach at the same level as their own qualifications and even above. This is highly irregular, and CHE should enforce its assurance standards to ensure that all institutions comply,” she said.
On her part, Education and Training Minister Dr Mahali Phamotse urged tertiary institutions to comply with HEI regulations.
“We can only be effective in improving quality (education) if all higher education institutions comply with provisions of the Higher Education Act and relevant frameworks,” she said.
“We have noted that institutions that are departments of government ministries do not fully comply with the Act in a number of aspects. This should be rectified urgently so that there is uniformity in the application and enforcement of the law on such issues as quality promotion and quality assurance.”