THE government must prioritise funding for education despite the current economic and financial challenges, His Majesty King Letsie III has said.
His Majesty, who is the Chancellor of the National University of Lesotho (NUL), said this during the 44th graduation of the institution yesterday.
The comments come on the back of a tense period where tertiary students from different institutions have been up in arms with the government with delayed disbursement of National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) allowances.
Earlier this month, students at NUL rioted and torched a building demand that their allowances be paid in full. Just when the situation seemed to have normalised, NUL was forced to send students back home on Friday after they torched part of a tent meant for yesterday’s graduation.
And His Majesty said while economic and financial constraints can be acknowledged, funding for higher education should be a national priority.
“We also do acknowledge that during periods of economic and financial austerity such as the one we are in, funding of scholarships for further higher education has to compete with the funding for other national development priorities,” His Majesty said.
“However, the important role of education as an enabler for the development of human capital that will propel long-term and sustainable economic growth, should be acknowledged and be afforded the priority status that it rightfully deserves.”
He said it was plausible how the NUL management had continued to run the university with the little money that it got from the government’s dwindling subvention funding, adding that innovative initiatives that the institution has embarked on will go a long way to find lasting solutions to the university’s financial deficit.
“While national resources have been severely strained in recent years and financial support for higher education is diminishing, NUL has embarked on a path of creating valuable partnerships with other institutions and organisations which will assist the university to fulfil its mandate.
“This year the university has had to face a serious shortage of financial resources which has almost crippled its ability to run the institution properly and effectively. Unfortunately, these problems have also come at a time when there has been and will be some major changes in the university’s top management.
“I have observed with admiration and pleasure that despite the challenges that the university is facing, the level of innovation and commitment among the staff has continued to grow and strengthen,” he said.
He said the growing number of post graduate programmes offered at the university with the faculty of Science and Technology, the faculty of Social Sciences and the Institute of Extra Mural Studies were evidence that the university was committed to making innovations.
He said he was proud of the university’s input into the national reforms process with the faculty of Social Sciences extending valuable and active participation.
“The outcomes and conclusions of this important national exercise are of course eagerly awaited by the nation. The university’s involvement in this process is a clear confirmation that the institution is and will remain a valuable national asset which houses a treasure chest of skills and knowledge that can be utilised in all spheres of our nation’s development,” His Majesty said.
He said the commitment to grow the university was marked by many partnerships with organisations such as the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) which has committed to sponsor students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels in the areas of Science and Technology, Environmental Science, Development Studies, Accounting, Social Work and Law.
His Majesty added that the Faculty of Health Sciences has been selected to receive funding to work in partnership with the African Forum for Research and Education in Health (AFRE-Health) and the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF), as part of an Africa-wide initiative to tackle HIV.
The King conveyed his gratitude to the former NUL Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nqosa Mahao and his successor and outgoing Pro-Vice Chancellor, Associate Professor ‘Manthoto Lephoto for their hard work as leaders of the institution.
Prof Mahao left the university in June and his position has been filled by Associate Professor Lephoto who is acting in that post until December 2019.
He said that processes were underway to fill their posts.
“You will be glad to know that the recruitment processes to fill these critical positions are well advanced. At this juncture, I would like you all to join me in taking this opportunity to convey our sincerest gratitude to the former Vice-Chancellor and the outgoing Pro-Vice Chancellor for their diligent, hard work and dedication in the performance of their duties as leaders and managers of this institution. Both individually and collectively, they steered this ship with great skill, often through some very stormy waters. We wish them the best in their future endeavours,” His Majesty said.
For her part, Associate Professor Lephoto praised her predecessor Prof Mahao for job well done during his tenure at NUL.
“He (Prof Mahao) cultivated the spirit of robust teamwork by establishing the senior management team that has been very instrumental in managing the affairs of the university effectively. He was able to steer the institution towards updating the books of accounts, establishment of links with other institutions within the region and beyond and instilling a sense of professionalism among us all.
“Prof Mahao’s desire to ensure the growth of the institution in a climate of dwindling public subvention translated into this vigorous support towards efforts to expand income streams. This has seen the creation of various income-generation ventures currently being managed under the Tloutle Holdings and the incubation of others under the auspices of the Innovation Hub,” Associate Prof Lephoto said.
Associate Prof Lephoto said while the university was aware of the financial challenges that the country is facing and was appreciative of government’s efforts to provide funding for the university, the dwindling subvention was disheartening.
“It has however, been very disheartening to be faced with the dwindling government subvention from year to year. Today we are sitting at the subvention level of 2003/2004 and yet we are faced with real challenge of (high) cost of living, growing enrolments, diversity of programmes and the growing cost of higher education especially in this age of technology,” she said.
His Majesty capped 1 199 graduates from the faculties of Agriculture, Health Sciences, Social Sciences, Science and Technology and the Institute of Extra Mural Studies. He also capped 59 post graduates, 1 150 degree and 282 sub degree candidates.
The next ceremony for graduants from the faculties of Humanities, Education and Law will be held next weekend.
The yesterday’s ceremony went on well despite the UNL students’ unrest which rocked the university two days prior the graduation where property was destroyed and part of the graduation marque was burned by the rioting mob.
The fire was arrested before a more destruction could be made but a small part of the marque had been burned.
The students were protesting their delayed National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) books, food and housing allowances which they have been awaiting since the commencing of the semester in August 2019.
In response to the rioting, the university management closed the school indefinitely and sent in-campus students home.