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Manpower freezes SA student loans

Bongiwe Zihlangu

MASERU — If you want to study engineering, medicine or insurance in South Africa next year then you have to be prepared to pay your way through university.

The government says it is so broke it will not be able to sponsor any student who wants to study abroad.

That also includes any other courses.

But those already on government scholarships will not be affected.

Finance Minister Timothy Thahane told parliament on Thursday that the freeze on government scholarships to study abroad will only be for 2011.

Thahane said after next year the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS), the government department that administers student loans, will only fund students studying special courses that will complement Lesotho’s economic development.

Tuition for a medical degree costs an average of M35 000 a year.

Tuition for other degrees costs about M30 000 a year.

Those figures are beyond the reach of many Basotho who for years have relied on government loans to further their education.

Most parents are already battling to pay for secondary education which costs an average M2 000 a year.

Neither the National University of Lesotho nor Limkokwing University of Creative Technology offer engineering, medicine, actuarial science and mining courses.

Thahane said the government “hopes parents will be co-operative and try to finance their children’s studies”.

He said the NMDS could not afford to sponsor new students next year because “currently the government does not have the money”.

“Parents therefore have to also lend a helping hand,” the minister said.

“I do hope this issue will be discussed in various forums so that we can all come up with ideas on how to advance education in Lesotho.”

Thahane also told parliament that the government would not give monthly allowances to the striking Limkokwing students.

The university shut down last month following protests triggered by the suspension of a student leader.

Thahane said some students had sent him insulting messages demanding their monthly stipends.

“They accuse us of refusing to give them their monthly allowances,” he said.

“I need to clarify now that government only gives allowances to students who are in school.

“We do not give money to students who are sitting at their homes doing nothing.

“That is not the purpose of government sponsorships.”

“Each student signed a binding agreement with the NMDS,” he added.

“Section 2 (a) of the agreement cites that a student will during the course of training attend all lectures, tutorials, field work, practical work and all other training required for his/her course.”

Eliabe Mokhanoi, Senkatana Party’s MP for Lithoteng, told Thahane he was not happy that the government had unilaterally stopped the student allowances.

“What if it emerges that the school was in the wrong after investigations into the strikes are completed?” Mokhanoi asked Thahane.

But Thahane remained adamant that the government had made the right decision.

“It should be clear to the honourable member that students enter into an agreement with government, for their upkeep and to maintain their studies,” he said.

“I am not in a position to say whether the school is in the wrong nor am I in a position to say whether or not the students were in the right or not.

“That is somebody else’s business.”

The government is already reducing the number of students it sponsors at local universities.

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