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Minister makes bursary U-turn

Mpeshe Selebalo





MASERU — Finance Minister Timothy Thahane on Thursday made a stunning U-turn when he announced the government will now sponsor all students studying at the National University of Lesotho (NUL).

Thahane told a press conference also addressed by Education Minister `Mamphono Khaketla that cabinet had ordered his ministry to raise M22 million needed to support 616 first-year students who had failed to get funding at NUL.

Thahane in May said the government was cutting the number of students who received government scholarships.

He said the government, which is facing a severe financial squeeze, would sponsor a limited number of students studying for the Bachelor of Science degree in the 2010/11 academic year.

Thahane said the funding cut had been necessitated by the need to tighten and control government expenditure.

He said students who failed to get sponsorship from the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) would need to raise their own money for fees.

But in an unexpected development, Thahane said cabinet had ordered the ministry to find the M22 million needed to support the 616 students not catered for under the NMDS programme.

“We had budgeted to sponsor 1 120 new students for the next academic year at NUL,” he said.

“However the university has admitted about 1 700 first year students. This means 616 extra students will have to be financed.”

Thahane said players in the education field should stop the blame-game and work on finding solutions to the problem of funding.

“We need to work together with different parties and find ways of collecting the additional funds,” Thahane said.

“If we are to sponsor all new students then we have to come up with M22 million.”

The finance minister said cabinet had given the go-ahead to his ministry to explore ways of raising the extra funds.

He said as part of the measures, the government will next year slash the number of students studying at South African universities.

There are currently 1 945 Basotho students studying at foreign universities, the majority of them in South Africa.

He also said civil servants who wish to further their education will have to raise their own funds as the NMDS will cancel sponsorship programmes for government employees.

Thahane said the government was also waiting to see how much government ministries had saved in the first quarter of this financial year which ends this month.

“The first quarter for this financial year ends this month and we will have to wait and see how much we can collect from different ministries,” he said.

Thahane said the ministry was also looking at stepping up efforts to ensure that students who received loans repay their loans.

He said efforts to track down defaulting former students “were at an advanced stage and we are going to take action against those who still owe NMDS by blacklisting them”.

Thahane urged NUL authorities to “tighten their belts” and be more prudent in the manner they manage their finances.

He said he was confident that the government will raise the extra funds before the start of the new academic year in August.

“The probability of coming up with these extra funds is high and I believe we will be able to raise the funds before the start of the new academic year,” he added.

The government this year allocated M195 million to about 10 000 students studying at NUL.

At least 600 students had however been left with no sponsorship, raising fears that they could drop out of their studies.

The decision by the NMDS to cut funding sparked anger among students who said their parents were too poor to raise the fees and pay for their accommodation and meals.

Speaking at same press conference, Khaketla said all students who passed the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate will have an opportunity to further their studies regardless of their financial means.

“We are happy that all students who have passed will be able to further their education at tertiary institutions,” Khaketla said.

“This year NUL received too many applications with most of the students having acquired very good results in sciences and mathematics.”



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