. . . as NMDS pays out student allowances
LECTURES at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) are expected to resume tomorrow after a strike by students over the delayed issuance of allowances by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) ended on Wednesday.
According to NUL Vice-Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao, the bulk of students eligible for the NMDS stipend had received their dues as of Friday.
“Our understanding is that all the students received their allowances with the exception of 60 to 80 students with whom NMDS had some queries regarding their documentation,” he said.
The university suspended all academic programmes this past week, following often violent protests from Monday to Wednesday which saw police engage in running battles with the students.
Last Monday, the NUL Student Representative Council (SRC) hired eight buses to ferry the students to Maseru to protest the delay at the NMDS offices. However, the police turned the buses back as they were approaching the city centre arguing the planned protest was illegal since the students had not sought permission.
After returning to the campus, the agitated students continued with their protests outside the institution’s entrance by throwing stones on the road and burning tyres.
On Tuesday, the students decided to walk to the NMDS offices and were again intercepted by the police who ordered them to return to the university. However, when the students refused to comply, the police fired teargas and “brutally assaulted” them according to SRC Secretary-General Thato Ponya.
However, the police have since denied the assault allegation, saying they only fired the teargas to disperse the students after they refused to budge.
Prof Mahao said the skirmishes between the police and students all occurred outside of the university campus and were instigated by the police.
“I must emphasise the confrontations between the police and students all happened outside the university campus. The students were sjamboked by the police to cover the incompetence of the state,” he said.
“The protests were certainly not of the university’s making since it was a matter between the students and NMDS. Unfortunately, the police became involved, resulting in the students throwing stones into the road.”
Prof Mahao said the NMDS stipends catered for 1 620 NUL students, adding the university enrolled a higher number of students.
“We use our own targets in our enrolment because some of the students would be able to pay their tuition fees. However, the NMDS quota for NUL students has been in place for five years, yet the Ministry of Education and Training is calling for higher enrolments to meet industry demands,” said the NUL vice-chancellor.
“It is a case of two government departments singing from different hymn sheets.”
Turning to the SRC’s demand for the inclusion of 200 first-year students to the list of NUL students sponsored by the secretariat, Prof Mahao said they could only accommodate them if some students who enrolled for the upcoming semester didn’t pitch up.
“The number of NMDS beneficiaries from NUL is 1 620. So, there is no way for us to add more students unless some of the students that have enrolled for the new semester don’t pitch up,” he said.
Mr Ponya also confirmed there would be back in their lecture rooms tomorrow after learning of a “high level meeting” to address their issues.
“We decided to suspend our protests on condition the outcome of a high level meeting between government ministers and the NUL vice-chancellor yield positive outcomes,” Mr Ponya said.
“I have been reliably informed there will be a high level meeting between Development Planning Minister Mokoto Hloaele, Education and Training Minister Dr Mahali Phamotse, Finance Minister Dr ‘Mamphono Khaketla and NUL Vice-Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao on Wednesday.”
He said the meeting would deliberate on the issue of the 200 NUL students who are not receiving NMDS stipends.
“Although lectures are resuming on Monday, we are very clear that we are not going to take no for an answer (on the 200 students). We will not back down on this issue. Every Mosotho enrolled at NUL qualifies for sponsorship,” said Mr Ponya.
For his part, Mr Hloaele denied knowledge of the “high level meeting”.
“This is the first time I am hearing about this purported meeting. What I can tell you is there are over 200 openings at the NMDS and we will fill them,” he said.
“The deadline for the 200 positions was yesterday (Friday) and if they were not filled, we will call other people on the waiting list to come and sign the stipend contract.”
The minister stressed the government did not have enough money to pay out all the tertiary students NMDS allowances.
“The government has never said it is will sponsor everyone and it is not a new phenomenon that some students are not being sponsored,” Mr Hloaele said.
“The NMDS cake is just too small and needs to be shared among the 17 higher learning institutions. Those who fail to benefit should just accept the situation as it is.
“They can always apply to be sponsored in the next academic year and they will definitely be considered when NMDS awards students loan contracts.”