NUL students, govt in fees standoff
. . . vow to boycott lectures if PM does not address demands
NATIONAL University of Lesotho (NUL) students say they will boycott lectures starting from tomorrow if Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili does not ensure their tuition fees were fully paid.
The students made this vow while submitting a petition to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Palo Leteetee and Education and Training Minister Motlalentoa Letsosa on Thursday in Maseru.
This was after NUL students, along with their Lesotho College of Education (LCE) counterparts, held a protest march from the Race Course site near Maseru Mall to King Moshoeshoe I Monument in the city centre.
Botho University students also participated in the march in solidarity with their colleagues.
In the petition, the approximately 5 000 students urged Dr Mosisili to address the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS)’s failure to pay tuition fees in full and on time for sponsored students in the 2016/17 academic year.
NUL increased tuition fees after the 2016/17 budget – in which NMDS funds are allocated – had already been completed. The university management then demanded that each student pay the shortfall by the end of May 2017.
The students say the shortfalls range from M900 to M6 500 depending on their faculties.
Following a 7 February 2017 communique from NUL registrar Liteboho Maqalika-Lerotholi notifying students of the secretariat’s decision not to pay the shortfall, the NUL Student Representative Council (SRC) held consultative meetings with government representatives in an effort to get the state to settle the shortfalls.
However, the NUL students’ representatives said all consultative meetings failed to yield positive results, hence the decision to petition the premier.
The NUL SRC said they held meetings with the university’s management and government ministers from the Development Planning, Finance and Education portfolios but were “sent from pillar to post”.
They then resolved to engage Dr Mosisili directly on the premise that all the ministers ultimately reported to him.
The petition was read by NUL SRC Secretary-General Thato Ponya who said all the shortfalls should be paid off promptly by the government.
“I urge the government to bear in mind the fact that access to quality education is a right for every Mosotho,” he said.
Mr Ponya also stated that the students wanted government to fully sponsor post graduate and diploma-level students without any exception.
“Every student admitted at the university must be sponsored by the government. We demand that the university’s subsidy be increased. “We are reliably informed that the University of Swaziland gets a total of 350 million emalangeni, equivalent to our currency yet our university is subsidised by only M100 million. This is turning our national university into a glorified high school,” he said.
“We also demand an increment of M200 and M100 for our monthly allowances and rent respectively.”
Mr Ponya also reminded the government delegation that the premier had not responded to their September 2016 petition on the same issue, saying that was evidence they did not take the students’ concerns seriously.
He said that was the reason they had given the premier only 48 hours to respond to their grievances. Failure to respond, Mr Ponya said, would result in students boycotting classes starting tomorrow.
“We will be left with no alternative but to boycott lectures from Monday until you have replied to our petition. We hope you find this in good order,” Mr Ponya said.
For their part, the LCE students also urged Dr Mosisili to speedily facilitate the payment of shortfalls, saying they did not have the required monies to settle the debt.
The LCE petition also pointed out that there was no clear policy on the transition of diploma holders from the college to pursuing degree programmes at NUL.
They called on the authorities to give them a special dispensation in furthering their education at the university.
Turning to teachers’ plight, the LCE petition noted that the introduction of a new educational curriculum was supposed to create more employment opportunities for teachers “that is not happening at the moment”.
“We therefore ask government to consider exporting labour to South Africa because we are fully aware that the South African government can absorb teachers from Lesotho,” Mr Ponya said.
He said that they had met with Development Planning Minister Semano Sekatle and his principal secretary Majakathata Thakhisi-Mokoena over the same issue.
“Unlike their predecessors, they cooperated with us and at least some weight has been taken off our shoulders. But this does not stop the contents of this petition,” he added.
A student who requested anonymity told the Sunday Express during the protest march that her dream of becoming an engineer would be in serious jeopardy if the government did not pay the shortfalls.
“According to the letter I received from the registrar, I am supposed to pay M6 450 by the end of May 2017; money I frankly cannot raise,” the student said, adding she was an orphan whose high school education had been financed by good Samaritans.
The student said she could barely raise the money for registration and transport despite generating some income by doing laundry for her neighbours.
“For me to get by and also help my siblings, I heavily depend on the monthly M1 600 allowances. Asking me to raise M6 450 in three months is simply telling me to abandon my education and forget that I will ever be someone in life,” she said.
Asked if boycotting classes and end of year examinations was a practical solution, the student said: “I fully support this move because it seems like the only way to get our government to pay for the top-ups.”
She said that writing examinations not knowing where the money for the shortfalls would come from would be nerve wreaking.
“If we sit for examinations now and the government doesn’t settle the top-ups, we will be left with no choice but to pay from our own pockets and for people like me, it’s tantamount to kissing our education goodbye.”
However, Dr Mosisili’s Press Attaché Motumi Ralejoe had told this paper it was unrealistic for the students to give Dr Mosisili a 48-hour ultimatum.
“The students need to understand that this government, led by the honourable Prime Minister Mosisili, prioritises quality education offered in this country,” Mr Ralejoe said.
“It not only prioritises it, but it bore all the fees to enable deserving students to pursue their career dreams.”
He said that it was against this background that government was working hard to ensure that this matter was resolved.
“Minister Sekatle is working hard to ensure that the issue was resolved within a reasonable time.
“However, giving government or the premier a specified timeframe to respond to their grievances is never a good idea,” added Mr Ralejoe.
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