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Thotanyana takes fight to NUL


Minister of MinningLebohang Thotanyana

. . . accuses university of being in govt dependency ‘comfort zone’

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

MINING Minister Lebohang Thotanyana says the National University of Lesotho (NUL) management should shoulder the blame for the financial constraints at the institution due to its attitude of “sitting in a comfort zone” and merely waiting for government to provide all its fund requirements.

Mr Thotanyana, who is also the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) candidate for Berea No.24 in the upcoming 3 June 2017 national elections, made the remarks while representing the party at a recent political debate organised by the NUL in Maseru.

The debate also featured representatives of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP), Alliance of Democrats (AD) and Movement for Economic Change (MEC).

A panel of NUL experts comprising Associate Professors, Tšepo Mokuku and Motlamelle Kapa, Doctors, Maluke Letete, Hoolo Nyane and Ms Matšeliso Mapetla posed questions to the parties’ representatives in the five themes of education, economy and unemployment, rule of law in a democracy, service delivery and local governance and professionalism in the public service.

Mr Thotanyana said the biggest challenges confronting the country’s institutions of higher learning stemmed from their excessive dependence on the government to provide all funding to the extent that they never explored alternative ways of generating or securing funds.

“We believe that the biggest challenge lies with institutions of higher learning themselves, in that they are sitting in a comfort zone where government is the provider of all revenue,” Mr Thotanyana said, adding, “The sole provider for these institutions is the government”.

“These institutions must go out and find ways to sustain themselves. These institutions are platforms for people that are knowledgeable and have skills, who can go out and conduct research and advise the government as is the case in other countries.”

Mr Thotanyana said this in response to a question by Associate Professor Mokuku who had pointed out that tertiary institutions had become significantly poorer and queried the lack of a strategic development plan for higher education on the part of government.

“You will agree with me that the higher education sub-sector is completely neglected. According to the Council on Higher Education report on the state of higher education of 2012, we have 13 higher education institutions in Lesotho. But it is clear that we have never had a clear plan of developing this sub-sector,” Associate Professor Mokuku said.

“Consequently, institutions have grown significantly poorer every year in terms of the infrastructure. We see a shortage of lecture rooms, laboratories and libraries at NUL, Lerotholi Polytechnic, Lesotho College of Education (LCE) and Lesotho Agricultural College (LAC).”

Associate Professor Mokuku said the majority of our youths were failing to access higher education with only 6.2 percent having attained tertiary qualifications.

“The majority of youths who qualify tertiary institutions are excluded due to lack of sponsorship from the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS). We are currently seeing riots and unrests in our institutions of higher learning and it is clear that we are losing a competitive edge in the region.

“For example, at NUL we know that funding dropped from M132 million in 2008/2009 to M109 million this academic year. My question is; how does your party envision the development of public tertiary education in advancing manpower skills development in Lesotho? And how do you plan to achieve that vision,” Associate Professor Mokuku asked.

Mr Thotanyana said there was need to develop a comprehensive funding model that that took into account the research factor.

“We should also provide seed capital for institutions of higher learning to be able to initiate programmes that would assist in income generation. For us we see that as a major step in resolving the challenges,” he said.

“There is no way that any government in the world can sustain universities without making an initiative of generating revenue.

“In our view, we need to first provide some sort of capital for the university and other institutions of higher learning so that they can attain sufficiency in self-funding. For us we believe that would go a long way in resolving the challenges that we have.”

Mr Thotanyana also said his LCD party had scored several successes in the education sector since joining government since 1997, the most notable being the introduction of free and compulsory primary education.

He said the first beneficiaries of free primary education had gone on to graduate from NUL last year.

“We also introduced the school feeding programme at primary schools, scholarships for vulnerable students at secondary level and we have also provided financial support to students to buy and rent books.

“We have improved the working conditions of teachers. We have supported the ECCD (Early Child Care Development) and constructed classrooms. We also introduced the Council for Higher Education (CHE),” he said.

For his part, ABC candidate for Thetsane No.33, Moeketsi Majoro said there were several challenges confronting the country’s education system since independence in 1966 including that of inaccessibility and structural inequalities.

“We tried to respond to the issue of access by introducing free primary education but in doing so we didn’t address the issue of quality,” Dr Majoro said, adding, “in fact by increasing the classes we compromised quality of the education”.

“You get the low quality issue transiting from primary to secondary schools, and to tertiary. Statistics also show that most people that make it to tertiary institutions are already from privileged families,” Dr Majoro said.

He said most qualifications also lacked relevance to the job market because tertiary institutions did not consult with employers when developing programmes for study.

“Therefore, we still have thousands of graduates that are looking for jobs. We also have jobs that are mismatched with the skills that are being acquired.”

“We need to look at education as a whole. We need to go back and transform our education so that we don’t only address the issue of access but most significantly the quality of our education. We need to set up a wider dialogue between the tertiary institutions, employers and of course the parents,” he added.

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