Varsity fee hike blasted



MASERU – The National University of Lesotho (NUL) has set itself on a collision course with students after its recent hike in tuition fees, which the students’ body has rejected outright.

NUL last month announced a 10 percent fee increase in the next academic year starting in August but the SRC has said this will place a financial strain on students and their families.

The new fees will see most students at NUL paying between M25 000 and M30 000 per year for tuition only.

“We know that our university relies on students’ fees and a government subvention to deliver on its mandate. The fees were increased by 10 percent because subvention from government has declined over the years. This year it was decreased by M78 million,” SRC interim president Realeboha Makateng told Public Eye yesterday.

“We are not going to accept the proposed 10 percent fee hike. Government must increase the subvention it gives to the university.

“We know and can see that our university is in financial distress but government should not be allowed to reduce the public subsidy to higher education and push more of the costs on to students through tuition fees,” Makateng added.

NUL has in recent years been in dire financial distress mainly due to the reduction in government subsidies which have caused the institution to increase its tuition fees to a point where government felt it could not afford to pay for its sponsored students.

Deputy Minister of Education responsible for Higher Education Mothepu Mahapa yesterday acknowledged that the whole ministry’s budget had been cut and that will affect various departments including the department of higher education.

“This is not going to affect NUL only, even the school feeding programme’s budget which was already inadequate has been cut. But during the year, reallocations will be made and maybe we can have more for subventions,” Mahapa said.

NUL council Chairperson Tseko Bohloa told this paper yesterday that “the university is at this moment facing a problem of inadequacy of financing. I am not in a position at the moment to say how much NUL is going to get from government as subvention but I know it’s a relatively smaller amount.

“This is a serious issue. We consider students’ concerns, but at the moment the university has no choice but to increase fees if it is to remain financially sustainable.

“We are already engaged in talks with government to come up with a solution. Students and their representatives must also be engaged so that we can come up with a better solution for all.”

When it announced a 10 percent escalation of fees last month, the university said its council considered a report from management “on the declining state of government financing of the university despite efforts by the university management and council to reverse the situation over the years”.

“Council then decided that talks between the university and the government should be intensified to ensure that they bear positive results,” reads the university statement.

Development planning minister Tlohelang Aumane has, however, heavily criticised the university saying its “unilateral fees increase” might be a recipe for disaster.

Aumane professed ignorance of the fee increase.

“I do not know about this issue. We have representation in the council and my expectation was that we should know about such changes. On top of that, NUL is a government-owned institution.

“We are already going to struggle to pay tuition fees at the current rates. I do not know where they think we will get extra money from. The money we have been allocated is less than what we requested. We have a shortfall of over M20 million.

“Such increases only mean that fewer students will be given assistance this year because we do not have a good budget. If they insist on this 10 percent increase, we will as soon as possible say students who can afford to pay for themselves should do so. In fact, expect a raft of changes,” he said.

The minister told this paper that the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) was already running short of “over M200 million” and might not be able to pay for hundreds of students who will enroll at the country’s universities this year even when they qualify for state bursary loans.

Although government has been allocating more funds to higher education, he said, these have not kept pace with universities’ tuition fees and the number of first year students who enrol at institutions of higher learning every year.

In an interview with Public Eye last month soon after the fee increase announcement had been made, Makateng indicated there was a sense of déjà vu.

“One is reminded of the 2016/2017 academic year when NMDS refused to accept the fee increase and used the previous year rates to pay for its sponsored students. This resulted in the university management demanding that each student pays the shortfall by the end of May 2017,” he said.

Government’s refusal to accept the fees increase by NUL in 2016 created a stalemate that led to continuous strikes by the students culminating in a petition to the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.

Students said they would boycott year-end examinations if Mosisili did not ensure that their tuition fees were fully paid.

In 2016 when presenting budget speech to parliament, the then minister of finance Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla announced that the ministry of development planning would undertake a comprehensive reform of the NMDS at a cost of M1,2 million.

Khaketla indicated the reform was intended to “review and enhance” the mandate of NMDS.

She told parliament the reform would address, among others, improvement of governance and management practices that would establish a financially viable and sustainable organisation targeting of students, particularly those experiencing socio-economic disadvantages and deserving assistance and establishing cost sharing mechanisms between parents and the government, “due to the ever increasing costs of higher education”.

The following year, (in 2017), the finance minister told parliament that the ministry of planning was allocated M135,4 million towards reforming the NMDS loan bursary fund and the development of the jobs strategy, among others.

These reforms have not seen the light of the day.

This year Majoro told parliament that the escalating number of sponsored students and sponsorship costs, tight fiscal constraints and poor loan recoveries “call for an urgent implementation of Loan Bursary Fund (LBF) Reforms”.

He said in the coming financial year, NMDS will review and amend the legal framework governing the LBF, including the National Manpower Development Council (NMDC) act of 1978 and LBF regulations of 1978.

“It will further review and improve the Resource Mobilisation and Financing Model of the fund by changing endorsement and repayment of loan bursaries from partial to actual incurred costs of sponsorships,” he said.

He added: “In an endeavour of ensuring equitable access to bursaries in light of the constrained funds. The NMDS will develop the ‘Means Testing Mechanism’ which will seek to ensure that bursaries are granted in favour of students from financially disadvantaged families.”


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