MASERU – The National University of Lesotho (NUL) has been awarded a Chair by the World Trade Organization (WTO) which is meant to promote research in trade-related matters and highlight policy relevance. The move is further aimed at supporting the development and delivery of courses on international trade and provide teaching support, to establish a network of engaged academics, to encourage outreach activities as well as to collate information and promote knowledge sharing on international trade.

Speaking on the sidelines of the launch, NUL WTO chair-holder, Associate Professor Motlamelle Kapa, told Public Eye that this programme is meant to promote developing countries in international trade related matters. Kapa noted that the NUL made it to secure this highly competitive chair and out of 126 countries, Lesotho is among the six African countries that succeeded.

Kapa further noted that some of the requirements in the application process included having to state what the university aims to achieve through this programme and what the qualifications of the team members are. “The programme focuses on three areas which are: research in trade – to find out what could hinder Lesotho from participating in international trade; the other one is policy making – how should the trade policy be structured and that they should be structured based on research; and, the third one is to work hand in hand with the private sector.”

Kapa added that the main role of NUL is on research in trade and that the university will review its educational programmes in business-related studies to ensure that they respond to the current needs. Speaking at the event, Minister of Trade and Industry, Thabiso Molapo, said the ministry pledges its unwavering and continued support to the university as this will benefit other ministries and will have a lot to gain from this prestigious chair. Molapo said: “Policies need to be based on credible research findings and to be well informed by multi-stakeholder inputs.”

He noted that the capacitation of the university in research will benefit the government of Lesotho, particularly the ministry of Trade and Industry as well as the private sector for they will have expertise to turn to for policy formulation and innovation. Molapo said the WTO NUL chair will make an important contribution to the achievement of this goal. The NUL vice-chancellor, Professor Isaac Fajana, noted that he hopes that through the chair, the country will be able to synchronise its policies so that the country can see success working collaboratively within ministries.

Meanwhile, The Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry Secretary General, Fako Hakane, has expressed his excitement and that through the WTO chair the private sector will now have access to expertise in WTO law and policy. Speaking to Public Eye, the university’s coordinator of the outreach pillar, Thuto Matobo, noted that it is an honour for the NUL to be part of this prestigious Chair. She said: “Through the Chair, the university is given worldwide recognition and it is elevated to international standards.”

Responding to how the university will benefit from being awarded a chair within the WTO, Matobo highlighted that the NUL has undergraduate and postgraduate courses that deal with one aspect or another of international trade across facilities. She said some of these courses have not been revised in a long time and maybe outdated in terms of their content, material and approaches to teaching. As a result, through the Chair, the university will conduct reviews of curricula. The WTO Chairs programme was launched in 2010.

It aims to enhance knowledge and understanding of the trading system among academics and policy makers in developing countries through curriculum development, research and outreach activities by universities and research institutions. Academic institutions awarded WTO Chairs receive support in the areas of research, curriculum development, and outreach activities and the chair-holders are selected through a competitive process. In 2009, 14 institutions were originally selected as WTO Chairs for a four-year term and seven institutions were added to the programme in May 2014.

Following a call for applications for Phase 3 of the programme, over 120 applications were received by the WTO. A selection process resulted in 17 institutions being chosen to join the network of WCP Chairs (WTO Chair Programme) in December 2021. This further diversifies the programme’s representation across the globe, with the network now comprising 36 universities including the NUL.

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