High Court interdicts LCE as fees dispute rages



MASERU— The Lesotho College of Education (LCE) has been interdicted from obstructing government-sponsored students from attending lectures and accessing the campus due to a fee dispute. Last month, students were expelled from college campuses as they protested against the institution’s fee hike and the requirement for them to personally settle the fees. Additionally, the college has been directed to cease its policy requiring students to sign contracts committing to clearing outstanding balances before re-entry on campus this week.

These directives are interim measures, with High Court Judge Mafelile Ralebese mandating the parties involved to submit the necessary documentation by next Monday. The case is slated for hearing the following day, Tuesday, April 16. The LCE’s Student Representative Council (SRC) asserts that their attempts to reach a resolution were unsuccessful, leading them to seek recourse through the court.

They are petitioning the court to declare that LCE is prohibited from demanding supplementary fees from NMDS-sponsored students, arguing that such fees are ultimately recoverable from the government. They are also seeking an order for the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) to fulfil its commitment by covering the entire academic tuition fee for each sponsored student.

Furthermore, the student body requests the court mandate the secretariat and the institution engage in negotiations to resolve the fee deadlock within a reasonable timeframe. During these negotiations, LCE must permit students to continue their studies uninterrupted.

The respondents in this case include the Registrar of the Lesotho College of Education, ’Marethabile Khanyane, the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS), the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, the Principal Secretary (PS) of Education, the Ministry of Education, and the Attorney General (AG).

Reitumetse Chefa, on behalf of the SRC, has provided an affidavit stating that a memorandum issued by the Registrar’s office, signed by ’Marethabile Khanyane on March 8, 2024, notified students that despite efforts to engage with the secretariat and other stakeholders, NMDS has not honoured the college’s revised fee structure.

Consequently, students have been instructed to settle the remaining balances based on their respective programmes. The memo clarified that the new fee structure was approved by the college council effective in the 2023 academic year. As per the adjusted fee structure, students are required to pay balances ranging from M4,200 to M4,700, in addition to M875 for accommodation as a top-up over the NMDS payment.

The fees for both the Diploma in Education Primary and Diploma in Education Secondary-Arts and Social Sciences have increased from M11,275 to M16,000. The Diploma in Education Secondary-Applied Science has risen from M13,786 to M18,000, while the Diploma in Education-Pure Science now stands at M18,000 from M13,786.

Hostel fees have also escalated from M5,125 to M6,000. In a notice to students, the college emphasised the need to settle balances based on their enrolled programmes to avoid further repercussions. “Students are reminded of the following provision from the College Students Financial Regulations pertinent to this issue: all students are accountable for promptly settling their financial obligations to the college.”

The memorandum additionally states: “Should a student leave the college without having paid the prescribed fees including fines due or with library books issued out in his/her readers pockets, his/her certificate shall be withheld until such fees have been recovered.” Subsequently, another memorandum dated April 4, 2024, permitted students to return to campus under the condition that they commit to clearing their outstanding balances.

“Following the constructive deliberations of the college management and the Student Representative Council (SRC) meeting held on 4th April 2024 and considering the expressed desire of the student union to return to normalcy and full teaching and learning activities, the college management has reached an agreement with the SRC on behalf of the SU that students will be allowed back on campus and that upon their return, students will commit to financial undertakings and liabilities to settle all outstanding fees and financial obligations before the end of the academic year.”

The memo further specifies that students must sign financial agreements upon their return as a prerequisite for campus entry. In their court petition, the SRC informs the court that upon conveying the school’s stance, a majority of students expressed their inability to pay the outstanding amount as they lack the means to do so, being sponsored students.

“Management asserted their right to adjust the fees and claimed to be in discussions with relevant stakeholders, including the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Education, the NMDS, and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning,” Chefa contends. “On or around March 18, 2024, a demonstration occurred on the college campus where students expressed their discontent with the fee hike. Management issued an ultimatum to return to classes or vacate the campus. By approximately 3p.m, students were expelled from the campus with no indication of when classes would resume.”

The SRC argues that although they expressed students’ desire to resume academic activities, they did not agree that this return would be contingent upon signing an agreement to settle outstanding fees. “This condition was imposed upon us, citing management’s right to implement the new fee structure.” The student council maintains that, per their bursary contract and agreement with NMDS, there is a legitimate expectation that all fees will be covered, as the majority of sponsored students are unable to pay the outstanding fees.

Chefa said mpelling students to sign agreements to settle outstanding balances would unfairly prejudice them. “Given that students are unable to pay the outstanding fees, forcing them to sign financial agreements would be highly prejudicial. As registered students, you have the right to attend classes and participate in college activities. Exams are scheduled in approximately a month, yet students are currently unable to attend classes.”

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