Academics call for investment in education

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – Academic Forum for Development of Lesotho (AFDeL) has urged government to eradicate dependence on South Africa’s higher education institutions for the educational training of Basotho youth.

Government is advised to rather invest and develop the local higher education sector.

The Forum notes that instead of Lesotho spending millions to sponsor the country’s children attending schools in foreign countries, government should increase investment in higher education and promote programme reviews and introduction of new programmes in tertiary institutions to align curricula with national and market needs.

Speaking to this publication, AFDeL president, Proffessor Makoala V Marake noted that the government should transform tertiary institutions to offer diversified and relevant programmes, based on labour market needs at national and regional levels.

He said the government should also build technical and infrastructure capacity for tertiary education institutions to offer diversified post-graduate and specialized programmes.

Marake said currently the Lesotho government sponsors an estimated 892 students in South African who are in higher education institutions, spending over M100 million annually, and a projected total of about M400 million in the period 2021 – 2024, annually.

He said with this reality, they call for the government to also minimize overseas training of Basotho youth as a solution to the insufficiencies of higher education in the country, rather contribute towards internationalization of National University of Lesotho (NUL) by creating a system of scholarships that attract international students to the university.

And also investing adequately in higher education in order to restore Basotho’s confidence in their own educational institutions and by raising, with immediate effect, the subvention of NUL, to the level of at least the University of eSwatini, so that the national university can diversify its programmes and retain staff.

Marake said the government should also review and implement a funding mechanism for higher education compliant with the Higher Education Act of 2004.

AFDeL’s grievances come to the fore following finance minister, Thabo Sofonea, who highlighted in his budget speech government’s mission to revive higher education sector so that courses offered at the higher education institutions respond to the country’s economic needs without specifying how much money will be allocated for the sector.

Marake said now that the government has the blueprint for restoration of higher education sector all that is needed is for it to align the national budgetary allocations with it.

“With the exception of 2020/21, for the past 18 years the government subvention towards the university has been fluctuating around M100 million per annum, making it only about one quarter and one tenth of the universities’ of eSwatini and Botswana respectively for years.

“This has stifled the infrastructural development, diversification and quality of programmes, research, staff retention and generally stunted the growth of the institution.

 

“In line with the stated positive development of NUL subvention raise this year, AFDeL calls on the Government to align the national budgetary allocations with the proposed NSDP II interventions for revamping of the HE sector, and to further,” he said.

In his 2021/2022 budget speech Sofonea also noted that improvement of quality of education remains a major concern for Lesotho, and COVID-19 has held the government back in implementing a number of programmes.

He said among others, national skills audit is being undertaken to inform the improvement of relevance and applicability of skills in the country.

“The government also aims to improve TVET institutions as well as putting in place the means testing mechanism which will enable well targeted sponsorships of Basotho.

Quotas for scholarships in the region and locally will increasingly be limited to priority areas. It therefore means that institutions need to transform their programmes and curriculum in line with the changing market demands,” he said.

In previous interviews with this publication, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro voiced concern on the curriculum offered by Lesotho’s higher education institutions. He said the curriculum needs revising so that it produces graduates that are job creators instead of seekers.

He attributed the country’s high unemployment rate to unavailability of relevant courses offered by higher institutions that respond to the country’s economic needs.

He noted that through a project the government started of placing youth in government and private sector in trying to respond to high unemployment rate, they discovered that 15 000 graduates and 100 000 youths that did not go to tertiary institutions are unemployment and the chances of them getting employed are slim.

He said out of 15 000 graduates, employers prefer those that have vocational training.

“Employers prefer people who did vocational training from Lerotholi Polytechnic and other vocational schools. Those that studied economics, accounting and Law are the most struggling to get jobs.

“This leaves a question why tertiary institutions are continuing to offer courses that Lesotho’s economy clearly no longer needs. It is clear that Lesotho’s economy demands vocational skills, which are rare in the country,” he said.

Majoro said Lesotho graduates less than 2 000 youth from technical colleges every year, making the demand for artisans higher than what the country can supply.

According to the UNDP assessment of the socio economic impact of COVID-19 on Lesotho released in June 2020, the country’s unemployment rate stands at 32.8 percent and even high in youths aged 15 to 24 at 43.2 percent.

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