MASERU – Student leaders at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) have vowed fierce protests to force government to continue paying fees for all indigent first year students who qualify for state bursaries.
Earlier this year, government confirmed several hundred prospective university students might this year fail to access crucial government funding after a sharp budget cutback, which has left the public funding agency, the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) short of over M300 million.
This was after NUL announced its council had approved the recommendation of the finance and general purposes board that “tuition fees be escalated by 10 percent across all programmes”, citing “the deteriorating financial state of affairs at the university following a steep decline in the allocated subvention for the 2019/2020 financial year”.
Government said it could not afford the increase and presented three options to NUL for consideration and implementation to address the financial shortfall.
Option one was that NUL should maintain the 2018/2019 tuition fees and not implement any fee increases while also maintaining the number of students it admitted in the previous year.
This translated to 1,630 of sponsored students against the allocated quota of 2,330 sponsorships.
Option two was that if NUL did not increase its tuition fees, the number of sponsored students could be increased by an unspecified number provided NMDS was allocated additional funds to pay for tertiary students.
Option three was that if NUL implemented fee increases, it would have its sponsorship quota reduced in relation to the budget.
NUL said the indications were that with its approved fee increases, the total quota allocation for NUL would be reduced from 2,330 new sponsorships to around 1,500 new sponsorships, according to option three.
Reatlehile Makateng, NUL SRC president, told Public Eye on Wednesday this week that the university senate concluded that in light of the permutations worked out from the proposed options, “none is advisable to implement”.
Makateng said senate suggested that the immediate implications that would result from implementing any of the proposed options was that NUL would, at the most, operate only up to the end of the first semester in the 2019/2020 academic year which starts in August before it runs out of funds to cover emoluments.
“This means the university is going to go ahead with effecting the fee increases which were endorsed by the council. The university’s sponsorship quota will then be reduced as government has warned and that is exactly what we are not going to agree to.
“We will not allow government to reduce the number of new students it sponsors. We are going to fight tooth and nail to force government to pay for all students who qualify for state bursary loans,” Makateng.
“We understand clearly as students why the university has decided to increase fees by 10 percent. It is because the subvention it gets from government has been decreasing consistently, from M130 million in 2008 to M99 million in 2018 and then to M78 million this year,” he added.
Makateng said fee increase was inevitable under this circumstances.
“We will not allow students to be at the receiving end. Government must continue paying for students irrespective of high tuition fees because it is the one that has consistently cut the subvention it gives to the university,” he said.
Minister of Development Planning, Tlohelang Aumane, yesterday insisted that NMDS would cut the number of freshmen it sponsors if NUL increased the fees by 10 percent.
“Last year we were allocated M890 million for higher learning scholarships, this year we only have M580 million. This means we already have a shortfall. That is why we asked NUL to meet us halfway and not increase its fees so that we can continue paying for as many new students as possible,” Aumane said.
“We said we can come up with means to cover that shortfall of around M300 million. But if they insist on increasing their fees, we would be left with no option but to cut the number of new sponsorships. There is nothing else we can do,” he added.
Efforts to get comment from university registrar Liteboho Maqalika Lerotholi failed yesterday.
The university has indicated that it cannot make further concessions as the reduced subvention had put its finances under great strain.
In a statement in May, the university senate said council – the highest decision making body – should reiterate the required level of funding for NUL to remain open to the government for it to make relevant decisions and take appropriate action.
The senate also recommended a task team made up of representatives from the four public institutions of higher learning that would adopt a common action plan for consultations with government to work towards a lasting solution, be established.
It also decided to engage the nation on the prevailing financial crisis facing institutions of higher learning and allow them to contribute in finding a lasting solution.
“In the event that none of the above strategies bears fruit, the university should prepare to shut down until the government is able to finance it to the required level,” concluded the statement.