Challenges for Siverts

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FIVE years ago the National University of Lesotho (NUL) welcomed the late Professor Ogunrinade with open arms and great expectations.

He was replacing the renowned Prof Sejanamane who had taken office as acting vice-chancellor two years earlier.

After Ogunrinade was suspended for alleged financial mismanagement he was replaced by Professor Sebatane.

This month the NUL community is likely to welcome yet another vice-chancellor with great expectations as has become the tradition.

A lot has been said and written regarding the competence and performance of all these great men who presided over the affairs of the university in the recent past.

The objective of this piece is to review in a nutshell the successes and failures of the trio — Professors Sejanamane, Ogunrinade and Sebatane.

It will also seek to outline the likely challenges that Professor Siverts is likely to confront as she takes office as the university’s new chief executive.

Critics say Prof Sejanamane’s tenure was characterised by gross mismanagement of the university funds.

They claim that under his leadership the university suspended an astonishing number of workers.

But the university continued to pay these workers their salaries while their cases were still being handled by the courts.

The suspension of staff cut across all departments from academic to non-academic staff.

But Sejanamane has his backers.

These argue that although his leadership was short-lived, it was the most productive the university has ever had.

Among some of the milestones they point out in his two-year tenure are infrastructural developments that happened at NUL.

They point to the extension of the Thomas Mofolo Library.

Although the library is still small Sejanamane did a lot to address a pressing demand.

Under his watch he also built the ‘Masenate Student Residence which was also an attempt to reduce the number of female students living outside campus. He also improved various other facilities on campus.

During his time the university set up two ICT labs which were long overdue.

These have helped the students a great deal in their academic endeavors.

The NUL authorities then appointed Prof Ogunrinade to replace Prof Sejanamane.

Critics of Ogunrinade have summarised his reign as one that was punctuated by disaster after disaster.

They say the late professor only succeeded in messing up the university with his questionable management of the university’s funds.

He died without having a chance in court to clear his name.

I find very little complimentary things to say about him apart from the pavements that are now all over campus.

And of course, the very tidy lawn that greets you as you enter the university grounds.

I will now turn my attention to Prof Sebatane’s short-lived reign as acting vice-chancellor.

His tenure was marked by intensive and relentless strikes.

It was under his watch that a student was shot and killed by the police during violent protests two years ago.

University lecturers also embarked on a strike forcing students to go for the Christmas break without writing their semester exams.

With all this history of conflict and mismanagement it is critical that we seek to postulate what the new vice-chancellor’s tenure might entail.

Is her tenure going to be characterised by costly suspensions, embezzlement of funds, deadly strikes or sustainable production for a change?

Well, before we can sit back and start to tick rights and wrongs in this new administration, we should first unpack the challenges that lie ahead for the new vice-chancellor.

The NUL community faces numerous challenges on campus. Look at the state of the recreational facilities. The sport fields, the swimming pool and a gym facility which caters for both men and women all need immediate attention.

All these must be fixed if the university is to keep a physically and mentally fit and well-motivated community.

On the academic front she needs to resolve the need to set up proper lecture theatres.

The students have to compete for space in over-crowded lecture theatres.

It’s embarrassing for students to sit on the floor or just outside the theatre entrance while lectures are in progress.

These sorry lecture theatres are not even equipped with the necessary technology such as projectors and sound amplifiers.

The new VC will have to work her magic to elevate this institution to that of a leading university in research.

The library for starters does not have adequate or recent publications.

Students and lecturers are forced to travel to Bloemfontein, South Africa, to buy the necessary material vital to fulfilling their academic objectives.

There are also long-standing questions that the new vice-chancellor must answer if she is to restore this once great institution to its rightful place.

She must provide answers to why we have an ever increasing number of jobless NUL graduates in the country?

In attempting to answer this critical question she will have to answer the following as well: Is it because there is a skills mismatch between what the graduates have and what the potential employer needs?

Is it because the graduates do not have the skills they require to be job-creators?

Why does NUL continue to churn out students who are totally ignorant of the socio-economic and political dynamics in this country?

Are the NUL graduates ignorant because they don’t understand what is going on?

Is it because they cannot provide the necessary remedy to the socio-economic and political ills that confront our country?

These questions are critical because in a small country like Lesotho university students are supposed to be the think-tanks whose ideas and opinions are supposed to drive the country to greater heights.

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