COMMENT: Resist calls to ditch NUL

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LAST week we reported that there had been calls from some quarters on the government to withdraw its financial support to the National University of Lesotho (NUL).

Some government officials were quoted in the media saying they were not happy with the gross mismanagement at NUL.

They wanted the government to take drastic measures in cutting subsidies to the varsity.

We found the suggestion to be quite shocking.

We are however happy that the government has seen through the matter and shot down the crazy suggestion to switch off funding for the university.

Finance Minister Timothy Thahane said last week that it was a “blatant lie” that the government was planning to cut off funding to the university.

It is not in dispute that our national university has for months hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons.

The university appears to have a serious image problem and has for years struggled to shake off this negative image.

Student protests are common. Hooliganism and drunken bouts are rampant at the university.

The university’s vice-chancellor is on suspension.

Professor Adelani Ogunrinade, a Nigerian academic with impeccable credentials, was suspended earlier this year after he was accused of embezzling university funds.

Ogunrinade was suspended for allegedly mishandling a US$800 000 grant provided by the Kellogg Foundation. He denies the allegations.

With all these negativities surrounding the university it would be easy for the government to literally throw in the towel and cut off funding.

But such a move would not solve the underlying problems at NUL. It would only compound the situation.

It is our strong view that the government must continue to play a key role in the education of our children.

Any action to withdraw funding for the university could trigger disastrous consequences for the university and undo all the good that has been achieved at the institution over the years.

It is well known that NUL relies entirely on government support to run its affairs. Without that support the university will grind to a halt.

Very few families in Lesotho can afford to pay for their children’s university education.

On average, a student at NUL gets a loan of M11 000 a year in addition to M4 000 for accommodation.

This translates to about M60 000 over a four-year period.

It is quite clear from these figures that without government support very few students would afford to pay for their own education.

This is why the government must continue to support students studying at our universities.

The poor amongst us rely on government loans for support. Without support from the government it is clear that the majority of Basotho students will not access higher education.

It would be sad if thousands of gifted students are denied an opportunity to access higher education because they do not have the financial means to stand on their own.

A withdrawal of government funding would mean that education will remain a privilege of the rich and well-to-do in society.

We think that situation is highly undesirable.

The government should continue to ensure that all deserving students regardless of their financial status can access higher education.

We need an assurance from the government that the poor but academically gifted amongst us will continue to pursue their dreams.

The government need not abdicate its responsibility.

Where governments have withdrawn funding to universities these institutions of higher learning have struggled to remain on their feet.

Academic research is seriously compromised. Students can barely survive.

Universities should be allowed and encouraged to set the agenda in world-class research and teaching.

They can only fulfil this mandate with full support from the government as well as the private sector.

We are happy that the government has resisted calls to cut funding to our university.

We think it is the best decision under the present circumstances.

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