MASERU — A damning report detailing why the National University of Lesotho (NUL) experienced its highest failure rate ever in the last academic year has been released.
The report is a result of the NUL senate’s 331st examinations and continuation meetings held between June 13 and 19.
The meetings decided that all faculty deans and the Director of Institute of Extra Mural Studies (IEMS) should “seriously investigate and analyse circumstances leading to the failure rates”.
The senate had ordered a comprehensive report detailing solutions to the problems identified for “consolidation by the Pro-Vice Chancellor” for onward submission to senate before the re-opening of the university.
The Lesotho Times understands that since the report was released early in August, it has never been officially tabled before senate and discussed but has “only been circulated amongst stakeholders”.
The report is a compilation of submissions by all NUL faculties, with some departments’ detailed reports included in the major report.
One of the major staffing problems highlighted in all reports submitted to the senate was that the university administration’s decision to freeze positions had contributed to “high failure rates by students”.
Staffing inadequacies and budgetary cuts were also highlighted as “major challenges that need immediate redress”.
It was discovered that some programmes had operated using part-time lecturers during a time when the university’s academic year was congested “in an effort to restore its calendar to normalcy” after suffering many months of strikes that distorted the academic calendar.
The agriculture faculty for instance, illustrates in its report on results of fourth year students that compared to previous years, 35 percent of students had to submit their final year projects at the first sitting in July for various reasons.
“By far the greatest number (54 percent) came from the consumer science programme. This is attributed to the fact that the unit operated with the highest ratio of part-time staff members,” the report says.
It adds: “The programme operated with four part-timers out of three full time staffers.”
The report demonstrates that the faculties suffered a huge blow as a result of the university closure for three months during the first semester of 2011.
“Three months in the first semester 2011 created a build-up of work pressure as the lost time was recovered. The consequence of this was that students and lecturers hardly rested during short breaks and weekends, revision time was curtailed; learners had insufficient time for examinations, hence the failure to perform well,” said a report submitted by the faculty of education.
The education faculty also said it lost 14 of its staff members to retirement, early retirement, resignation, unpaid leave and study leaves and such posts were not filled while the university “only hired part-time lecturers who were only available during odd hours”.
Another common phenomenon by the faculties was that the recruitment of qualified lecturers had been a challenge in the past academic year after a decision by the university administration to appoint staff on a one-year contract basis and freezing senior posts.
The report said: “It is inconceivable that a person will resign from their place of employment to join the university on a one-year contract. Moreover most prospective candidates turned down NUL employment offers once they saw the recruitment packages.”
The Faculty of Science and Technology highlighted that staffing challenges were the root cause of the high failure rate in the faculty.
“The staff turnover is very high in the faculty, especially of competent high caliber academic staff,” said the report.
The Science and Technology faculty’s high staff turnover problem was attributed to poor staff retention policies which have been introduced recently and “uncertainty created by prolonged and poorly managed restructuring processes”.
The report adds: “This scenario has led to the situation whereby junior staff led academic programmes.”
Touching on the financial troubles of the university, the report also states that the university’s M50 million deficit in its accounts “crippled NUL’s academic setting”.
It reads: “Several operations for academic purposes got suspended because no funding was available. Insufficient stationery was experienced, the inadequacies in the micro-teaching laboratory were not attended to and the equipment for the science education laboratory was not bought. Practice of teaching was actually affected.”
The education faculty’s reports on the financial challenges were corroborated by a similar and even more detailed report from the faculty of science and technology that said “current heavy budget cuts have immensely compromised the academic enterprise of this university.”
To drive the faculty’s point home the report demonstrates its operational budget for the whole science and technology faculty for the financial year 2012/2013 was M432 316 which it indicated was “considerably lower than M3 278 520 received in 2008/2009 financial year”.
The science and technology report showed the general perception of the faculty is that the academic enterprise of the university is held hostage by its authorities who are not interested in its academic affairs.
“It is common knowledge that the current administration of this university does not follow the university rules and regulations,” said the report.
The department of physics and electronics under the science and technology faculty showed in its report that: “currently as we write (June 19) we have received no response at all from the responsible offices of the university regarding our request to employ lecturers and teaching assistants in the subject of Physics.”
The report also describes IEMS as “a time bomb”.
The IEMS report reads: “While this short report focuses on one department, the whole picture representing IEMS is just an accident waiting to happen.”
The report showed NUL senate should note a complete picture of all programmes covering at least the past two years, indicating IEMS has not received “a share of teaching and learning resources to facilitate quality learning”.
Touching on suspension of regional centres, the IEMS report shows there were unprecedented numbers of deferred cases in the first year of diploma courses.
“This year was the first that students coming from regional centres had to come to Maseru since the university decided to suspend programmes in regional centres.
“Many students took the risk to come to Maseru from as far as Qacha, Mokhotlong and Thaba Tseka,” said the IEMS report.