LECTURERS at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) embarked on yet another strike on Monday.
The latest strike action is a clear signal that all is not well at our premier institution of higher learning.
The lecturers’ list of grievances is long.
But there is strikingly nothing new in the lecturers’ complaints.
It is still the same old song of poor working conditions, low salaries and over-crowded lecture theatres.
The biggest losers in all this are the students.
Exams have been postponed and their learning has been disrupted.
As usual we expect the students to play catch-up and cover up for lost time.
We think this situation is totally uncalled for and is a disgrace to the nation.
A solution must be found urgently.
But the problem at NUL is not just about money.
It would be overly simplistic to conclude the solution lies in throwing more money at lecturers.
We think it’s a structural problem that is gnawing at the very heart of the institution.
In short, NUL is suffering from a serious crisis of governance and, dare we say, a crisis of leadership.
The looting that has been going on at the university is an embarrassment.
Donors who funded some of the university’s research programmes have pulled out in protest.
The lack of proper leadership is the reason why the institution has failed to shake off the perennial crises that we have now grown accustomed to over the years.
But any sensible and proactive management should have seen the latest strike coming a few weeks ago.
The university management last month arbitrarily hiked rentals for staff by 100 percent, triggering howls of protest from lecturers and research staff housed at the Roma campus.
The lecturers allege they were not consulted.
They also bizarrely allege they are not in a position to pay such high rentals because their salaries have not been reviewed for years.
The president of the Lesotho Teachers and Researchers Union (Lutaru), Ramohapi Shale, refused to disclose how much lecturers were earning.
The salaries are embarrassing, he said this week.
The lecturers have our sympathy.
We think the time is now ripe for the government to look into the conditions of service for academic staff at NUL and other tertiary institutions.
It must provide a lasting solution that will resolve these problems once and for all.
It’s urgent that the government improves the conditions of service for teaching and research staff at tertiary institutions.
Investment in such a key national institution should be a matter of national pride.
We think lecturers must be paid sufficiently well to allow them to concentrate on ground-breaking research and scholarship.
But university lecturers cannot provide such an essential service when most of their time is spent in mundane arguments fighting over a living wage.
We all know that university lecturers provide a critical service to the nation.
Better salaries and working conditions will also halt the brain-drain that is currently affecting the institution.
There was a time when NUL attracted the best lecturers and students from the African continent.
The reality at present is that the university cannot attract the best teaching staff.
The reason is simple.
The government is not offering competitive salaries in line with what universities in the region are offering.
We hope the government has the appetite to bring the glory days back at NUL.