Half of NUL students fail

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ROMA – Half of the students in three of the seven faculties at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) have flunked their examinations.
The unprecedented failure rate is in the law, health sciences and science and technology faculties.
The results were released on Monday.
Results for the agriculture, humanities, education and social science faculties will be released this week.
A source in the NUL council told this paper that the university’s vice-chancellor Professor Sharon Siverts made the startling revelations during a council meeting on Monday.
“She (Siverts) was distraught,” said the source who is a senior council member and was in that meeting which started at 9am and ended at 4:30pm.
The source said these are the worst results that the crisis-ridden university has seen in recent years.
“The vice-chancellor was very shocked by the results. We all were. It just dawned on many of us (council members) that the university has a serious problem,” he said.
“Not all the results are out but the 50 percent failure rate has been the trend in all the three faculties. The same rate is likely to continue with the rest of the faculties,” the source said.
“We wondered if the failure rate was due to lack of infrastructure, the lack of quality work by the lecturers or lack of teaching’ aides.”
“For a very long time we have been in denial but now we have seen that something urgent has to be done about this university. Things cannot continue like this,” he added.
Yesterday Professor Siverts, who was appointed to turn around the fortunes of the ailing university, said she could not confirm the pass rate because the senate had not yet ratified all the results.
“(The) Senate has not met to pass on (ratify) all the results,” Siverts said.
“We will have a Senate meeting tomorrow (today). Until Senate has passed the results I cannot tell if this year there will be more fails or passes,” she said.
“Even after the results are out it would take some time to compare them with last year’s and the year before.”
Earlier on Tuesday an official in the university’s student records department had refused to comment on the results saying they were not yet complete.
While the university is reeling from the poor results it also has to deal with its financial problems that have mounted over the years due to imprudent expenditure and huge costs that have not been supported by revenue.
The fact that the government is now reluctant to keep pumping money into the institution without proper accounts has also put the university under serious pressure.
Siverts told the Lesotho Times that the university was sitting on a M5 million budget deficit.
“This current academic year’s budget will end on June 30. We did our reconciliation of the budget on April 30 and have projected expenses through to June 30. We do expect a deficit of approximately M5 million,” Siverts said.
The council source said next year the budget deficit will jump to about M50 million “unless the university rationalises its costs and “learns to live within its means”.
“For the first time in many years the university has some proper accounts and we are seeing the true picture of the mess that we have to deal with,” he said.
“For years the management has been producing phantom budgets that produce phantom accounts but now that Siverts has proper accounts we can see the crisis we have.”
Siverts said she could not confirm the M50 million budget deficit projection for the 2011-2012 fiscal year because the budgets were not yet ready.
“The projected budget for next year is yet to be approved. It might be a significant deficit. This issue is being addressed internally through consultative meetings with deans and directors, all staff and union executives,” she said.
“We are seeking ideas and suggestions on strategies to deal with the deficit. The process will engage the whole university community to determine how best to handle the deficit.
“We are also going through a restructuring process that will help deal with the budget situation in the university,” she said.
Currently nearly 86 percent of the subvention fund that the NUL gets from the government goes towards staff salaries and emoluments.
That leaves only 14 percent for books, infrastructure development and students upkeep.
Research, one of the key functions of the university together with teaching, has suffered due to lack of funds.
The Lesotho Times this week heard how the university is deep to the ears in debt.
It owes millions to the revenue authorities in fringe benefits like housing and medical aid for its workers.
There is also a serious mismatch between its costs and the income it gets every year.
This has left serious holes which sources say can only be plugged if it prunes non-core activities and retrenches workers.
But the problem, the council source said, is that in order to retrench the university will need money to pay the affected workers.
“That money is just not there,” he said.
He said there is a consideration to wean off the National University of Lesotho International School, a high school for children of NUL staff which the university subsidises to the tune of M4 million every year.
The Institute of Extra Mural Studies which gets M18 million from the university every year could also be affected, according to the source. Siverts said to cut costs the university has frozen posts for professors and associate professors.
She said this trend is likely to continue as the university battles to realign its galloping costs.
“We have continued to freeze positions because of the budget (constraints),” she said.
The net effect of this freeze is that the student–lecturer ratio, which is already very high, will continue to worsen.

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