THIRTY years after joining the National University of Lesotho (NUL), Associate Professor ‘Manthoto Lephoto was recently appointed the acting Vice Chancellor of the country’s premier learning institution.
Associate Professor Lephoto was promoted the second in command of the NUL’s hierarchy after the Chancellor, His Majesty King Letsie III to replace Professor Nqosa Mahao, who left academia in May 2019 to join fulltime politics.
She is no stranger to the NUL management as she also served as the Pro-Vice Chancellor since 2016.
Associate Professor Lephoto was appointed to the post while considerations were being made to appoint a substantive Vice Chancellor.
Tempting as it may be, she has no intention to apply for the substantive post as she is nearing her retirement age. In fact, she intends to retire once the substantive vice chancellor is appointed.
“I did not apply for this post and I have no intention to do so,” the soft-spoken Associate Professor Lephoto said.
“As the pro-vice chancellor, I naturally came into this position to fill in the vacancy left by Prof Mahao, our former Vice Chancellor. Even at the time when he indicated that he intended to retire from the university, I also indicated that I also wanted to retire and did not want to be considered for any post,” Prof Lephoto said.
“I am retiring as soon as the incumbent for the post of the vice chancellor is appointed. Academics retire at 65 but at the level of associate professor or professor retirement is at 70. I am over 65 and I am looking forward to my retirement.”
Her career started in the late 1970s when she was employed a lecturer in Finance and Materials Management in the then Lesotho Institute of Public Administration now LIPAM.
After five years of service, she left for NUL’s satellite institution, the Institute of Extra Mural Studies (IEMS).
“I have worked for the NUL for 30 years most of which I was served at IEMs, so if you want to talk about my history, that is where to start. I started working there as an extension educator or what can be equated to a lecturer and I was attached in the Department of Business Administration. My responsibilities were to train business studies students as well as to run business education programmes, in particular what used to be called Business Studies which offered certificate and diploma qualifications,” she said.
She was later transferred to the then new department of Adult Education after reading for a Masters in Adult Education.
“Adult Education has to do with training adult learners on the methods of dealing with, teaching and training adults to perform or create projects of different kinds. Together with the non-formal training, it offered certificate, diploma and later master’s degree.”
She was soon to be promoted to head of department (HOD) in the Adult Education Department before being appointed the deputy director of IEMS. She was subsequently promoted to director of IEMS when the university decided to abolish the deputy posts due to financial constraints, she said.
She served the IEMS until 2016 when she joined the NUL administration in the Roma campus where she became the Pro-vice Chancellor.
She says her two decades at IEMS prepared her for her current post.
“It was at IEMS where I received a lot of leadership training and experience.”
Her stint as the Vice Chancellor might be short but Associate Professor Lephoto gives all her gratitude for her achievements to her late parents who were not so educated themselves but worked hard to ensure that she and her seven surviving siblings got the best education.
Growing up in Roma in a family of nine girls and one boy, Associate Professor Lephoto said her parents raised her and her sisters doing what could be referred to as male duties, another trait she attributes her leadership abilities to.
“As a girl, one of the eight surviving siblings, I was always been treated by my parents as somebody who could have been a boy because they really wanted a boy. My parents were blessed with 10 children but only one of them is a boy.
“So, they always wanted some of us to be raised like boys so that we could take some of the responsibilities meant for boys. I think, in a way that put extra pressure on us because we had to assume those responsibilities over and above what a girl is expected to do.
“My parents were not educated. My father worked in the South African firms and my mother would at times work as a housekeeper but otherwise they were very committed and wanted their children to get good education.”
While she is the only one who has a doctorate, all her siblings got good education with some being teachers, bankers and others are in the civil service.
Ass Prof Lephoto said she had many people to thank for her academic education including her teachers in different levels of her learning journey.
“I have always admired my school teachers in particular Mr Lesotho, my primary school teacher at Roma Primary School. He was one of the teachers that I admired and wanted to emulate.”
She also said she was happy with her contribution to the development of many of her former students and prides herself for her legacy at IEMS.
“I joined the administration quite late but I feel that from the office of the Pro-Vice Chancellor I was able to facilitate the teaching and learning of adults because that is the key responsibility of the PVC to ensure that those who are enrolled as students go through a quality process of teaching and learning and that is what I have been doing,” she said.
While she is in the twilight of her career, she still has hope that NUL can be turned around to become the best institution possible.
And to achieve that, she said, the NUL management should do away with the old practices.
“NUL celebrated its 70th anniversary recently yet the university has upheld the cultural ways of doing things where procedures are outdated and cannot fit into the systems of the day.
“For example, our process for admissions is slow and by the time we submit names of sponsored students to the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS), it usually is too close to the start of the academic year. This has resulted in students protesting delayed food and books allowances.
“We are not able to respond timeously to NMDS demands. I am not even saying that NMDS does not have its own challenges but our admission process has played a part in causing the delays in disbursing allowances to students.”
The delays are also inherent in the examination processes where submissions of the list of continuing students are made late to NMDS thereby affecting the process of dispensing their money.
She said while she was in the office of the Pro-vice Chancellor, she advocated for semesterisation, the process of teaching a complete module in one semester. She said she was confident that semesterisation “would shake things up such” and make their processes efficient.
Associate Professor Lephoto said this would enable the institution to process students’ applications immediately upon receipt thereby remitting information to NMDS timeously.
“This will hopefully combat the perennial challenge of strikes due to delayed distribution of funds. We feel that with a transformation like that we can be able to serve the students better,” she said.