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NUL rebirth overdue

by Lesotho Times
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THE world over, universities are supposed to be a melting pot of ideas. They are incubators for ground-breaking research and innovation.

It is at universities that great ideas for business, politics, technology and societal development are given shape.

The National University of Lesotho (NUL) is, sadly, not known for any of that.

Instead, Lesotho’s biggest tertiary institute is known for student strikes, labour unrests, political bickering and the firing of vice-chancellors.

Not a semester passes without students demonstrating or workers picketing.

Late last year a demonstration over delayed grants left a student dead and several others injured following clashes with the police.

A hall was torched in the mêlée and authorities were forced to shut down the college.

Earlier this year students took to the streets again over delayed grants. 

A vice-chancellor was fired for taking foreign trips without approval and making inflated per diem claims.

Workers kept on grumbling. 

Now, the new semester is barely a month old but there are worrying signs that students might rise again because grants have been delayed.

Workers too might go on strike. 

Just this week non-academic staff petitioned the council to deal with alleged mismanagement at the college.

They want the management to stop arbitrarily changing their working conditions without consultation. 

They accuse the management of flouting policies and wasting money at a time when the college’s coffers are almost empty.

And they want some senior officials fired for alleged incompetence.

These grievances are neither new nor startling but they help illustrate what really ails NUL.

It’s neither an exaggeration nor malicious to say NUL is on its knees.

The bill for years of mismanagement is now due.

Relations between management, workers and students have reached toxic levels.

The fighting never ceases.

Those who work there say basic ethics of corporate governance have been trampled with impunity. 

A number of senior managers have been on suspension for years but still continue to draw their salaries.

Its buildings are falling apart due to years of neglect.

Lecture theatres can’t cope with the increase in students.

Companies say the quality of NUL graduates has plummeted over the years.

That’s in part because, after years of making do as it goes, the university has lost focus on its core business — teaching and research.

University authorities have probably been too busy parrying coup plots from within to realise that the human resource needs of this country have changed faster than the curriculum they offer.

While they have been consumed with protecting their turf the world has left them behind. 

Unless it realigns itself, NUL faces a grave danger of being irrelevant to the urgent needs of this country and the world.

 Money has also become a huge problem as well.

The government coffers, the breast from which the university has suckled for years, are now running dry.

Soon the college might have to fend for itself but it doesn’t need much analysis to know that NUL cannot survive without government support.

It is already struggling to attract foreign students who pay more.

Grants that help fund its research programmes have been hard to come by.

That’s precisely because NUL has become a damaged brand. 

Donors are reluctant to deal with institutions that have no respect for accountability, transparency and corporate governance ethics.

The mess around the Kellogg Foundation grant is just but one example.

Foreign students, a normally reliable cash-cow for many universities, are not interested in enrolling with a university that is not known for anything other than strikes.

This leaves the college in a serious quandary.

To get out of this fix a total culture change needs to happen at NUL.

Transparency and accountability are issues on which to begin this culture change.

NUL must clean out garrulous activists who insist on spending their time toyi-toying rather than working.

Relations between students, workers and management must be repaired. 

The college must focus on producing quality graduates and not quantity. The curriculum must be changed in line with the changing times.Courses that are not relevant to our needs must be dropped. Research and teaching must be priorities.

In short, NUL must become a university again.

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