THE National University of Lesotho (NUL) was yesterday shut down to prevent the likely damage of infrastructure by students who were protesting against the authorities’ failure to address a host of their grievances.
When the Lesotho Times crew visited the tertiary institution in Roma in the afternoon, students had already been evicted from the halls of residence and they had also been disbursed from the campus by heavily armed riot police amid fears that they could damage university property as has been the case in previous demonstrations.
Only a few students were milling around the entrance to the campus.
They said Acting Vice Chancellor Professor Kananelo Mosito had informed them through the campus radio to leave the campus.
The students said their protest was sparked by the authorities’ repeated failure to address their concerns which included the scrapping of the online learning system introduced during the nationwide lockdown from 30 March to 5 May 2020 to fight the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
They also complained about the late disbursement of their living allowances by the government. They claimed about half of them are still to receive their allowances since the commencement of the 2020/21 academic year in September this year.
“There are several issues we want the management to address but the major one concerns the online learning system which excludes critical groups of learners,” one of the students told this publication on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“For example, students with visual impairment are not catered for under the online system. It also does not include practical learning programmes for agriculture students among others. But despite these deficiencies, the affected students still have to pay full fees.
“We therefore want the university to do away with online learning because it is ill-prepared for it. We want to revert to the normal physical learning system as the Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro has already given the greenlight for all levels of the education to resume classes.”
Another student said most of them were yet to receive their allowances three months after classes began.
“The delays in getting our allowances is hindering learning and we cannot be expected to perform to the best of our abilities under such circumstances.
“Also, we are not happy with the delay in releasing funds for the Student Representative Council (SRC) to enable it to do its job of advancing students’ interests,” the student said.
In his radio message, Prof Mosito said, “As the vice chancellor, I’m responsible for the maintenance of law and order on the campus and throughout the university”.
“When students no longer want to continue with their studies, the easiest thing is to request them to go back home.
“I direct all students to leave the university campus within 15 minutes and go back to their homes. The police officers are here to maintain law and order because the students have decided to disrupt the operations of the university and also to throw stones and destroy property of the university and that which belongs to individuals who are here on campus. The police have come in to assist you and help you out of the campus.
“I instruct all students to leave the campus with immediate effect and if there will still be any students still on campus 15 minutes from now it will be at their own risk,” Prof Mosito said.
In a subsequent interview with the Lesotho Times late last night, Prof Mosito said he was forced to close the university due to the students’ propensity to vandalise property.
He shot down the students’ claims that the online system does not cater for the practical learning.
“It is not correct to say that online learning does not allow for the practical learning part. While there is a part for the practical students to learn online, there are also arrangements for them to visit laboratories to complete their practical learning while still observing Covid-19 protocols,” Prof Mosito said.
On the issue of delayed disbursement of student allowances, Prof Mosito said the university no longer handles students’ allowances starting from the current academic year.
He said they stopped this because the government (NMDS) would shift the blame for late release of allowances to the university even when it was not their fault.
He would not be drawn into saying when the university would be re-opened for normal classes.