NATIONAL University of Lesotho (NUL) students are expected to resume attending lectures today after suspending their nearly month-long strike to enable negotiations between the university and the government over their tuition fees.
This development was confirmed yesterday by NUL Students Representative Council (SRC) Secretary-General Thato Ponya who said the university council appointed a task team on Tuesday to negotiate with the government.
The higher education institution suspended lectures on 11 April 2017 after student protests at its Roma and Maseru campuses turned violent.
The protests were over Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s delay in responding to their 48 hour ultimatum to ensure their tuition fees were fully paid. The petition had been presented to the premier on 30 March 2017.
This was after the university had proposed a 16-49 percent tuition hike for first year students and 1-42 percent for senior students — depending on the programme of study — for the 2016/2017 academic year.
The fee structure was effected without the input of the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) which could only afford a 10 percent increase across the board.
The NMDS is mandated with paying tuition fees, costs of research, book allowances, accommodation and food allowances among other costs for selected students.
NUL Vice-Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao had said the tuition hikes were necessary to offset the high costs of running the university which included staff salaries.
He said NUL could fail to pay salaries for the month of June if the NMDS rejected paying for the new fee structure.
For the government’s part, Development Planning Minister Semano Sekatle said the university’s decision to increase the fees had been unilateral and unaffordable for the NMDS.
He also accused the students of being politically-motivated in protesting against the government instead of against the university which had raised their fees.
However, Mr Ponya said they had decided to resume attending lectures today after the NUL Council appointed a task team to hold negotiations with the government.
“We have decided to suspend the strike to give the negotiations a chance to proceed,” he said.
“We will resume classes tomorrow (Thursday).”
Mr Ponya said contrary to Dr Mosisili’s claims that the students were demanding tuition fees hikes, it was the NUL Senate which had made the decision to offset rising operational costs.
“I wish to set the record straight on what the prime minister usually tells his supporters at political rallies.
“He repeatedly says we are the ones seeking an increase in tuition fees.
“This is not true.
“The truth of the matter is that fees were increased by the university management at its highest level, which is the senate.
“It should be borne in mind that the head of the senate is His Majesty the King, so for the prime minister to accuse us of seeking the increase is totally wrong.
“We only want the government to pay our fees as stated by the university,” he said.
Mr Ponya, however warned that if the government did not pay the shortfall to the university until the examination period, they would not sit for examinations.
A statement issued after a NUL Council special meeting held on Tuesday expressed concern on the stalemate and the students’ boycotting of classes.
“Council deliberated the report and expressed its concern that negotiations between the university management and the Ministry of Development Planning have yet to reach finality,” reads part of the statement.
“In order to facilitate reaching a conclusion in the negotiations, Council resolved to appoint a task team led by the Chairman of Council that includes external Members of Council to be seized of the negotiations at the highest level of government.”
The council also states that the decision to suspend classes was made to “protect life and property”.
“Council further observed that several weeks of teaching and learning have gone to waste as a result of either student boycott of classes or the suspension of classes which the Senate had to order to protect life and property.
“Council emphasises the need for urgent resumption of teaching and learning and trusts the Senate to quickly put in place a teaching and learning recovery plan.”