Overhaul varsity laws

ALMOST everyone would agree that there is an urgent need to review laws governing the running of institutions of higher learning in Lesotho.
Institutions of higher learning such as the National University of Lesotho, Lesotho College of Education and Lerotholi Polytechnic are now synonymous with acts of hooliganism.
It is against this background that I wish to concur with recent calls by senators to revamp and review legislation governing these institutions of higher learning.
Based on the recent disturbances that were widely reported in the local media it is clear that a review of the laws governing these institutions is long overdue.
Universities and colleges have a proud history of standing up against repression.
This was equally true here when the students’ movement pushed the African liberation agenda.
Between 1970 and 1990 students from other African countries influenced students’ politics locally in demanding an end to colonialism and repression.
This international perspective on students’ politics only changed around 1994 after South Africa attained majority rule.
In my opinion students’ politics shifted from real issues affecting the majority to issues that focused on the administration and management of their institutions.
Students’ demonstrations became associated more with complaints over the handling of their funds by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) than national issues.
The demonstrations were more often than not triggered by delays by the NMDS in disbursing students’ allowances or when the university or colleges imposed unilateral decisions without first consulting students.
The reality on the ground is that the NMDS has serious problems of capacity in handling students’ funds.
Enrolment figures for students in tertiary institutions have continued to grow with the NMDS appearing to be lacking the capacity to deal with the new realities.
There have also been serious allegations of corruption at the NMDS. We have now come to associate the department with gross inefficiency and stinking acts of corruption.
In the light of these realities I wish to call for an urgent overhaul of the department and convert it into a public enterprise.
I would urge senators to look at three issues in particular: governance, disbursement and the administration of students’ loans.
The NMDS has a new governing council which is chaired by the Minister of Education and Training.
The secretariat, however, still falls under the Ministry of Finance.
There is no doubt that the Ministry of Finance is the nerve-centre of all government operations.
There have been suggestions that it would be better if the government were to separate the NMDS from the finance ministry because of the weighty responsibilities the ministry shoulders.
The recently established NMDS governing council is exclusively made up of civil servants. I think this is deeply flawed.
We need a governing council that looks beyond government parameters.
It should therefore be inclusive to accommodate other sectors of society such as civil society and the private sector.
Civil society and the private sector can do a lot to strengthen policy oversight and assist the government deal with the ever changing global trends.
On the issue of disbursement of funds I would suggest that the NMDS gives students complete responsibility to facilitate the payment of their own fees.
History has taught us that it is problematic to involve local academic institutions or middlemen in the disbursement of funds.
Besides, it creates an unnecessary bureaucratic process in the disbursement process.
In the majority of demonstrations by students we note a blame game between the NMDS and institutions of higher learning.
Students must assume responsibility in paying their own fees.
Once a student has been notified that fees have not been paid, he must approach the NMDS on his own and make sure that all fees are paid.
The student must follow up with the NMDS when fees are not paid.
He or she is the one who signed the contract and not the college or middlemen.
In return the NMDS should be empowered to demand any loans given to students at the end of their study.
This can only be done through a new law that overhauls the NMDS.

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