The National University of Lesotho (NUL) could close before the end of the year unless the government avails more funds to enable it to compete this semester, some senior officials at the institution have said.
The NUL officials said this at a press conference at the university's Institute of Extra Mural Studies (IEMS) campus in Maseru. Seven officials from various departments addressed the press conference.
The seven are senior lecturers, Dr Molete Sekese (Soil Science and Conservation), Dr Ketlalemang Maimane (African Languages and Literature), Dr Tefetso Mothibe (Historical Studies), Professor Mathe Ntsekhe (Sciences Department), Professor Motlalepula Thube (Historical Sciences Department), Dr Mahao Mahao (English Department), Assistant Registrar, Moreheng Lethunya, and the Printing and Stationery Superintendent, Mohau Ntlama.
The seven revealed that the university was desperately short of funds after the government only availed M78 million against a projected M186 million to fund the institution for the 2019/20 financial year. A further M225 million is expected to be generated from fees payments by students and other fund-raising initiatives by the university.
Dr Mothibe said as a result of the government's failure to fulfil its funding obligation, NUL faced a huge shortfall of M108 million to fund its operations and it would be a "miracle" if the university would still be open in December 2019.
"NUL faces a shortfall of M108 million. As a result, two closely linked outcomes can be expected- the first being that the university will not be able to finance its operations for the whole year and secondly, the university will then be forced to close down.
"It is our fear that we will not be able to make it to December. But if we do, we would have been blessed," Dr Mothibe said.
Prof Ntsekhe concurred with Dr Mothibe, adding that NUL could even close down earlier in November unless it received additional funding.
The seven said several factors had contributed to the decline in government funding to NUL "including Lesotho's transition from a state-led economy to one based on private enterprise".
"In this regard, there have been a series of measures taken by the state in the 1990s to divest itself of significant sectors that were dominated by parastatals since independence, and since 2000 to reduce its support in some social services, particularly higher education.
"Additionally, the political instability has contributed to the deterioration of the university and government's relationship. There is a perception among the ruling elite that the university serves as a centre of political opposition to them," Dr Mothibe said.
Dr Maimane said the reduced funding had contributed to the institution's failure to attract new lecturers and retain its highly qualified and experienced staff. He said several senior professors including six from the faculty of humanities had left owing to the university's inability to meet their financial needs.
Dr Maimane said the funding challenges had also affected student enrolment which had dropped from 2700 in the 2018 academic year to 1387 in the current academic year.
Mr Thube said NUL had been reduced to "a glorified kindergarten" due to inadequate resources to enable learning at the institution.
Mr Ntlama weighed in and said the government to consider reducing the "excessive salaries" paid to cabinet ministers and abolishing the interest-free loans that senior government officials received whenever a new government was elected. He said the savings could be used to pay for 3200 students.
The country's 120 legislators receive as much as M500 000 in interest-free loans from treasury.
NUL resumed classes this week after last week's violent student protests over delays in the disbursement of their food and book allowances by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS).