Mas­sive re­struc­tur­ing at NUL

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

THE Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho (NUL) has em­barked on a mas­sive re­struc­tur­ing ex­er­cise said to be the big­gest in the in­sti­tu­tion’s 71-year his­tory. But as re­vealed by the univer­sity’s Vice-chan­cel­lor Pro­fes­sor Nqosa Ma­hao in an in­ter­view with Le­sotho Times ( LT) reporter, Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane, this trans­for­ma­tion comes at a time NUL is fac­ing a myr­iad of chal­lenges.

LT: We have heard a lit­tle about NUL’S trans­for­ma­tion which the univer­sity has al­ready em­barked on. Please could you tell us more about this mas­sive re­struc­tur­ing?

Ma­hao: We are do­ing what we call a 360-de­grees trans­for­ma­tion. In lay­man’s lan­guage, this means we are leav­ing no stone un­turned. As soon as we came into of­fice (2014), we de­vel­oped a strate­gic plan. The 360-de­grees trans­for­ma­tion in­cludes aca­demic pro­grammes, which are the core func­tion of the univer­sity. It in­cludes re­search work, the wel­fare of our first and most im­por­tant clients – the stu­dents, and the wel­fare of the staff. It also in­cludes the in­fra­struc­ture in terms of fa­cil­i­ties as well as other ameni­ties the univer­sity needs to have. So there is no part of the univer­sity we have not looked into in terms of repo­si­tion­ing our­selves.

LT: But why this mas­sive trans­for­ma­tion now?

Ma­hao: Truly speak­ing, the Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho has fallen way be­hind its peer in­sti­tu­tions not just in the re­gion, but in the world, so this trans­for­ma­tion is aimed at re­vers­ing this trend. We have also dropped in terms of rank­ing. For in­stance, when I was a stu­dent at this univer­sity more than 30 years ago, it at­tracted aca­demics from all over the world—north Amer­ica, Europe and the rest of Africa. The univer­sity had high-cal­i­bre staff. It had stu­dents who came from all over the African con­ti­nent. I sus­pect at one point, a quar­ter of our stu­dents were from out­side this coun­try. But at the mo­ment, that num­ber is less than 0.5 per­cent and we are un­able to at­tract high cal­i­bre staff from else­where, and like I said, we are hop­ing the re­struc­tur­ing would ad­dress this sit­u­a­tion.

LT: So ba­si­cally, you are say­ing the univer­sity has de­clined in stan­dards…

Ma­hao: Yes; take rank­ings, for in­stance. Some­times I’m even afraid to look at them. But I’ll tell you that in 2015, on the African con­ti­nent, we ranked 166. For a bet­ter pic­ture, uni­ver­si­ties which broke from us, for in­stance the Univer­sity of Swazi­land, was ranked num­ber 99, and the Univer­sity of Botswana stood at num­ber 44. You will ob­serve that Botswana is al­most 120 paces ahead of us on the African con­ti­nent. At global level, we are the other side of 6000 in rank­ings. That tells you some­where we slept when the rest of the world was mov­ing on. And the rea­son why that is so, amongst oth­ers, is lack of vi­sion­ary lead­er­ship, then ag­gra­vat­ing the sit­u­a­tion in a funny way is fund­ing of this univer­sity which has been de­clin­ing. Not stay­ing in one place, but in­creas­ingly de­clin­ing.

LT: So how do you hope to turn things around?

Ma­hao: You know, even when you have the best so­lu­tions but you don’t have re­sources, it is very dif­fi­cult for you to achieve what you in­tend to do. Be that as it may, the strate­gic plan we adopted in 2015 has iden­ti­fied some of the ar­eas where we need to up the ante and we have started this. I must say be­fore this plan, there was a plan which was adopted in 2002 but later aborted. And then there was a sub­se­quent one in 2007, which was never im­ple­mented. And so one of the things we were so par­tic­u­larly con­scious about was that to have a plan is one thing, but to im­ple­ment it is yet an­other.

LT: You have ear­lier said the cur­rent trans­for­ma­tion targets all ar­eas of the univer­sity. Could you please give us de­tails of the trans­for­ma­tion in in­di­vid­ual ar­eas?

Ma­hao: In the area of academia, the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion had sus­pended post­grad­u­ate pro­grammes, which is an­other rea­son why our rank­ing dropped. We have lifted the sus­pen­sion and those pro­grammes, Mas­ter’s and Doc­toral, are now run­ning in dif­fer­ent fac­ul­ties. The aim is that presently, we have about 230 post­grad­u­ate stu­dents and by 2020, we must have a fair per­cent­age of our stu­dent-en­rol­ment reg­is­tered in post­grad­u­ate pro­grammes. And as we do so, part of the driv­ing mo­tive is we should not be spend­ing money to train peo­ple in South Africa and else­where, but lo­cally where costs on the tax­payer are go­ing to be sig­nif­i­cantly low. That’s the idea – to in­ter­vene in the econ­omy of the coun­try. The other is­sue is all fac­ul­ties have been called upon to re­view their ex­ist­ing pro­grammes, dis­card pro­grammes that are no longer rel­e­vant and in­tro­duce new pro­grammes. And in do­ing so, we are guided by the Na­tional Devel­op­ment Strate­gic Plan be­cause that plan says ‘these are the needs for this coun­try.’ What we need to do is to align our pro­grammes to the Na­tional Devel­op­ment Strate­gic Plan.

LT: Was there a spe­cific rea­son why the pre­vi­ous man­age­ment sus­pended these pro­grammes?

Ma­hao: They said they were re­struc­tur­ing, but I don’t know what that meant and I don’t want to dwell on it. But any­body who has an un­der­stand­ing of higher ed­u­ca­tion – there are cer­tain things that you don’t do. And that is the one thing (sus­pen­sion) they shouldn’t have done. We are also quite aware that higher ed­u­ca­tion in Le­sotho is un­der­de­vel­oped. It is as if we were not the first coun­try be­low the equa­tor, out­side South Africa and Rhode­sia, with a univer­sity prior to in­de­pen­dence. But we have fallen be­hind ev­ery coun­try be­low the equa­tor in terms of pro­vi­sion for higher ed­u­ca­tion. As a re­sult, and this might an­noy many peo­ple, presently Ba­sotho are the most un­e­d­u­cated na­tion in south­ern Africa. And yet the hunger for higher ed­u­ca­tion in Le­sotho is so high. We seek to dou­ble our en­rol­ment by 2020. You may be aware that we came un­der ter­ri­ble at­tack from cer­tain quar­ters last year for our ad­mis­sion. This univer­sity is gov­erned by the Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho Act, and that law says the Univer­sity Se­nate de­ter­mines the en­rol­ment, no­body else. As man­age­ment, we im­ple­ment de­ci­sions taken by Se­nate. For now the Se­nate has ap­proved that go­ing to 2020 we should have dou­bled the en­rol­ment. It is for us now to grow our in­takes an­nu­ally so that we can reach that tar­get.

LT: What is NUL’S to­tal stu­dent en­rol­ment at the mo­ment?

Ma­hao: It is just un­der 10 000. This in­cludes part-time stud­ies at the In­sti­tute of Ex­tra Mural Stud­ies (IEMS) Maseru cam­pus. We are do­ing this con­scious of the fact that the en­rol­ment should go hand-in-hand with the trans­for­ma­tion of pro­grammes so that we pro­vide in­creas­ingly in the ar­eas of eco­nomic devel­op­ment. For ex­am­ple, we are put­ting a cap in in­take in ar­eas of Hu­man­ity and Social Sciences in order to al­low for growth in Life Science, En­gi­neer­ing, Tech­nol­ogy, Agri­cul­ture and Health Sciences. The sec­ond mode by which we are re­spond­ing to ac­cess and hunger for higher ed­u­ca­tion is that by 2017, we will be of­fer­ing what is called Open and Dis­tance Learn­ing. That is to sayy any­bodyy y who wants to study but t can­not come to classes on a full­time ba­sis could just sit in his or her of­fice, or at home and study through this Open and Dis­tance Learn­ing.arn­ing. We are re­cap­i­tal­iz­ing our in­fra­struc­ture ture at IEMS so that it is able to pro­vide for that mode of learn­ing. Pol­icy has al­ready beenn ap­proved in that re­gard.

The fi­nal leg of trans­for­ma­tionns­for­ma­tion in the aca­demic sec­tor is that thehe Univer­sity Coun­cil has ap­proved the re­or­ga­ni­za­tion ga­ni­za­tion of fac­ul­ties. We had seven fac­ul­ties.ul­ties. Coun­cil has ap­proved that we re­or­ga­nize rga­nize them into four, namely Science, En­gi­neer­ing and Tech­nol­ogy; Life Sciences,nces, which will in­clude the present fac­ul­ti­es­cul­ties of Agri­cul­ture, Health Sciences and also house the cur­rently con­tro­ver­sialal Med­i­cal School fol­low­ing talks that aree un­der­way to adopt it. The third fac­ulty is s Hu­man Science, which will ac­com­mo­date te Ed­u­ca­tion, Social Sciences and Hu­man­i­­i­ties. The fi­nal fac­ulty is Busi­ness, Eco­nom­ics and Law. We will have the e In­sti­tute of Dis­tance and Con­tin­u­ing ng Stud­ies, which is the present IEMS.EMS. But it as­sumes a big­ger man­da­ten­date now. Se­condly, that in­sti­tu­tee will have the man­date to take anyny prac­ti­cal pro­grammes of­fered in n the main cam­pus and of­fer them m on a part­time ba­sis. The other el­e­mentle­ment will be pro­fes­sional con­tin­u­ing uing stud­ies, where we will be pro- vid­ing Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­u­ca­tion aimed at re­tool­ing peo­ple at top man­age­ment to sharpen their skills and com­pe­tence so that they are rel­e­vant to today’s needs. Next week, we will be ad­ver­tis­ing the pro­grammes for Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­u­ca­tion. We are go­ing to start of­fer­ing the pro­grammes in Septem­ber this year at IEMS.

Again, two other in­sti­tutes, which will run on a smaller scale, are also be­ing de­vel­oped. The first one is the Wa­ter In­sti­tute. In fact, on 22 June 2016, we shall be en­gag­ing with all stake­hold­ers in the wa­ter sec­tor to dis­cuss the con­cept that has been de­vel­oped. We hope the Wa­ter In­sti­tute will be run­ning be­fore the end of this year. The rea­son we are in­tro­duc­ing this in­sti­tute is sim­ply that we don’t have gold in our coun­try, but we have wa­ter. Wa­ter is in de­mand. The re­cent drought has just demon­strated how crit­i­cal, go­ing to the fu­ture, wa­ter is the strate­gic course. But as a coun­try, we don’t have the ca­pac­ity, what­so­ever, that bears on the en­tire value-chain of wa­ter - from wa­ter en­gi­neer­ing, man­age­ment, eco­nom­ics, et cetera.

The other in­sti­tute is the Moshoeshoe In­sti­tute of Lead­er­ship. That also is in the process of devel­op­ment. We have been work­ing to­gether with the Thabo Mbeki African Lead­er­ship In­sti­tute to see what they are do­ing and bor­row­ing some wis­dom from them. But our in­sti­tute will largely do re­search fo­cused on the val­ues that King Moshoeshoe I ex­uded. We seek to re­po­si­tion our­selves as a unique in­sti­tute on hu­man­is­tic val­ues of the Ba­sotho founder. The two in­sti­tutes will run from the main cam­pus in Roma.

LT: Talk about other ar­eas other than the academia.

Ma­hao: This univer­sity has not de­vel­oped its in­fra­struc­ture over the years. And I think where we have per­formed dis­as­trously bad is in the area of Tech­nol­ogy. In this age, which is dif­fer­ent from when I was a stu­dent, tech­nol­ogy is the most im­por­tant tool of teach­ing, learn­ing and re­search. What we are work­ing on now is to grow Wi-fi ac­cess on cam­pus. We have just com­pleted phase 1 of that WiFi ac­cess. In terms of com­put­ers, we have man­aged to mo­bilise 250 new com­put­ers from var­i­ous donors, mainly the Cen­tral Bank of Le­sotho and Vo­da­com Le­sotho and we are go­ing to be re­ceiv­ing an­other fund from Ned­bank Le­sotho on 1 June 2016. This is to re­cap­i­tal­ize our com­puter lab­o­ra­to­ries. We are go­ing to have an in­ter­net café open 24 hours a day for stu­dents to ac­cess it free of charge. We are go­ing to be work­ing on put­ting tech­nol­ogy into class­rooms.

Com­ing to in­fra­struc­ture, there are two crit­i­cal is­sues. One is about stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion. On the main cam­pus, we have about 8000 stu­dents. But our halls of res­i­dence, in­clud­ing those that are owned by the Ro­man Catholic Church, ac­com­mo­date less than 2000 stu­dents. Over 6000 stu­dents live in the vil­lage. Ameni­ties that are avail­able in the vil­lage are not con­ducive to ef­fec­tive learn­ing. There are also se­cu­rity chal­lenges. Stu­dents get mugged, as­saulted and bur­glary hap­pen­sappe s a at theire rentale a apa apart­ments.e s. Be­causeeca se we have fi­nan­cial chal­lenges, we have in­vit- ed the pri­vate sec­tor within and beyond the coun­try to come and do busi­ness with us on the ba­sis of Pub­lic Pri­vate Part­ner­ship. This is a model that other uni­ver­si­ties have ex­plored and ex­ploited ef­fec­tively to meet their in­fra­struc­ture needs. We have had good re­sponse from in­vestors. We are just fi­nal­iz­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate le­gal tools so that we don’t get it wrong. The idea is that at least 50 per­cent of stu­dents should be ac­com­mo­dated on cam­pus. The 360-de­grees trans­for­ma­tion is vir­tu­ally im­por­tant for this in­sti­tu­tion to im­prove its im­age be­cause value is as­so­ci­ated with im­age. Last year only, we lost about 300 stu­dents who were fully spon­sored by the Na­tional Man­power Devel­op­ment Sec­re­tar­iat to study at NUL, but they didn’t come and we don’t know why. They just didn’t pitch up. They could have gone else­where where there is a good im­age. We are not the univer­sity of their first choice. You can­not un­der­play the way you look.

LT: You have talked about the is­sue of at­tract­ing for­eign in­tel­lec­tu­als and re­tain­ing your staff. How are you im­prov­ing the staff wel­fare at NUL in line with this trans­for­ma­tion?

Ma­hao: I’m sorry to say that again, the ball was dropped in terms of the level of fund­ing for this in­sti­tu­tion. The re­sult is that our salaries are not only the worst of any univer­sity in south­ern Africa, but they have also be­gun to fall way be­low gov­ern­ment salaries. Not only are we los­ing staff to other uni­ver­si­ties, but we are also los­ing them to the gov­ern­ment. This is an is­sue of ma­jor con­cern. I just don’t know how the staff here has con­tin­ued to tol­er­ate this kind of sit­u­a­tion.

LT: Who de­ter­mines staff salaries at NUL?

Ma­hao: The Coun­cil, but the re­sources come from else­where. Two years ago, a re­quest was sub­mit­ted to gov­ern­ment to sup­port with re­sources so that the univer­sity can be­gin to do some­thing about salaries. Two years on that cry has not been heeded. Coun­cil has de­cided to send a del­e­ga­tion that we are hop­ing should be meet­ing with the Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion very soon. This is to re­ally con­vince gov­ern­ment about the sit­u­a­tion. You will un­der­stand that we may want to do all these good things but if we are los­ing pro­fes­sors; staff with PHD qual­i­fi­ca­tions, by law you are not al­lowed to of­fer post­grad­u­ate pro­grammes if you don’t have ad­e­quate staff with PHD qual­i­fi­ca­tions. Last year, there was a six-per­cent salary in­crease for pub­lic ser­vants. Again we went and knocked at gov­ern­ment doors to say ‘can we be in­cluded’ but to no avail. Again this year salaries were in­creased by four-per­cent and we are ex­cluded. And that is not be­cause we didn’t re­quest the in­crease re­peat­edly.p

LT: When w was the last time staff salaries were inc in­creased at NUL?

Ma­hao: The last time there was a salary re­view here w was in 2005. And then af­ter seven years theth staff went on strike, across 2011/2012. Yo You will re­mem­ber the ma­jor strike that c crip­pled the univer­sity that time. The gov gov­ern­ment then helped to set­tle with the staffst unions, but un­for­tu­nately the M20 mil­lio mil­lion that was meant to cover for that year waswa not pro­vided by the gov­ern­ment th the fol­low­ing year. One would ex­pect that the gov­ern­ment would main main­tain that in sub­se­quent year years, but that was not the case. We al­most ap­prove staff res­igna na­tions ev­ery week, both acade demic and non-aca­demic empl ploy­ees. So that you don’t think I’ I’m mak­ing up sto­ries here, I’ll sh show you this doc­u­ment which c com­pares NUL staff salaries against that of the Univer­sity of Swazi­land in 2013. You w will see here that a pro­fes­sor a at NUL earned M373 668 per an­num, while a ju­nior lec­turer,r who is four lev­els be­low pr pro­fes­sor, earned M374 482 in Sw Swazi­land. So a pro­fes­sor can lea leave NUL and go and take a lec lec­turer’s job in Swazi­land but sti still earn bet­ter than a pro­fes­sor at NUL. This is just one ex­am­ple ple. And Swazi­land has re­viewed the their salaries since then.

NUL Vice-chan­cel­lor Pro­fes­sor Nqosa Ma­hao

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