NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF LESOTHO

×

Warning

JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 355

Speech by the Vice Chancellor at the Inauguration of the Ninth VC of NUL 21 March 2015

Your Majesty and Chancellor

The Right Honourable Prime Minister

Your Ladyship the Chief Justice

Esteemed President of the Senate

Esteemed Speaker of the National Assembly

Your Lordship the President of the Court of Appeal

Your Ladyships and Lordships Justices of the High Court

Morena oa ka oa Manonyane le Marena ohle a Sehlooho

Esteemed Members of the National Assembly

Heads of Foreign Missions and International Organizations resident in Lesotho

Honourable Chairman of Council

Esteemed Members of Council

Your Grace Heads of Churches and University Chaplains

Vice Chancellors and Representatives of Fraternal Universities  

Members of Senate

Colleagues members of staff

Students of our esteemed NUL

Lieepheephe le Bakhoele bohle

Manonyane le Lirakoe

Friends, Compatriots and Comrades!

 

In two weeks’ time this University will mark 70 years since it was established. They have been seventy years rendered in the service of crafting leaders for the Nation and Africa. Thousands of men and women from most of the Sub-Saharan Africa countries obtained their education in this valley as students of either Pius XII College, UBBS, UBLS or NUL. Many of those who performed their rites of passage to acquire qualifications that opened doors to them to global citizenship have fond memories of the quality of education and fulfilling campus life they experienced in this valley. As a student I too spent six years that were perhaps my most formative and which helped shape my world outlook and prepared me for the turbulences of life in this University.

   

I may be subjective about this, but I believe my student days at this institution can rightly lay a claim to having taken place during NUL’s golden age. I concede that previous and even subsequent generations may contest the claim; they are entitled to do so. Perhaps in my subjectivity I remain besotted with remarks I recall from a renowned East African professor who attended an international conference on this campus in the early 1980s. So impressed was he by the erudition of NUL students participating in the conference that the professor was moved to remark that in the 60s independent Sub-Saharan Africa’s leading university was Makerere. In the 70s, he declared, Dar Es Salaam was. But in the 80s, he submitted, the mantle had been seized by the National University of Lesotho.

 

As I assume the delicate responsibility of Vice Chancellor to steer the University ship through the rough seas, there is this sense of urgency in me; even restlessness I would say: to be part of this University’s efforts to reclaim unconditional respect and acclaim as the nation’s undisputed intellectual hub dedicated to the business of crafting society’s thought leaders. I am fully conscious of the immense work that has to be done to achieve that vision. I am equally alive to the hurdles that have to be jumped. But my confidence draws from what I know of the resilience of Basotho. For, if the men and women who constitute the staff of this University as well as the students were born of the stock Basotho are made of, my confidence may not be entirely misplaced. Plucking NUL out of its current temporary adversities may indeed be a tall order, but it is certainly not an insurmountable order, if all its stakeholders, the managers, staff, students, the Alumni and Government march side by side. Far too often the University has been derailed by disunity and incoherence of purpose.     

 

I wish to sincerely thank Council, the Government of the Kingdom, His Majesty the Chancellor and the Nation for the trust and belief they have shown in me with my appointment to lead this truly historic institution. I accept this huge responsibility mindful that it is not going to be an easy walk, but a minefield of challenges. God permitting I undertake to do the best I can to lead the way for the NUL to re-assert its place of honour among the global community of institutions of higher learning.

 

Africa reclaims the place of university education in transformative development

 

The experience of the African continent imparts an important lesson, albeit not a salutary one. That lesson is that the neglect or even calculated disinvestment in university education in the past thirty to forty years inflicted untold damage on the capacities of African countries to catch up in the race for progress and in their ability to fulfill the wants of their nations. The African Development Bank estimates that the funding deficit on African universities averages a staggering 60%. The consequences of scaling down funding are far-reaching and visible in African university campuses: infrastructure that is falling apart; demotivated staff; loss of scarce human capital as highly qualified academics migrated to countries where conditions are conducive; huge teaching workloads that distract staff from research and community outreach. The list is endless. Needless to say NUL has not been left untouched by this experience.

 

In Agenda 2063, otherwise styled Africa We Want in 2063, the African Union acknowledges that disinvestment in higher education was a big mistake that applied brakes to accelerated development within African countries. The AU realizes that the continent has hit a developmental ice bag because of ill-advice and it has chosen to pull back. It is therefore gratifying that the African continent is slowly but assuredly awakening to the realization that there can be no short-cut path to transformative development bypassing university education. In June this year the African Union will host an assembly of African Governments to generate a continent-wide consensus and initiate a campaign for public funding of African universities to be increased. Our continent now acknowledges that in order to catch up and bridge the gap between itself and the developed world substantial investment in higher education by governments and the private sector is a necessity. That investment must cover the three domains of higher education, namely: academic, professional and vocational.

 

The National University of Lesotho and sister institutions in the country will look with great expectations to the insights representatives of His Majesty’s Government will gain from the June 2015 re-awakening concord initiated by Africans in search of African solutions to African problems. NUL will be unequivocal in its support for positive policy re-assessment and re-orientation. For, if the University has to be revitalized and transformed to serve society better, it certainly will need more resources to achieve that goal.

 

Agenda for NUL’s Revitalization

 

Topping the agenda of this Administration will be four priorities:

·         To institutionalize a student-centered learning and service environment. Our students are not an inconvenient nuisance but the reason all of us are employed by this institution;

·         To create better and fulfilling working conditions for all of our staff. The staff are the most valuable resource the University possesses;

·         To revamp the academic project for enhanced return on investment by our students and society and for effective response to national socio-economic challenges of our times; and

·         To stabilize and revamp the financial resources of the University to enable it adequate capacity to service its developmental needs.

 

Improved amenities, a sine qua non of quality education   

 

The less than ideal conditions under which our students study are common cause. Priority will be accorded to extending technological provisioning on our campuses. We shall have to pay urgent attention to reducing large and overcrowded classes through proper staffing plans and a fairer distribution of staff workloads which is a precondition for quality tuition. We must overcome the challenge of poorly-equipped laboratories and the short supply of modern teaching aids in the classroom.

 

Equally important is the fact that no university worth the name can remain indifferent to extra-ordinary safety and security challenges to which those of our students living off campus are often exposed to. Roma has remained an undeveloped village unable to cope adequately with increased demands for suitable and quality accommodation for students who cannot be accommodated on campus. The university applauds the community and the private sector for seizing the opportunity to invest to meet the accommodation need. As we call upon the private sector to expand the opportunities, it is clear that the University and the Government cannot shirk their responsibility in this regard. In the coming years we shall work towards providing on-campus accommodation for not less 50% of our students. This is an essential for quality learning and life experience. Improving the quality of campus life in all aspects including a steady development of modern sporting, cultural and recreational facilities and communal spaces shall receive concerted attention. My appeal to Government and industry is: Please step up your financial support to give the University the muscle to address these infrastructural needs.

 

Expanding educational opportunities in the age of knowledge society    

 

As the standard-bearer of higher education in Lesotho NUL is alive to the fact that the historic duty weighs heavily on it to give hope to young people who look to university education as a gateway out of the vicious generational cycle of social marginalization and grinding poverty. While university enrolment rate globally is around thirty percent, on the African continent the figure averages at a wretched three percent. African universities have therefore come under considerable pressure to open their doors still wider and to massify in order to provide for more access especially for young people from poverty-stricken families. Only when they do so will African universities rightly claim to be contributing towards the construction of more inclusive societies, and a fairer and more equitable world.

 

In the coming years NUL will aim to double its enrolments which stand currently at around ten thousand. It will further have to make value choices that prioritize first generation university entry applicants in its admission policy as well as extend preference towards those of rural backgrounds who succeed notwithstanding extreme disadvantages in the schooling system.  The endeavour to expand enrolments significantly will be the University’s response to the palpable need for more access to university education and it is consistent with the Higher Education Policy which calls for the doubling of access across the sector.

 

In the light of the afore-mentioned physical infrastructure constraints enrolments growth will take place largely, but by no means solely, on the Maseru Campus. The campus in Maseru shall be charged with a renewed mandate to replicate course offerings on the Roma campus and to offer them to the public on-line on the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) platform. And thus optimal deployment of technology through ODL will enable our compatriots sitting at their computers, be they in Mokhotlong, Thaba Tseka, Semonkong and indeed elsewhere, to fully pursue their university studies - and more cheaply at that. ODL will obviate the challenge of limited physical infrastructure. Of course considerable care will be taken to ensure that the quality of tuition is not compromised.  Progress in bedding down the Open and Distance Learning mode is already in full steam with the support of the Commonwealth of Learning backed by expertise from the University of South Africa.     

 

Repositioning the academic project to align with national developmental imperatives

 

Other strategic interventions shall be encapsulated in the concept of a comprehensive university which NUL has no choice but to embrace, if it has to reposition itself and reclaim a place as a competitive player in the unfolding rewriting of the narrative of higher education. A comprehensive university is characterized by two features: the diversity of programmes that, in our context, must include programmes commonly associated with the so-called universities of technology. Secondly, comprehensive universities offer a wide spectrum of qualifications: from non-credit-bearing and credit bearing Short Learning Programmes, sub-degree diplomas through to the highest qualification, the PhD. NUL shall have to engage this shift concomitant with a concerted effort to address and enhance existing programmes. We acknowledge that some of these programmes have to be overhauled and modernized to improve their relevance in line with current national socio-economic needs elaborated in the National Strategic Development Plan.

 

We also take it as a given that university education has to transform to come to terms with the critical question whether young citizens are adequately prepared for the world of productive work. Of course, we are in complete agreement with Munich who contends that scapegoating universities for the present global crisis of joblessness “shifts the responsibility for the current (global socio-economic problems) from politics to the university, while avoiding a discussion of the underlying problems”. And yet jobless economies characterize the present day world we live and constitute a reality universities cannot run away from. As frontiers of knowledge creation and innovation universities have to confront through their curriculum the reality of the three challenges of our times: Unemployment, Underemployment and Unemployability.

 

It is apparent that the developmental potential of emerging economies, such as Lesotho is, lies largely in the productive and innovation sector.  Thus the transformation of NUL academic programmes has to place under the scrutiny that sector and seek to conquer it. Accordingly, we shall steadily have to scale down undergraduate intake in the traditional soft sciences; the Humanities and the Social Sciences. This shall be done without prejudice to accommodating new potentially job-creating offerings such as Art, Musicology, Heritage Studies, Theatre and Industrial Psychology, to mention but a few.

 

However curriculum reengineering NUL shall foster must unapologetically lead to a steady growth and tilt towards the hard sciences: Agriculture, Health, Basic Sciences, Technology and Engineering, etc.  In our context this transformation will not have achieved national objectives if it falls short of arresting in a significant way much of the undergraduate training Lesotho currently carries out beyond its borders.  Therefore curriculum redesign will take as one of its principal aim to repatriate and localize current extra-territorial training together with the resources expended on it which are a huge burden on Basotho taxpayers. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a lion’s share of the M700M Government allocates to bursaries annually sponsors students in South Africa who are but a small fraction of those enrolled in local institutions.   

                                                               

Further to enhance employability prospects of our graduates a structured programme that will expose students to the world of work while they are continuing with their studies will be put in place. This will be implemented through placements and internships in industry, parastatals and Government to enable students navigate the polarities of theory and practice and assimilate critical practical skills. Our appeal to industry and other stakeholders is to make their contribution to the development of the Nation’s human capital by opening their doors to these young people. Together with Government, industry has a crucial role to play in the education of future employees.

 

Retooling for postgraduate education

 

At seventy this university ranks among the oldest on the continent. But over all of these years it has been at best tentative in promoting and offering postgraduate studies.  This is despite the obvious need and growing lure of postgraduate studies by compatriots in the public and private sectors who aspire to improve their competitive skills and competences through acquisition of higher qualifications. We have to respond in a structured and comprehensive way. All faculties shall have to refocus their energies to stepping up or rolling out postgraduate programmes leading to Honours, Masters and the PhD. We shall target between 10 to 15 % of our enrolments to be in the postgraduate cohort in the next five years. NUL has strengths and these must be leveraged optimally. More than 50% of the academic establishment in three of its faculties holds PhD qualifications. This is the depth of expertise that must be better deployed to promote postgraduate teaching and supervision.

 

In Faculties where internal capacity is in short supply we do not have to re-invent the wheel. We must do what universities elsewhere do. We must leverage the expertise outside the University for part-time, block teaching and supervision. International cooperation and collaborations which we shall pursue in a purposive way will also become essential to enable us leverage opportunities for co-supervision, or to offer joint degrees with other institutions. A Postgraduate Division will be established in the Academic Office to drive Postgraduate Studies marketing, recruitment and internationalization.

 

Re-centering knowledge creation and innovation

 

Research is the holy grail of the academic enterprise. Research opens up the frontiers of knowledge, infuses new insights and methodologies in teaching and is the propeller of invention. In recent years NUL’s academics research output has been on the decline on account, among other factors,  of the attrition of experienced knowledge producers as they reach retirement age or as they get attracted elsewhere by better conditions including better research conditions and facilities. This situation will have to be arrested and turned around. Research funding by government, the private sector and other players shall have to be an important factor in this turn around and we take the opportunity to call on all of them to contribute that part in this regard. Globally governments ring fence a significant portion of their GDP to finance research. For its part our continental organ, the African Union, has called upon African governments to commit a minimum of 1% of their GDP to boost the research efforts of their institutions.

 

The challenges notwithstanding, NUL must relive the age-old mantra, “publish or die” because universities invest reputations and brands in their research profiles and the visibility of their academics in the global community of scholars. I have already alluded to the revamping of postgraduate programmes which will constitute an essential element of the University’s research footprint. Basic, policy and commissioned research led by academics must however remain the backbone and a key driver of NUL’s research revitalization.  At other fora I have spoken to a range of strategies that shall be the linchpin of that revitalization. I will not rehearse these, save to mention just a few. First, the University needs to grow a stream of a new crop of researchers anchored around improving the ratio of PhD holders within its academic staff to replace the ageing knowledge producers. By global and even regional standards where some universities aim to increase the ratio of PhD holders among academic staff to 65 or 70%, the current NUL forty percent ratio is low. As the institution joins the race of jacking up the qualifications profile of its staff in a structured and systematic manner it shall put in place an Academic Staff Development Plan that projects a ratio of well above 50% PhD holders within a few years. This is necessary because in our current higher education landscape PhD is considered a basic requirement for high quality research and institutional performance. Alongside this, we shall strive to increase the professoriate to about 20% of the academic staff in five years from the current 10%.

 

Furthermore, we know that research does not come easily even for an academic. The University will have to institutionalize the emerging researchers’ capacity building training programme to equip fresh academics with requisite research skills.  The performance management system due to be rolled out in the course of this year will play an important role to harness and institutionalize a research culture amongst the academe. It will be essential, of course, for the University to address the skewed teaching loads in some Faculties to ensure that all academics have equitable opportunities in all domains:  teaching, academic citizenship, community engagement including research that are an integral part of the academic vocation.     

 

 

Research agenda for social transformation and enhanced impact

 

Refocussing the institutional research agenda for relevance and as an effective leverage of social transformation must occupy a sacrosanct place on NUL list of priorities. It has been proven that, while it is  important, individual and silo discipline-based research can only have limited impact in influencing social policy and in finding integrated and sustainable solutions to otherwise multi-disciplinary societal problems. This makes a paradigm shift to collaborative research driven by teams using Multi-Inter and Trans-disciplinary (MIT) approaches an imperative of the pursuit of scholarship. Furthermore, we believe that the relevance of research is enhanced if it is grounded and empowers society to understand itself better because only in that way can society be a master of its own destiny.

 

What does all this mean for NUL? It means that individual academics shall and must continue to determine their own research agendas, for that is a right. But for better deployment of human capital and the meagre financial research resources, as an institution we have to isolate a limited research flagship niches and concentrate resources in developing expertise in them. Flagships must be established on the basis of our academics’ competitive advantage and the way we interpret the socio-economic priorities of the country. They should involve teams drawn from a broad spectrum of disciplines working together to find overarching solutions. The following research flagships shall constitute top priorities:

·         Poverty studies project

 

Almost fifty years since independence Lesotho remains lumbering among the Least Developed Countries of the world. Anecdotal evidence suggests that more of compatriots have joined the poverty trap than there were at independence. As the sole national institution with the capacity to understand this phenomenon we must reposition ourselves to grapple with it. Multi-disciplinary research efforts to understand underlying causal factors and how it reproduces itself are the way to proceed. These efforts must be anchored around a multi-disciplinary value chain of economists, sociologists, agronomist, etc, working together to unearth overarching synergies.

 

·         Migration economics project

 

For nearly hundred and forty years Lesotho’s economy was structured as a reservoir of migrant labour. While patterns of the character of labour being exported have changed, labour exportation has not scaled down but has instead grown. The impact of this on Lesotho’s development has been complex, but not adequately understood to enable the country to make strategic choices that empower it.

 

·         Heritage studies project

 

Like other countries Lesotho has a rich heritage which it has only tentatively exploited to enrich its development. Historically universities have neglected researching and developing indigenous knowledge resources because these institutions are firmly epistemologically rooted in the project of westernization that views anything rooted in other cultures as not worth much to offer. This disposition is well-articulated by the South African Ministerial Committee Report on Transformation, Social Cohesion and the Elimination of Discrimination in Public Higher Education (2010). The Report laments “the too-close association of universities with the project of westernization – and the ever-present danger of articulating this in narrow Eurocentric terms as, to put it bluntly, a ‘white’ project – and patent difficult faced by university to confront the challenges of opening itself up to different bodies and traditions of knowledge and knowledge-making in new and exploratory ways.”

 

Through research NUL must master the courage to break this mold and build research teams to unearth the extensive wealth of knowledge embedded in our environment, culture and history.

 

·         Water engineering, management and economics

 

Water is without question the most important resource of our age and its importance is destined to increase. It is ironic that as a primary producer of water Lesotho and its institutions have done very little to develop all-round expertise in water engineering, management, economics and the politics of water. Concerted efforts anchored around multi-disciplinary study teams are long overdue and NUL has to take the lead in this regard.

 

·         Indigenous medicine project

 

Studies carried out elsewhere suggests that 40% of Basotho are reliant on herbal medicine for their health needs. This is an area pregnant with possibilities if pharmacologists, chemists, engineers, environmentalists, agronomists, etc, work together to add value to it with contemporary scientific methods.

 

·         Innovation and invention hub

 

Possibilities of commercialization of inventions developed by academics in the science and technology fields are infinite. NUL shall have to boost the current tentative efforts with resource support. 

 

Crafting efficient and competent industry and state leaders

Few of us would contest the fact that a competent, service-oriented industry and state institutions is a bulwark of development. In practice, industry efficiency is depended on effective managers who are able to provide leadership at the strategic level. Through continuous work-focused and specialized training, industry up- scales the performance of its managers and reinforces its competitiveness. While state institutions may not be in competition with each other, their efficient discharge of public duties makes for a functioning and responsive government and enhances democratic legitimacy. The void in training for middle to top end managers, an essential for a functional industry and state – is a gap NUL is committed to plug. In the next month or two we shall launch Executive Education for senior managers in industry, state institutions and educational institutions such as NUL itself and organized Civil Society. Our Executive Education programme will be run by a field of experienced and world class experts. I am particularly excited by the portfolio of extensive courses that will be on offer. These include: 

 

·         Thinking and Planning Strategically;

·         Supply Chain Management;

·         Strategic Project Management for Executives;

·         Competitor Intelligence;

·         Public Sector Finance;

·         Fundamentals of Project Management;

·         Finance for Non-Financial Managers in Public Sector Organisations;

·         Executive Project Management; etc.

 

Other programmes may also be specially tailored upon request. I am confident that diverse stakeholders will position themselves to make full use of this opportunities intended to improve competencies and professionalism of those working in delivery of services to Basotho, and the development of Lesotho’s economy. In fact Executive Education shall provide us with a strong foundation towards the establishment of the Business School on the Maseru campus.

 

Retooling an efficient service-oriented governance system

 

To deliver on all of these undertakings tackling existing structural and systemic iniquities that inhibit high performance at NUL is crucial. NUL administrative and managerial systems and culture have to be rebooted to be more client and service-oriented to be more sensitive to the needs of clients and stakeholders, to improve effectiveness of their service. Where capacities are weak they shall have to be revamped. Currently the assessment of the capacities of the administrative apparatus is underway. The academic management system is also being reviewed with the view to inform ourselves if time has not come when we should adopt a different model.  Concomitant with these measures we have reviewed the NUL Act to bring it into harmony with contemporary governance best practices. The draft NUL Bill, the contemplated legislative framework, will be tabled at Council in four days’ time for its consideration and onward transmission to Government.

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, please allow me to express the belief that human experience teaches us an important lesson that the beginning of solutions to lived challenges is not to shy away from them, but to acknowledge them. Equally, as once said by a famous philosopher, they are not the problems those that humanity cannot solve. The fact that as the University community we know our challenges is a firm foundation for us to cultivate sufficient courage and will power to tackle them. Being the eternal optimist that I am, I am confident that NUL can be turned around. All it calls for is hard work, unity and the knowledge that we have to do this not for our personal glories but for the people of this country and the present and future generations for whom we must leave a world class African university they shall be proud of.

 

 

Thank you.