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MANTOE PHAKATHI reports.
Hundreds of hopefuls are queuing outside one of the renovated structures of what used to be the Swaziland Institute of Management and Public Administration (SIMPA) premises.
In a few weeks, Malaysian-based learning institution, Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (), will open a Swaziland campus at the former SIMPA premises.
The place is abuzz with activity as students wait to have their applications processed while construction workers re-furbish the run-down buildings in preparation for the opening of LUCT.
Among the anxious students who have come to apply to study at LUCT is 19-year-old Bonginkosi Mabuza, a former student of Dwalile High School. He is crossing his fingers as he anticipates a positive response from the letter he is awaiting from the university whose exact date of its opening this month could not be confirmed.
“I want to do graphic designing and I’m very positive that I’ll be accepted to study here,” said Mabuza. With five credits out of seven subjects from his IGCSE examination, his application was rejected by the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) last year where he wanted to study electronic engineering.
At the time of going to press, the university was also in the process of recruiting its academic and administration staff. Candidates with Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees with minimum of two years experience in the fields were invited to apply.
The university offers advanced diplomas in the following fields: Architecture and Interior, Creativity in Tourism and Hospitality, Creative Multimedia, ICT/Business and Globalisation, Design Innovation, Film and Television Broadcasting/Communication.
Like the other prospective students Mabuza is also optimistic that he will also get a government scholarship to cover his fees at LUCT.
This is possible because the government, despite being broke after the slash in the Southern African Customs Union receipts that make up to 60 percent of the country’s national revenue, has committed itself to sponsor most of the students to study at LUCT.
LUCT is the second private university to open in the country after the launch of the Nazarene University of Southern Africa in October last year whose students are also sponsored by government.
According to Ministry of Education and Training principal secretary Pat Muir, government will pay fees for 700 out of 1,000 students at the university this year.
“For the institution to start, government agreed to sponsor a number of students,” Muir told The Nation in an interview. Government will award scholarships to the tune of E19 500 for tuition fees and E3 000 for books for each student per year, said Muir. These fees are quite exorbitant when compared to what is charged by the government-owned institution of higher learning, the University of Swaziland (UNISWA).
Tuition fees at UNISWA range from E12 000 to E13 000 for each student per year. Minister of Finance Majozi Sithole in his 2011/2012 budget speech he delivered on February 18, expressed concern that government’s costs to tertiary institutions in terms of scholarships and subventions was no longer sustainable.
“I wish to encourage such institutions to identify other sources of revenue to sustain their operations as government subvention will be diminishing and completely withdrawn in the future,” said Sithole.
He sounded a warning that without changes, Government will be unable to provide scholarships to any students starting university in 2011/12.
Clearly LUCT is operating from a shoestring budget hence the request to get government to sponsor the education of 70 percent of its enrolment. Sources within the Ministry of Education revealed that the university has also requested a tax exemption from the Ministry of Finance.
Government will part with about E16 million this year in trying to kick-start this privately owned university that offers three-year advanced diplomas as of this year.
When asked why government entered into this arrangement with a private institution, Minister of Education Wilson Ntshangase said it was part of LUCT’s “demands to open a university in this country.”
This is a typical case of the investors who come into the country with just a briefcase and make their money through government tenders. The university is also expected to pay rent to the tune of E60 000 per month to government for the premises it is currently occupying. Ministry of Public Service principal secretary Evart Madlopha confirmed that Limkokwing is supposed to pay rent until they get their own premises.
However, there are allegations that the university negotiated an exemption from paying rent. Madlopha remained noncommittal on the rent exemption issue insisting that LUCT is supposed to pay for using the government premises.
Last year the university failed to open a local campus because, said Ntshangase, government “could not meet their (LUCT) demands.”
Ironically as LUCT was preparing to open, hundreds of students in tertiary institutions took to the streets in February demanding that government should also sponsor their colleagues studying at Gwamile Vocational Training Centre. “We’re totally annoyed by government’s hypocritical behaviour,” said Maxwell Dlamini, the president of the Swaziland National Students Union (SNSU).
“We don’t understand why government will jump to fund a private institution when it is actually failing to pay for students in public institutions.”
Highly-placed sources revealed that, while government is paying for 700 students at LUCT, only 500 scholarships will be awarded to UNISWA. Prospective staff is already complaining that LUCT is offering a much less attractive package with no benefits compared with UNISWA.
If reports from Lesotho and Botswana are anything to go by, government could be getting itself in the same fix like these two countries in the region where LUCT has established campuses in the past two years. The December 12, 2010 edition of the Botswana Guardian reported that its government is cutting down the number of students it is sponsoring from about 5 000 to just 400 per year at LUCT.
The newspaper wrote that the Botswana government now prefers to sponsor students studying at its own institutions. The newspaper alleges that the reason for the downscaling of its support to LUCT is that the learning institution is offering sub-standard education to Botswana citizens.
“It is said that the MoE (Ministry of Education) officials discovered that Malaysia Quality Assurance (MQA) did not recognise some of its Limkokwing subjects and qualifications,” reads part of the news item.
As a result, states the newspaper, there is a fallout between the ministry of education and authorities of the university resulting in the former snubbing the latter whenever they are invited to grace important events.
In Lesotho, things got a bit nasty as the university students went on strike barely two years of LUCT’s operation in the mountainous kingdom.
The Lesotho Times of September 29, 2010, quotes students complaining about a number of issues ranging from the calibre of lectures to the quality of education students receive at LUCT.
“Their course outline looked good,” Lesotho Times quotes an anonymous student. “But now I am hugely disappointed. They lied to us. What we are getting is the opposite of what they promised.”
In a memo to LUCT dated August 25, 2009, the students called upon the management to re-evaluate the qualifications of teaching staff for the sake of quality. “Students are concerned they are being taught by lecturers with first degree qualifications at the level of honours degree. They need to be taught by lecturers with Master’s Degrees.”
The list of complaints is endless as students are not happy about poor access to internet connection resulting to them not being able to access E-books which are crucial to their studies, inadequate learning facilities such as cameras and studios.
The newspaper also quotes chairperson of the LUCT-Lesotho Students Representative Council Moeketsi Pholo saying they hoped to come out of the university as best products, “but with the incompetence that is almost impossible.”
When asked to respond to the allegations against LUCT, Zakhe Mabuza, the marketing manager in Swaziland claimed this issue could not be addressed by this department.
She however failed to refer this publication to the relevant department even when requested to do so.
Muir, on the other hand, claimed that government was not aware of these reports from the two countries in the region.
“We have sent a number of delegations to Malaysia to see the main campus and we were convinced that they offer quality education,” said Muir.
However, Minister Ntshangase contradicted his PS’s assertion when he told The Nation that government was in fact aware of the allegations against LUCT in the Botswana and Lesotho campuses and, as a result, he together with Muir went to Malaysia where they raised their concerns about the disturbing reports.
“We told them not to come and take chances with us here,” said Ntshangase.
“We asked them not to bring unqualified lecturers here.”
LUCT has been accused of having the best facilities in overseas countries such as Malaysia and England yet they offer substandard services in African countries like Botswana and Lesotho.
On the other hand, Ntshangase had nothing but praise for LUCT saying students in the country have been frustrated for too long because of space shortages in tertiary institutions.
Out of about 10 000 high school graduates the country produces each year, only over 1 000 are absorbed by tertiary institutions including UNISWA and public colleges.
The rest go to the un-regulated private colleges, get employment as unskilled workers while the less fortunate ones are left to idle at home.
“I’m also happy that this university does not require English as a passing subject which means a lot of our students are going to get an opportunity to advance their studies,” said Ntshangase. He said he was also excited by the number of applicants to LUCT which he said showed the kind of enthusiasm the nation has towards this university. Only time will tell if this university will stand the test of time.
Considering what is happening elsewhere in the region at LUCT, Ntshangase should not say he was never warned.
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