By ‘Masentle Makara
Maseru, Oct 21 (The Night’s Watch) – The National University of Lesotho (NUL)’s Department of Students Affairs (DSA) provides limited accommodation to students.
There are only thirteen halls of residence with capacity to accommodate only 1,304 students.
Due to this limitation, the university has been nudging its students into off-campus apartments.
Preference and priority of in-campus accommodation has been given to freshmen, completing students and international students.
The residents and entrepreneurs around the campus looking to make money responded by building more and more apartment buildings.
But all that could soon be tossed upside down.
On October 2, Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki led the sod turning event for the construction of halls of residence that would add up to 1,200 beds – a 207 percent increase in on-campus housing.
Government wants to have these new halls of residence built in time for the upcoming African Union Sports Council Region 5 Youth Games scheduled for December 2020.
The university was identified by the Ministry of Gender and Youth, Sport and Recreation as sports village for the games.
After these games, NUL will use the facilities to house its students.
This change in direction will mess up the off-campus student housing market.
The landlords who spoke to The Night’s Watch say vacancies will rise as more students stay on campus, cutting into their revenue and increasing the prospect of dilapidation and even foreclosures.
Matebesi Thamae, Chairperson of Roma Landlords Association, said they were surprised by the abrupt announcement that the university is going to build more residences.
“The development will not affect our businesses only if the university management fulfills their promise of increasing student intakes. Not increasing student intakes as promised will be disastrous for our business. We built these apartments specifically for NUL students,” Thamae said.
“I think the university should not go on with the project without first consulting the landlords’ opinion on this new project,” he added.
But with the contracting economy and limited state capacity, Thamae seemed to doubt whether the university will increase its students’ intakes.
Majority of NUL students are sponsored by government through the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS).
The NMDS is mandated with paying tuition fees, costs of research, book allowances, accommodation and food allowances among other costs for the selected students.
In March, Development Planning Minister Tlohelang Aumane told The Night’s Watch that NMDS was running short of “over M200 million” and might not be able to pay for hundreds of first year students even when they qualified for state bursary loans.
“It is obvious that government is already struggling to pay for the few students that get admitted annually. That makes wonder if the university will indeed increase its intake of students,” Thamae said.
He added: “It does not make sense for the university to build residences when all students have a roof over their heads. They should be focusing on building more classrooms and introducing more relevant courses. What is the purpose of building more residences when more than 300 off-campus rooms are still vacant?”
According to Thamae, the landlords were invited by the university to build more apartments for its students who could not be accommodated in the campus due to limited space.
“The university asked us to supply suitable student accommodation to order to fill the gap in student accommodation. We could not have built so many apartments if we were not asked to do so by the university. They begged us and we agreed. Our livelihoods now depend on this business,” he said.
On August 1, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane led the first sod turning event for the construction of an indoor sports complex and a covered 20,000 all-seated-stadium at Lepereng in Maseru.
These facilities which are expected to be handed over to the Regional Organizing Committee (ROC) by October 2020 are funded by the government of Lesotho to a tune of M2.4 billion.
The Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told by Ministry of Finance’s officers today that there is no budget for the construction of all these facilities.
The officers also revealed that public procurement regulations were not followed when selecting contractors for the construction of both Lepereng and NUL facilities.
This article will be updated as soon as this publication gets NUL’s comment on the issues raised in this story. NW