Tertiary education minister, Dr. Alfred Madigele has denied that the University of Botswana is facing financial crisis due to reduction in government subvention and failure to pay tuition by his ministry over the past three years.
Responding to a question from Gaborone Central legislator, Dr. Phenyo Butale, Madigele told parliament that government has consistently paid tuition fees to the university except for the financial year 2013/2014. His statement is in sharp contrast with a leaked confidential document prepared by senate indicating that the government did not pay a single thebe for tuition it owed the institution in academic years 2013/2014 and 2014/2015. The document further shows that government has paid only 64 per cent of tuition it owed the institution for 2015/2016 and has not paid tuition for government sponsored students for the current semester even though the institution has long submitted the invoice.
In justifying the failure by his ministry to pay tuition for government sponsored students, Dr. Madigele told parliament that the exercise undertaken in 2012/2013 showed that the university had large bank balances of over two billion pula. He said balances were mainly from funds that were allocated for capital projects which in turn accumulated interest. Furthermore, the minister accused the university for having used the funds to further developments without the authority from government. The university had constructed among other things a plaza to the tune of P10 million.
“My ministry agreed with the university at that time that it should use its reserves to cover for the tuition due to it and the arrangement did not affect the university’s financial status as the financial reserves were still recorded for the subsequent financial years” Madigele explained. According to the document prepared by the senate, the decision by the ministry was condemned by the university management though they eventually embraced it.
“Diverting capital projects funds to recurrent expenditure would be against normal financial rules and regulations governing the limitations imposed on capital funds, and would not be in conformance with proper financial management practices, which could expose the university to costly litigation and irreparable reputational risk” reads the report.
According to the report since 2012 to date, the university has been surviving on reserve funds which will be exhausted next month. In response, the minister said that his ministry anticipates that the university will have a positive balance at the end of the financial year considering the subvention and tuition that will be paid for the current academic year. However the minister did not disclose the amount of subvention that would be paid to the institution and whether it would meet the institution’s budget or not.
The report reveals that since 2012, government approved, on average, only 54.6 per cent of the subvention requested by the university and therefore it was not enough for paying staff salaries. The report further blasts the government for inadequate funding.
“The decision of the ministry not to allocate funds to the university is apparently based on an erroneous assumption from some officials that the university can meet operational costs from cash balances” reads the report in part.
The senate in the report accused the ministry officials of not taking cognizance of the fact that most of the UB cash balances consisted of funds committed for capital development projects and donor funded projects; and not for recurrent expenditure.
In addition, the minister told parliament that his ministry has not occasioned any cuts with respect to the number of new students sponsored at the institution; rather the institution has not been able to attract sufficient students to meet quota allocated to it. For the past four academic years, the university has failed to meet the quota except for 2015/2016. Dr. Madigele stated that his ministry has implored the management of the university to come up with a turnaround strategy that will enable them to attract more students into its academic programmes.
“The university needs to reform and develop relevant programs that will enable it to compete locally and beyond. It must also develop strategies to leverage on the capacity it has built over the years” he remarked.
In order to ensure its sustainability, the minister said his ministry will build synergies and promote collaboration amongst universities and research institutions. He also urged the university to rent some of its world class facilities in order to generate income.
An official at the institution who spoke on condition of anonymity told this publication that the decline in enrolment at the institution was solely due to the fact that for the past four years many form five leavers did not meet the cut-off point for programs offered by the institution. She also blamed the ministry for not sponsoring students who were admitted in some programs as enrolment had decreased in faculties of humanities, social sciences and education.
Meanwhile, in a different but related matter, the university has threatened to deregister all self-sponsored students who owe the institution. Majority of self-sponsored students were rejected by government when they had applied for re-sponsorship.