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UB on brink of collapse

BABOKI KAYAWE
Fako before the Parliamentary Committee yesterday PIC: KAGISO ONKATSWITSE
The University of Botswana (UB) is in dire financial straits and faces institutional collapse by March 2017, owing to perennial under-funding from government, as well as long running debts, which include amounts from the education ministry.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Public Enterprises yesterday, UB vice-chancellor, Professor Thabo Fako painted a gloomy picture saying the country’s top tertiary education institution needed at least P1 billion in urgent funding.

He said the UB was battling the snowball effect of seven years of under-funding.

Fako said the institution was running on a shoestring budget and for several financial years, had been short-changed in government subventions.

“If the situation is not hastily remedied, UB will come to its knees towards the end of the current financial year in March,” he said.  “Beyond March 2017, the picture is bleak.  The Ministry of Education should not be running on assumptions, but focus on what is required.”

According to Fako, in the 2013-2014 academic year, UB requested P470 million in funding, but was granted P317 million.  In 2015-2016 it was given P536 million having proposed P714 million, and in the current financial year, the UB received P703 million. Fako charged that the trends in UB financing, were an indication of “intentions to close the University”. “This case is made strong by instant decisions to cut funding of certain programmes, as opposed to having an informed and gradual policy to reduce intake on certain programmes.

“It is a very unfortunate attitude,” he said.  The vice chancellor further emphasised that expensive undertakings such as the School of Medicine, which were not in existence several years ago, had further weighed down on UB’s finances and required government to rethink the institution’s

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funding.

Fako told the committee that in the 2011-2012 academic cycle, the institution was allocated P652 million.  Parliament was, however, informed that there was no allocation for the institution.

He said the then Ministry of Education and Skills Development, realising it would run into a deficit around 2013-2014, asked for financial assistance from its parastatals that were apparently enjoying surpluses, of which the UB was one.

The ministry asked for P500 million and while the amount was never handed over, the ministry opted not to pay tuition and subventions to the UB, assuming it had a surplus, Fako said. Though the transaction was not carried out, this compounded the university’s financial posture as education decided not to pay subversions for that same period, the committee heard.

In addition, UB is owed a total P39 million in tuition fees for certain government-sponsored students. “Let us sit down and talk before we embarrass everybody,” Fako said. “As an institution of knowledge, we want decisions to be informed not based on assumptions.”

Chairman of the parliamentary committee, Samson Moyo Guma berated education authorities saying surpluses were not for the pleasure of parent ministries.

“You owe UB, and you need the pay the money because it is the cause of the financial mess going on now,” Guma said.

“The surplus from these public enterprises is not due to parent ministries, but rather to the national coffers through the finance ministry.  “The education ministry had no authority to ask for bail out from UB.”



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