The Swaziland Government is about to waste nearly E16 million (US$2.1 million) it can’t afford supporting the substandard Limkokwing University.
Up to 800 scholarships at E19 500 each per year are to be paid for, according to Wilson Ntshangase, Swazi Minister of Education.
Limkokwing is a private university based in Malaysia that has been rapidly spreading campuses across the world. After years of delay, Limkokwing says it will open in Mbabane, Swaziland, this April (2011). It wants to have a total of 1,000 students at start up.
But why is the Swaziland Government supporting this university? Limkokwing has been dogged by controversy nearly everywhere it opens. Chief among the complaints are that Limkokwing offers substandard courses, with poor academic quality and poor teaching.
Limkokwing in Botswana had so many complaints that the government there has decided to reduce the number of scholarships it offers from up to 5,000 to 400. The Botswana Government faces its own financial difficulties (but not as severe as in Swaziland) and decided Limkokwing should no longer be supported. There are fears that without government cash Limkokwing in Botswana will have to close.
The Botswana Guardian newspaper reported, ‘Inside sources say the move [closure of the Botswana campus] is likely to affect both Lesotho and Swaziland campus, which are the off-springs of the Gaborone branch.’
Limkokwing cannot escape the controversy about the quality of its courses. We need to remember that an organisation isn’t a ‘university’ just because it says it is. A proper university offers high quality courses to high quality students using high quality staff.
Limkokwing falls down on all of these. The quality of students it takes is poor. In Swaziland, for example, it says it will take students with three credits in the International General Certificate of Secondary Education. This is lower than the five credits needed for entry to the University of Swaziland (UNISWA), the kingdom’s only state-run university. I have written before that by international standards, the quality of the student intake at UNISWA is itself poor.
No student at a Limkokwing University should fail, according to its owner Tan Sri Dato Lim Kok Wing. He told a Malaysian newspaper, ‘It is my belief that no student should fail. If there are failures, then it is we who have failed them.’ Which, of course, means that lecturers will pass even the dullest and laziest students to avoid being criticised by their own bosses.
Then there is the quality of the staff. In Botswana there were complaints that many teachers were themselves recent graduates from the university. And not necessarily even ‘high fliers’. One report said some of the lecturers were still retaking their own courses at the state-run University of Botswana.
Over the past year Limkokwing has been advertising internationally for staff in its new campuses (including Swaziland). It states that applicants with bachelor degrees will be considered for posts. A proper university would expect staff to have Ph.D doctorate degrees.
In Botswana, Limkokwing was discovered illegally employing some lecturers.
Limkokwing itself has been less than clear about the way it ensures the quality of its courses. On websites it says, ‘all programs awarded by Limkokwing University are quality assured by the International Consortium of University Partners’. But ‘The International Consortium of University Partners’ doesn’t exist. On closer inspection it turns out that this ‘international consortium’ is a group of academics that Limkokwing has brought together itself to approve its courses. That means it is judging its own quality, but implying that they are independently reviewed. The consortium doesn’t approve courses for any university, except Limkokwing.
The Cambodian campus of Limkokwing claims that it has ‘premier status’ from the UK Accreditation Service for International Colleges (ASIC). But this is not true. The ACIS website does not list Limkokwing Cambodia (but it does list Limkokwing’s London campus).
The Botswana Ministry of Education found that while Limkokwing University was highly recommended in Malaysia, the Botswana campus did not have the same status and that the Malaysia Quality Assurance (MQA) that approved courses in Malaysia did not recognise some of its Botswana subjects and qualifications.
So why is the Swaziland Government supporting Limkokwing? It can’t be because of the subjects it offers. A list of subjects offered in Swaziland published this week includes Graphic Designing, TV & Film Production, Architectural Technology, Advertising, Creative Multimedia, Information Technology, Event Management, Business Information Technology, Journalism and Media, Public Relations and Business Management.
It is difficult to see how any of these are relevant to the needs of Swaziland and why the Swazi Government should be paying public money for students to study them.
According to a report today (4 February 2011), in the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned and edited by King Mswati III, the government will pay for Limkokwing students ‘through its scholarships programme’.
If true, this must surely mean that money that would have been spent sending students to UNISWA will now be used for Limkokwing.
Why is the government doing this at the same time it is reducing the number of scholarships available at UNISWA? Students are set to march this week to protest at reduced scholarships; this misuse of government funds can only infuriate them further.
As I reported on Tuesday (1 February 2011), last year Limkokwing reportedly said it wanted the Swazi Government to ‘pay scholarships for 1,000 students for ten years. They also want to be exempted from paying tax and not be required to pay rentals for the premises they want to occupy.’
The government has given Limkokwing most of the scholarships – what other concession has it made to entice this substandard university to set up in Swaziland?
Tan Sri Dato Lim Kok Wing must be rubbing his hands with glee: see how easy it is to milk the Swazi Government.