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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

WHAT’S THE DEAL OVER NEW VARSITY?

Limkokwing University will open in Swaziland in April (2011) now that ‘outstanding issues’ between it and the Swazi Government have been ironed out.


That’s according to the Swazi Ministry of Education and Training.


Pat Muir, Principal Secretary at the Ministry, told local media that the university is ready to start operations. He said they had concluded everything, according to the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned and edited by King Mswati III, Swaziland’s king and Sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.


But what exactly is the deal the ministry has struck with Limkokwing, a private university, based in Malaysia?


Limkokwing has been promising to open in Swaziland since at least January 2009. Almost exactly a year ago to the day (January 2010), Wilson Ntshangase, Swaziland Minister of Education and Training, said the opening of Limkokwing would be delayed.


He said at the time, ‘There are a lot of issues that we still have to iron out before they can open. Furthermore, these guys are now making ridiculous demands which they did not make when they first came here. For instance, they now want us 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.’


Limkokwing originally promised to set up in Swaziland if the Swazi Government put forward E3 million (about US$430,000) to pay the scholarship of students. It is hoping to attract 1,000 students for its courses.


Pat Muir told the Observer this week, ‘We have made all the necessary arrangements that involve the ministry and it is now up to them to start operating.’ He said all the necessary preparations had been finalised.


So, what is the deal? Limkokwing is a rapidly expanding university and has been opening campuses across the world. As I previously reported, the university has been embroiled in controversy in Botswana, where there were protests from students about the quality of the courses and teaching staff at its campus in that country.


Swaziland is broke and is cutting back on its financial support for the kingdom’s only state university, the University of Swaziland (UNISWA). Tertiary students in Swaziland’s university and colleges are planning mass protests this month (February 2011) against cuts in scholarships and the poor quality of resources.


Has the Swaziland Ministry of Education promised to divert some of UNISWA’s resources to Limkokwing? Unless it promises to support Limkokwing financially (for example, through scholarships) I can’t see how Limkokwing can afford to set up in Swaziland. Limkokwing is a private university that charges fees to its students. Seven in ten people in Swaziland live in abject poverty earning less than one US dollar a day, and cannot afford to go to university.


But maybe the truth is that Limkokwing isn’t about to open. There have been many false starts since 2009 and this could be yet another.


The Observer reported that Limkokwing had already started its selection process. Has it? Limkokwing is not shy when it comes to self publicity and I have seen nothing about it opening up in Swaziland from the university itself. If you go to the Limkokwing website and search for information about its Swaziland campus, there’s nothing about courses or a start date.


But you do get a photograph of the campus showing some advertising hoardings blocking from view what for all I know could be a building site.


When the Weekend Observer visited the site of the proposed campus in Mbabane, in January 2010, it found, ‘there was no sign of life except for the over-grown grass, [and] broken windows’.

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