Saturday, January 31, 2009


The Burden of Debt

By a coincidence of timing just as I was reporting that Swaziland’s first private university would not open next month as planned comes an announcement that it will start up in July 2009.

Limkokwing, with headquarters in Malaysia, is a ‘private’ university (that is one not funded by government) that has been rapidly expanding across the world in recent years and now has campuses in London, Cyberjaya, Kuching, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, New York, Lesotho and Botswana. Unlike many private universities which run as charities, this one intends to be profit-making.

The Swazi Observer reported on Thursday (29 January 2009) Pat Muir, Principal Secretary at the Swaziland Ministry of Education and Training, saying the university will open in July.

Limkokwing is to be located at the former Swaziland Institute of Management and Public Administrations (SIMPA) premises at Sidvwashini in the outskirts of Mbabane City.

The university had previously requested the Swazi Government to secure 1,000 scholarships for students to study within the institution and Muir had stated that government would have to pay about E3 million for this.

I have my doubts about the financial viability of a new university in Swaziland, because the kingdom is too poor to support one. This week students from the kingdom’s only university, the state-controlled University of Swaziland boycotted classes to petition the government for higher personal allowances.

There are doubts whether Swaziland, which has a population of only one million people, with 70 per cent of them earning less than one US dollar a day, can afford to run a university.

Budgets are tight in Swaziland and only this week there were protests about the government failing to meet its constitutional obligation to provide free primary school education for all children.

Limkokwing has faced controversy in the past. I reported on Wednesday that Limkokwing in Botswana had been heavily criticised for the poor quality of teaching amid doubts that courses taught at the university are accredited by any official organisation.

Doubts about Limkokwing have surfaced elsewhere. In January 2008 a news service run by the Association of Commonwealth Universities for university vice chancellors said of Limkokwing, ‘There are some obvious questions: how can it sustain such a rapid expansion and still maintain quality? Where will it find the multi-talented academic staff needed to support all its overseas ventures? Can it provide the same industrial links and placements to students in its overseas campuses – particularly in countries such as Lesotho where there is little large scale industry?’

The future of Limkokwing in Swaziland might not be bright. Without government support it is difficult to see how it will be able to attract fee paying students. We don’t have long to wait for the answers. The annual Swaziland budget is expected to be announced in February, so we will soon see how committed the Swaziland Government really is to the Limkokwing project.

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