This year, Masters students from 7 African countries descended on the National University of Lesotho (NUL). They were here for a bridging program run by the powerful African Economic Research Consortium (AERC). When it was over, the African students were impressed with NUL. “And they didn’t keep quiet about it,” said the exuberant Ms Nthabiseng Koatsa, the Head of the NUL Department of Economics. 

“We don’t know if it is possible to convey in words, the sense of gratitude we feel,” they wrote in an emotional letter to the principal of the School in the Roma Valley, Professor Nqosa Mahao. “Being able to take classes at this esteemed and prominent institution is one of the best things we have experienced so far in our academic paths.”

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We will publish this letter in full next week. For now, it is suffice to say the appreciative students hailed from South Sudan, Burundi, Sierra Leone, D.R. Congo, Lesotho, Somalia and Liberia. 

They were here on a bridging program by AERC, an organisation best known for pushing the highest standards of Economics teaching and learning in Africa. Lesotho was among the three countries selected to host these young bright students from Africa. 

How did it happen?

“It was not easy,” Mrs Koatsa explained the journey into being among the selected. “We all know that NUL is always crying for resources. But what I saw during the preparations and hosting of this program convinced me that even in lack of resources, when the whole university pulls in one direction, amazing difference is made.”

To start with, the university was not randomly selected to represent the English-speaking countries (the Anglophone) as the host. “We had to sweat to convince an organisation notorious for its demand for high standards, the AERC, that we had what it took.”

Here is a shopping list of what the AERC demanded from universities across Africa which wanted to play the host. Universities had to (1) have teachers that met international standards of post-graduating teaching. NUL did. In fact all the teachers who participated in the program were NUL Economics teachers. “AERC would not take your word for it, they demanded CVs for every teacher.” Mrs Koatsa said. 

(2) They wanted evidence of a university’s ability to provide a suitable facility for accommodation of the students. NUL did it. The folks were able to lie on couches in Gilbo residential hall whilst watching TV. 

In this regard, we can’t resist a temptation to quote them again, just once more until next week, “We express our thanks to the Welfare Department of the NUL for the hospitality during our stay. We felt at home, not because we are Africans, but simply because the services rendered us have been invaluable. The accommodation, the traditional food (MAQEBE-KOANE) and the friendly gestures from everyone at NUL have been exceptional amidst challenges that cut across African Universities.”

(3) The Department had to have a computer lab. “When we accommodated the students, we already had a lab clad with 50 computers,” Ms Koatsa revealed. AERC added 17 more to a total of 67! “Now our Masters students have access to brand new computers.”

(4) “We also had to have access to good internet,” she added on the lengthy shopping list. NUL, to be fair, is not known for the best internet in the world. So what were they to do? They would buy routers and free airtime for high speed internet for the students during their stay, which was one and half months. In the end, no one complained. 

(5) Then there was food. With AERC, you can compromise everything but food. Healthy students are good students. Now, because we have already told you what the students themselves said about food, we are allowed to repeat it, “The accommodation, the traditional food (MAQEBE-KOANE) and the friendly gestures from everyone at NUL has been exceptional amidst challenges that cut across African Universities.”

(6) As if that was not enough already, the students had to have access to good health insurance and good health facilities. Metropolitan Lesotho was immediately on board. “Bad enough, two students fell ill a day after signing their medical forms, only to recover in Bloemfontein, thanks to the medical aid,” she reported. 

Who were the students in this program? In this case, AERC prioritised students from the following backgrounds: (a) Those from countries which rarely participated in the AERC activities (b) the women and (c) those from the post conflict Africa. Due to their disadvantaged backgrounds, they had to bridge in Macro-Economics, Micro-Economics and Quantitative Techniques, the basics of Economics. 

They were in good hands. 

The NUL handled this job so well that the entire syllabus was fully completed and one of the NUL lecturers, Professor Paramaiah, had to be sent to Nairobi to assist in the next phase of the project. AERC was so impressed with two of NUL graduates who went through the program that they sponsored them to further their studies. They even picked one NUL Economics lecturer and sponsored him for PhD in South Africa. 

Merci beaucoup AERC (Thank you very much AERC).