As the long-serving University of Namibia (UNAM) Vice Chancellor, Lazarus Hangula (LH), prepares for his exit, he is content that he has done his best to leave behind a strong,
viable academic institution that also has the capacity to become a promising commercial entity that will, in the long run, help empower the university to augment its Treasury appropriated income.
The professor who leaves office in July 2018, sat down with the Windhoek Observer Reporter, Kaula Nhongo (KN), to discuss his journey with the university and the legacy that he is leaving behind. Below is an excerpt from that interview.
KN: How would you describe your journey UNAM as the Vice Chancellor?
LH: I would describe my journey as a challenging, unique and very rewarding experience. I joined the institution in 1993, just after its official establishment, as the head of the social sciences division in the multi-disciplinary research centre.
My journey has been challenging in the sense that there is really no tradition, we do things after reflecting and we do not have institutions to benchmark with. Overall, I am very happy with the journey and lucky to have had people around me who helped make the journey great.
KN: What have been some of the notable achievements during your tenure?
LH: During my time at the helm of UNAM, I consolidated structures and formalised some administrative processes of the university as well as introduced postgraduate programmes into the faculties and effected the Namibianisation of academic staff.
I also advocated for the promotion of women to positions of responsibility and leadership - both academic and administrative - and introduced country relevant programmes and projects (e.g. engineering, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, veterinary medicine, Kalimbeza Rice, etc) as well as stepped up UNAM’s research output, patent registration, product development and publication.
Over the years, we managed to expand UNAM’s partnerships with foreign higher education institutions tremendously, thus increasing the visibility of the institution around the word, while we also introduced the Confucius Institute to enable Namibians to tap from the generous scholarship and the business opportunities offered by the People’s Republic of China.
KN: What legacy are you leaving behind?
LH: I am leaving behind an institution whose name is a trade mark in the SADC region, and is therefore an institution of choice for the youth and citizens of all continents who intend to prepare for their future and fulfil their professional dreams through UNAM as their Alma mater.
KN: Do you feel that as Vice Chancellor, you achieved all that you set out to do?
LH: Yes, in the sense that I did what I could with the resources that were availed. However, I think there was still room for improvement. Resources permitting and with more cooperation and less opposition, one could have achieved certainly more. But I am very satisfied with the quality levels of teaching, learning and research at UNAM compared to where I found her.
KN: Previously you were quoted as saying that financial constraints due to the economic downturn had affected some programmes at the university, what are some of those programmes. Have the constraints impacted on the quality of education in anyway?
LH: The implementation levels of some UNAM programmes (e.g. medicine, dentistry, anaesthesiology, etc) as well as of projects such as architecture and veterinary medicine is lagging behind because of those visceral financial cuts. In as much as we understand Government’s predicament, the reality is that even the foreign donations that were pegged to those programmes or projects have also been forfeited.
KN: What is your view on the decentralisation of UNAM campuses, do you think it is achieving its set objectives? Is it reaping any rewards? Is there enough capacity to utilise the many campuses?
LH: Namibia has a peculiarity of being vast and having a small population. The decentralisation was triggered by a disparity in the education programmes in the country where teacher training offered at colleges was different from that offered at universities, thus if one graduates from any of those colleges, they would still not be able to articulate with UNAM because the programmes were not designed to articulate with one another. In the end, one would graduate and get stuck.
In 2007, Government agreed to take over the various colleges and integrate them. When we took over the colleges, we reflected and decided that instead of just offering one programme, let us include other programmes.
We had to look at the particular regions and choose programmes that go hand-in-hand with that particular region. For example, in Zambezi we knew we would want to look at agriculture, veterinary studies and wildlife conservation, which are some of the things for which that region is famous for.
This has resulted in an increase in the subject offerings in the former colleges. Students, lecturers and professors are also carrying out research on regional natural endowments to determine the economic base of all regions and towns that host UNAM campuses.
Training opportunities for communities and NGOs as well as upgrading of qualifications are now more readily available than ever before. That means UNAM is doing everything possible to remain relevant to the Namibian society in line with her motto ‘education, service, development’.
KN: The shortage of lecturers: what exactly is the challenge and does it not compromise the quality of education?
LH: Yes and no. We have been experiencing problems with special programmes such as Medicine and Engineering and there are areas that there was no access to train other people previously. The market is flooded with people who are not qualified. To teach at university, for example, you need at least a master’s degree. We also do not have a lot of Namibians in those fields, but we are making steady progress.
KN: What is your view on the current funding structure of universities? Do you think the current fees being charged at universities are fair?
LH: There are many students receiving funding from Government, and usually before registration for the New Year starts, we receive a letter from Government requesting that we register the students without payment and it creates a problem. I do not know what would be the best solution, but we are just calling on Government to find a solution and to release the money on time. I would suggest that perhaps Government look into the modality of releasing the money. Why is Government not releasing the money once? It creates problems when you get the money in chunks in that you plan in darkness. Currently, the fees structure is not enough, but it is fair in the sense that we understand the environment from where our children are coming from, but it is definitely not enough and the result is an indebted institution.
We are told not to charge more and Government promises to foot the bill, but in the end, instead of getting 100 percent funding from Government, they give you 70 percent.
KN: Where to from here?
LH: For now I will be at home and around - resting and organising some few personal things.