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Defying the odds

02 October 2015
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For years now there has been a lot of debate about which tertiary education institution is the best in Namibia.

The University of Namibia (UNAM) was viewed as the best place of learning  in the early years after independence, but continental rankings produced in recent years shows that the Polytechnic of Namibia now the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) has been tops.

One of the latest rankings of the top 100 universities and colleges in Africa lists Polytechnic of Namibia (NUST) at number 64 while UNAM and the International University of Management (IUM) did not even make it onto the list.

If the rankings are anything to go by, it would justify the views of those amongst us who think that NUST deserves better treatment from government from a funding perspective.

The university has been on record on several occasions saying it is underfunded which hampers further development and compromises the quality of research that it can conduct. At the end of the day, such underfunding hurts students.

The previous minister of education, David Namwandi dismissed the genuine calls for more funding for NUST as the work of “cry-babies.”  As the founder of the IUM, a Higher Education Institution (HEI) vying for various funding sources with the former Polytechnic, many questioned the objectiveness of such a comment.

Recently, budget allocations for UNAM have exceeded the per student allocations for the newly renamed, NUST.  Back in 2012 this unequal allocation was attributed to the costs of establishing a medical school at UNAM.  In another year, budgetary pressures were the reason for cuts to the then Polytech’s budget. 

Justifiable protests about the budget deductions came from the Rector, Dr. Tjama Tjivikua.  But, these were met with scorn, derision and maliciously subtle counter accusations about side-issues while the performance of the former Poly which he has shepherded to recognized high achievement levels, is downplayed. 

It has been reported that while student numbers doubled at the former Poly during 2003 to 2007, the subsidy levels did not.  In 2011, the subsidy per student at UNAM was N$35 675,87 as opposed to N$31 248,72 at the Polytechnic. 

For the 2014/15 financial year, UNAM received N$870 million, while NUST received N$449 million, according to the published 2015/16 budget allocation for the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation.

But, we question the atmosphere around all of this.  We feel that there is some kind of divisive second class citizenship assigned to the NUST in comparison to UNAM. Namibia is too small and has too many things it still needs to achieve, to waste time and energy on divisiveness.  This only ends up disadvantaging NUST students.  What is the end game here? A denigrated NUST serves whose interest?  Certainly not those of the 13,130 students (2013 figure) enrolled there.

While the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) has MOUs with the NUST, UNAM and the IUM, the numbers of the  NSFAF students sponsored at the former Poly, compared to those at IUM, make payments from that source to the IUM a significant part of that institution’s budget.

The latest rankings will also vindicate Professor Tjivikua who has been a target of some hawkish elements at the institution who have wanted to see him gone for their own selfish interests and agendas.

But the numerous accolades that NUST has been receiving prove his leadership skills. Tjivikua has done a commendable job in steering NUST to where it is now. The university can now be counted amongst the giants of African education and this no mean feat.

NUST under the leadership of Dr. Tjivikua has grown from strength to strength with the construction of state-of-the art facilities and the introduction of new programs that meet the needs of today’s economy.

Certainly, there are a number of challenges that the university still grapples with, but with the support of all stakeholders and government, NUST can and will continue to produce even better results.

Perfection is a goal to aspire to reach, but it is never obtained, not by NUST or anyone else.  There will always be teething problems at any institution, but we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater as we promote and encourage positive change.  Moreover, we must give credit (and budget allocations) where credit is due. 

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