Unam needs a strategist: Academics

29 June 2018 Author   Kaula Nhongo
As the premier tertiary education institution in the country, the University of Namibia (UNAM) needs a vice chancellor (VC) who is a strategist and is able to withstand political pressure,
academics interviewed by the Windhoek Observer said this week.
Last week, the university interviewed four candidates who were vying for the VC post. The candidates shared their visions for the institution during public presentations held at the university on Friday.
This week, The Namibian reported that there had been a tie between candidates Kenneth Matengu and Frednard Gideon who were competing against South African Lucius Botes and another Unam academic, Elizabeth Amukugo.
The newspaper reported that the university’s council was expected to meet this Friday to discuss the outcome of the interviews.
International University of Management Acting Vice Chancellor, Professor Kingo Mchombu, told the Windhoek Observer that the suitable candidate who will take over from Lazarus Hangula who is retiring in August after spending 14 years at the helm of the higher education institute, must be very good at research and fundraising and also a very good strategist who can link the development of the university with the development of the country and the sub region as a whole.
“For us, we see UNAM as a premier university and as a mother university. We would want someone with a cooperative spirit who is not an individualist who sees the institution as a personal kingdom, someone who is public spirited who meets other institutions half way and allows students to work together and lecturers to work together in a very unrestricted and unhindered way like a true intellectual,” Mchombu said.
He said whoever takes over as vice chancellor will have some very big shoes to fill.
“As someone who served under Professor Lazarus Hangula for a long time, I think he was a super leader who was humble; he practiced the concept of servant leadership in the most possible way, he really was a man without arrogance,” Mchombu said.
“He was accessible, full of ideas and he had grown up in the system.  He knew how the system works and he had high integrity; those are some of the qualities he had. UNAM is his legacy; he has done so much for this institution and he has virtually re-written its’ history.”
He added that Hangula set the standard so high that the person who will come after him, will have a major challenge to surpass it.
Emeritus Professor at UNAM, André du Pisani, said a vice chancellor of a university should ignite the vitality, diversity and excellence that exist in a university.
“This is vital, for universities operate in a global environment. The key challenge for any vice chancellor is to interface, within the resource envelope, the epistemic resources and the creative energies of the entire epistemic community, of which the students are the most important.”
In his view, the current VC is a philosopher by education and inclination who understands the importance of ideas, but has been burdened by the demands of social and political pressures and more recently, by a tight fiscal space.
“Under his watch, UNAM expanded exponentially in terms of student enrolment, academic offerings and the spatial devolution of the university into schools and regional campuses,” Du Pisani said.
The professor argued that the decline in the value assigned to the humanities and the arts and their unproductive binary positioning to the primacy of science and technology within the mantra of national development, has diminished the intellectual vibrancy and epistemic contestation that are hallmarks of all great universities.
“Philosophy and Ethics, for example, have a limited intellectual space at the university,” he said.
“For my liking, there was/is just too much ‘political correctness’ at the university. While it is clearly premature to write the history of the ‘Hangula Years’, I continue to hope that the final history of the university may be a history of good.
“UNAM Press, for example, has shifted the boundaries of scholarship at the university, while the university has graduated a number of students of sound quality.”
Both academics agreed that finance at the university is one of the big challenges.
“UNAM is carrying a lot of responsibilities, but they are not getting adequate support to shoulder them. They are a public institution providing education, which is the way to the future of any nation.
“Without an educated nation, no country can succeed and UNAM has taken that responsibility, but I think they deserve more support for what they have done and how they have turned around the whole sector,” Mchombu said.
Activist Job Amupanda, who is also a senior political lecturer at UNAM, said the university needs a dynamic leader who will be able to strike a balance between continuity and change.
“It should be someone who will be able to lift the university higher. We need to start competing with other international universities and not just at home,” Amupanda said.
During his presentations, Matengu promised to find solutions to recover the debt owed by students.
He also promised to transform the university's N$2,6 billion asset base which is treated as liabilities to generate revenue for the institution.
If he gets the job, Matengu said his administration would initiate alternative solutions to the skyrocketing fees paid to security companies as well as municipalities.
Gideon promised to enhance trust between the university and the government. He said he also wants to introduce benefit schemes that would help UNAM staff to deal with some of their challenges.
The new VC is expected to be announced next week.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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