Unam Needs Support for Research

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK A properly constituted Research Council and a Research Budget are two critical and cardinal institutions needed in the country if this higher learning centre is to fulfil its mandate and mission to the Namibian nation. This public plea to the government was made on Saturday by the Vice Chancellor of Unam, Professor Lazarus Hangula, in his welcoming address at the annual graduation ceremony. A total of 1 371 students received certificates, diplomas and degrees on Friday and Saturday at the academic event at which the Head of State, Hifikepunye Pohamba and the founding president, Sam Nujoma also officiated. “Last year alone Unam was nominated by four different institutions in Europe and one in Africa as a winner of prestigious prices for its excellent academic work. Also last year a group of students from the Chemistry Department came closer to discovering a medicine, but due to a lack of adequate equipment and funding, this research was transferred to two foreign universities in South Africa and America,” Professor Hangula told an audience of more than 2 000 at the Safari Hotel. The Vice Chancellor went on to inform the audience about other research projects undertaken by the university. “Some Unam scientists are involved in a NASA research enterprise whose skills and results could be useful to pre-determine the occurrences of tsunamis or an El Nino. Other students are involved in research on seaweeds, mahangu and Malama beans genetics. However, a lack of adequate space as well as laboratory equipment is compounded by the lack of both a Research Council and a Research Budget in the country,” professor Hangula said. According to him, Unam scientists doing research have to take the cumbersome route of approaching foreign institutions for a bit of research funds. “This in general hampers research, innovation and militates against any important scientific breakthrough. Because of this no proper postgraduate research at masters and doctorate levels can be carried out without problems especially in the field of natural sciences,” he said. Professor Hangula also painted a bleak picture of Unam with regard to infrastructure development and technical equipment. “The building infrastructure at the main campus is as it was found when the university took over the then college of education some 13 years ago. I don’t even want to talk about the laboratory of the Geology Department at a time when the university is expected to double its efforts to assist with the implementation of Vision 2030 and ETSIP. The current budget allocation to Unam not only failed to make provision for inflationary adjustment, but also to make provision to accommodate Unam developmental projects such as engineering or medicine,” the respected academic said. A lot of promising research activities in African universities have often been outsourced to academic institutions in other continents for lack of adequate facilities. “This has not seldom led to those institutions and countries being credited with the patent rights for the work and breakthrough initiated and made by African scientists. This sad state of affairs was once again confirmed by a recently held UNESCO Conference on Academics Across Borders in Paris. However, as Namibia prepares to start the long and arduous journey towards its envisaged status of a developed nation, it is also important to realize that one of the prerequisites for a country to gain developed status is to have obtained considerable scientific accolades. And that requires massive investment,” he said. The Vice Chancellor applauded efforts currently underway by local initiatives to foster collaboration between the private sector and the institutions of higher learning in the country. “It is hoped that through the new idea of public-private partnership different sectors will support their sister departments at Unam to redress the systemic infrastructure problems we experience. We can become a developed country if we organise ourselves better and work together as a team Namibia,” he said optimistically. Richard Kamwi, Minister of Health and Social Services, was accorded a PhD in Philosophy in Science and Angel Tordesillas Conzales, CEO of Novafam Ltd, received an honorary degree of doctor of economic science.