By Catherine Sasman
Institutions of higher learning have a crucial role to play if Namibia is to achieve the goals and objectives outlined in Vision 2030, said Deputy Minister of Education, Dr Becky Ndjoze-Ojo.
Addressing a workshop with academics and educationalists from tertiary institutions in Namibia, South Africa and Mauritius deliberating on the relevance of universities and colleges, and particularly the prospects of a university in a rural environment, Ndjoze-Ojo said more focus and investment should be expended in tertiary education, as well as in vocational education.
“Namibia has a serious deficit of skilled and specialised workers in technical fields, which could hamper the attainment of the country’s development initiatives.
“Moreover, the business communities in Namibia recently admitted that their companies are forced to import skilled labour into the country at the expense of Namibians.
” This cannot be allowed to go on forever. We must build our own capacity,” the deputy minister said.
She said plans are afoot to build a faculty of engineering and information technology, as well as a faculty of medicine in the north of the country.
She said tertiary institutions should become more accessible to more people, also acknowledging that only a handful of students yearly can be assisted through Government’s Namibia Student Financial Assistant Fund.
The fund receives around 11 000 applications yearly, but its current capacity is 3 000.
She criticised disparaging voices that argue that the education system is failing, saying more introspection is required.
“The system has failed because most of us are failing the system,” she said.
Chairperson of the National Council for Higher Education, Dr Zed Ngavirue, said universities and the whole tertiary education system should endeavour to strike a “happy balance” between practicality and the intellectual pursuit of rational thought and universal applicability.
Professor Derrick Swartz from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa, said rural-based universities in post-apartheid South Africa have only tangibly been recognised by policy makers in the restructuring of higher education in that country after 1995.
“Though the reasons for this neglect are not altogether clear, given the rhetoric of ‘rural development’ and ‘rural education’ in policy circles in recent years, there appears to be relatively little conceptual and empirical analysis of the historically-specific character of these institutions,” Swartz said.
He said rural-based universities have by and large a relative indistinguishable presence in relation to issues of funding, capital development, human resources and long-term planning.
Professor Martin Oosthuizen, also from South Africa, said since 1997 following a decision to create comprehensive universities, institutions were created through the expansion of universities to include technikon-type programmes.
A constraint, however, he said, is the fact that the South African higher education sector still operates with two separate regulatory frameworks for university and technikon qualifications.