By Gerson Sindano
IN the past universities were viewed as exclusive academic institutions for professors to conduct their teaching and research. Peculiarly, ancient universities constrained themselves mainly close to the sphere of elite professors and students. By the same token, research was the concession of the professors, determined to a large degree by individual interests and their connections, among other things. When a university concerns with itself rather than with the surrounding communities, chances are that that particular university would lose contact with the very same society it is intended to serve. Subsequently that university would be utterly cut off from the society. And if that happens, such a university’s prestige and performance would be treacherously reduced, because the accomplishments of universities lie in the progress of the lives of the society it serves. University curricula must be guided by the needs of the people and the needs of the moment. The people, nothing else, but the people, should be the heartbeat and the nerve centre of the university.
Also, universities must respond and satisfy the desires of the moment. For example, universities in Namibia can only maintain contacts and respond to the needs of the society if they make themselves affordable and inclusive to today’s self-governing and pluralistic Namibian society. The research projects and methods of Namibian universities must be centred on local efforts and ought to promote social and economic development.
Hilariously speaking, some people claim that when you get a big qualification that does not respond to the needs and wants of the society, then that qualification makes you worthless to the society and useful to the university (because that is where your service is needed). My argument is very simple – Namibian universities are doing the best they can in terms of promoting education and good quality research, mushroom farming and the Kalimbeza rice project are good examples. But a lot should be done in terms of social engagement with the society to bring universities closer to the people rather than distant from people. No wonder some members of the society feel intimidated by universities, and they have got every right to feel intimidated, after all, all they see are thick books on professors’ tables. I would have to commend Professor Jairos Kangira for spiritually motivating us (his MA students) not to be intimidated by a thick compilation of Shakespearean plays. The 21st century generation demands that universities should no longer be the exclusive academic hanging spots for book addict academics, but should be the hubs of knowledge where members of the community can go and seek help in terms of skills acquisition and the learning necessary to uplift themselves from abject poverty.
Universities should integrate members of the communities who are hard-hit by the drought situation and climate change in the country to educate and train them in skills that can help them on the type of cultivation to conduct when rain is less. A people-driven university is the only answer to all the difficulties we face in our daily lives. When the university is driven by people’s demands and needs, it would respond appropriately through research to provide remedies for such needs. I am confident and hopeful that our universities in Namibia would continue to work closely with members of the various communities in this country. And community members should approach their universities for any help with regard to the issues of climate change and global warming.
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Sindano is a final year Master of Arts in English student in the Department of Language and Literature Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Namibia