The University of Namibia (Unam) is saddled with student debts amounting to N$43 million, a situation that has forced the institution to rely on overdraft facilities to meet its obligations.
Its overdraft, the university says, currently stands at N$107 million. Unam’s annual financial statements for the 2015 financial year show a deficit of N$67 million. The information is contained in a circular, dated October 21, 2015, addressed by the bursar to the student representative council (SRC).
In that same circular Unam proposed an increase of 15 percent on student fees for the 2016 academic year. Unam spokesperson John Haufiku, however, denied any plan to hike tuition fees. “A decision about the annual fee increments for next year has not yet been made. The figures that have been put out there are false”, Haufiku insisted.
Following reports that Unam plans to increase its tuition fees by 15 percent, the institution strongly dismissed such claims, but Haufiku could not rule out the likelihood of an increase in the near future.
The circular also states that currently the university cannot rely on investments, or surplus funds to supplement any shortfall in its operational expenses. It says its operational expenses have increased by more that 30 percent annually over the past few years as it struggles to meet the requirements of Vision 2030.
Other reasons for the shortfall include the implementation of new academic courses, such as veterinary and pharmaceutical sciences and architecture, among others.
The circular highlights the increase in operational costs, due mainly to inflation and overall maintenance costs on all 12 campuses, as well as ICT facilities, which come at a high cost. It further states that no increase in State subsidies is expected in 2016, given the economic situation within the country.
Haufiku yesterday said Unam’s management does not dictate fee increments. He explained the process the university follows when applying fee increments, in an attempt to “put to bed widespread assumptions that the institution has set a fee increase for next year”.
“The process begins by examining our financial position. Thereafter, we consult the most important stakeholders – the students – through their leadership. We tell them about the financial position of the university and justify a desirable increment, if any. Students then consult each other and come back to the university with their comments.”
Haufiku said this is followed by meetings with the Vice Chancellor’s management committee, which then takes a decision in principle whether to impose a fee increment or not.
Unam SRC president Vincent Shimutwikeni yesterday confirmed receiving the circular. “We received it, but we need to look at it and then we will get back to management with our interventions,” he said.
At the university’s next council sitting – where students are represented by the SRC – management would table the proposed increments, Haufiku said, adding that council interrogates the increment, requiring justification and proof of wide consultations.
“They approve or reject it based on merit. The decision emanating from council is the final one. Right now, we are at the stage of consulting with students. The decision to increase or not has, therefore, not yet been made. Once this phase is concluded, the rest of the discussions will take place, and we should be able to announce the university’s resolve after December 1,” he explained.
Revelations about the scale of student debt followed President Hage Geingob’s call last week for the abolition of study loans, which he suggested should be replaced with study grants. Geingob said student loans trap young graduates in debt, even before they start working. This, the president said, impacts negatively on their ability to build up wealth.