It remains a major concern that the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in 2014 only attracted 23 percent of enrolled students, while the remaining 77 percent of students enrolled in non-STEM disciplines.
Learning at higher education institutions (HEIs) remain focused on qualifications in business, commerce and management, which account for 41.4 percent, followed by studies in education, training and development with 26.3 percent.
These figures were revealed by Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila yesterday during the International University of Management (IUM) 12th graduation ceremony, where about 1 700 graduates received various qualifications, including doctoral and master’s degrees, certificates, degrees and diplomas.
According to her, this is rather unfortunate, since the National Human Resources Plan (2010 – 2025) indicates a definite labour market supply shortage in STEM fields.
The plan further indicates that the ability of the country to perform applied research in critical areas such as agriculture, fisheries, geology, information technology and manufacturing is severely hampered by the lack of qualified graduates in engineering, biology, chemistry, mathematics and information technology.
This, she says, is a serious and at the same time sensitive challenge that is not easily resolved.
“In a democratic country we cannot prescribe fields of study. It is necessary, however, to make available vital information about labour market trends – in terms of demand and supply – to enrolling students. We will have to address this and other pressing higher education challenges as a matter of urgency under the capable leadership of the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and
Innovation, under the direction of the fourth goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, requiring us to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” she noted.
However, she says, tertiary education in Namibia has grown in leaps and bounds, with the gross enrolment ratio in tertiary education rising to 20.2 percent by 2014.
The demand for higher education is fuelled by the increased enrolment of Namibian and foreign students. In 2014, close to 10 percent of enrolled students were non-Namibians.
She said demand for higher education is also driven by students who make use of part-time and distance study courses, which account for about 40 percent of student numbers.
She noted public HEIs still absorb more than 70 percent of the fast growing number of students, but private HEIs have also expanded quite rapidly to fill an important gap in the provision of tertiary education.
Kuugongelwa-Amadhila commended IUM on its consistent expansion since its humble beginnings in 1994 and its official launch in October 2002.
Student numbers had grown from under 1 000 in 2002 to 6 500 at IUM’s 10th anniversary, and now stands at 8 000 students.
Similarly, IUM has grown from 11 academic programmes in 2002 to 37 accredited courses in 2016.
In 2014, IUM accommodated 16 percent of all enrolled students – up from 13.5 percent in 2012.
“IUM is continuing to enhance the education and training sector’s contribution to the attainment of strategic national development goals and to facilitate our nation’s transition to a competitive knowledge-based economy, by focusing on key pillars such as education and learning, innovation and information technologies,” said the PM.
She reminded graduates that after IUM they are faced with a global economy and Namibia’s own economy, both of which are struggling, adding: “Our nation is facing tough challenges and trade-offs.”
She therefore believes the graduates will offer new ideas and new energy to meet the challenges Namibia faces as a country.
She raised concern that too many children are not yet gaining the basic skills of functional literacy and numeracy.
She said progress towards equity in education has not been rapid enough.
“More than that, at the current level of performance in education, we will not be producing citizens who are capable of responding effectively to the challenges of a modern industrial society by producing all the required managerial, technical and professional personnel, as is expected of us by Vision 2030. But at least we are aware of what is working in the system and what is not, which will assist us in prioritising urgent reforms,” the premier remarked.