Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein says a Namibia in which tertiary education is free can still be turned from a dream into reality despite current economic strains.
His remarks came days after Higher Education Minister Dr.Itah Kandjii-Murangi met with Nanso leaders to discuss concerns about the state of tertiary education in Namibia, especially the funding element thereof.
In an exclusive interview with the The Patriot recently, Schlettwein said the government’s decision to commit over N$1billion to the Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) is a step in the right direction towards the realisation of free tertiary education.
Schlettwein further stressed that the government has the interest of the students and education in general and was therefore making everything in its power to ensure that no student is left out.
To back his claim, the finance minister pointed out to the fact that two of the country’s biggest tertiary institutions (University of Namibia and the Namibia University of Science and Technology) rely almost completely on government subsidiary to operate successfully.
“We are subsidizing universities already by close to 80 per cent and we have a very extensive bursary program (NSFAF) with over a billion (N$1billion) we are very close to free tertiary education in any case,” he said.
“So I think we move close to that area (free tertiary education) already,” said Schlettwein.
Critics have often indicated that government needs to put itself in a better fiscal position through cutting unnecessary expenditure and use the resources available in the best possible manner for each student to benefit from the country’s resources.
Schlettwein added that government has a genuine commitment to make sure that tertiary education becomes accessible to all qualifying students.
“Let’s see what we can afford, students are a priority and education in general is a priority. Government will avail public resources to make sure that tertiary education is affordable and efficient,” stressed Schlettwein.
Namibia National Student Organisation (Nanso) recently threatened to lockdown university gates because of high tuition and registration fees that denies many Namibian access to education.
In addition, students at institutions of higher learning have shown their dismay over high tuition and registration fees while also going as far as threatening to close down universities in protest.
In a recent interview with The Patriot, Nanso Vice-president Maitjituavi Kavetu informed this paper that the “#Varsitylockdown” was imminent because tuition fees were still exorbitant at both NUST and UNAM.
“Registration is currently not affordable therefore the problems from last year still exist,” Kavetu said at the time.
However in a meeting held recently between Nanso’s leadership and Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation Itah Kandjii-Murangi challenged the student organisation to become a relevant body in all student affairs and promote unity as well as a conducive learning environment at tertiary institutions.
Kandjii-Murangi wants Nanso to work with tertiary institutions in order to minimize social challenges faced by students and reduce academic failure as well as the rate at which students drop out of university.
At the same meeting Kandjii-Murangi reminded the NANSO leadership that her ministry was tasked and committed to “ensure” that students get quality tertiary education.
“This is so as to equip and empower citizens, particularly the youth of our country with knowledge and skills and get them out of the vicious circle of ignorance, poverty and underdevelopment,” said Kandjii-Murangi.
Taking into account that mass demonstrations at tertiary institutions hinder academic progress, Kandjii-Murangi reminded Nanso that it was the organization’s responsibility to ensure that the learning environment was “conducive”.
“We challenge you, NANSO leadership to align your organization’s programs and activities towards broader national goals and objectives,” said Kandjii-Murangi.
At the same juncture, the Higher Education minister called upon all key stakeholders in the higher education and training fraternity render student support for greater academic success in 2017.
Sharing similar sentiments with Schlettwein, Kandjii-Murangi said the government will put its limited resources to good use to address the challenges faced by students.
“Our country is facing serious economic challenges, but I tell you, it is in times like this we must unite in purpose and deeds to achieve more with less,” noted Kandji-Murangi.
Kandji-Murangi further pointed a strong education system will ensure that the different sectors of the economy are populated by a suitable workforce and uplift them from “poverty”.
“This (meeting) is so as to equip and empower citizens, particularly the youth of our country with knowledge and skills and get them out of the vicious circle of ignorance, poverty and underdevelopment,” added the Higher Education minister.
In her closing remarks, Kandjii-Murangi highlighted that empowering the youth with the necessary tools will secure the “future” of Namibia.
She further challenged Nanso to revive or develop student leadership structures and elevate their visibility at Vocational Training Centers (VTCs) and COSDECs across the country.