Friday 18 June 2021
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Free tertiary education “unjustified”

Government says the calls for free tertiary education is not justified and subsequently warned that the implementation thereof might not be sustainable. Students movements have recently been singing the tune of free education-with no substantial plan in place to implement it and without consideration of the consequences it will have on the economic status of the country. And although it seems the calls have gained momentum, critics say student movements are perhaps     romanticising the act of being activists while other dimensions such as how and where can those funds come from goes unheeded.
International reports have revealed that many countries that have previously provided free higher education have changed their policies in recent years because enrolments are rising across, leading to student growth subsequently outstripping what the economic base can generate in revenue.  Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation, Dr. Itah Kandjii Murangi, said she is prepared to meet students to discuss the matter and indicated that the sustainability aspect of free tertiary education is a concern. “I don’t think it is a justified call.  Education comes at a cost and someone must carry the cost.  The question that we should ask ourselves is whether free education will be sustainable in the long run.  What we are saying is that government has a responsibility to ensure that every Namibian child should have access to general education,” said Kandjii-Murangi during an exclusive interview with this publication this week.
The minister says government’s decision to introduce free primary and secondary education in the country comes at a high cost to government.   “When we look at the tertiary education sector, government is 90% funding our tertiary institutions. Furthermore, government through the Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund, is providing study loans to deserving students.  Therefore, one can say that currently government is offering free education in the country. Remember, the government is concerned about and has to look at the plight of all Namibian youth – not those in tertiary only (5%),” she pointed out. Kandjii-Murangi is adamant that the provision of education is a responsibility that must be share by all stakeholders-government, civil society, private sector and parents. “It therefore goes without saying that all stakeholders should have a responsibility to finance educational activities in the country.” She said she is prepared to visit campuses and to engage students on the issue of student funding, saying: “I have done it in the past and will continue to do it in the future if need be. I see no reason, why I cannot do that.” She pointed out that the challenge facing the Namibian higher education sector currently is the limited opportunities available to access tertiary education in the country.
“We have many school leavers exiting our secondary schools with only a few getting access to further their academic or technical and vocational studies. Also, lack of opportunities in the labour market for work integrated learning is another challenge affecting higher education in the country.  Many of our students are unable to secure internship opportunities in the labour market to relate the theory they are learning at our institutions to the realities at the workplace,” said a worried Kandjii-Murangi. The minister also indicated that “government has come up with a funding formula for our universities.” “As a ministry, the challenge we have at the moment is the economic challenges we as a country are finding ourselves in. Despite government allocating more funding to our universities, we are also calling on them to generate their own revenues to complement government subvention,” she said.
She also concurred that accommodation for students at tertiary institutions is a “serious concern. “I have engaged student representative organization’s to discuss this matter to see how we could address the problem.  At the moment we are consulting with various stakeholders to find an amicable solution to this problem,” said the minister. She added: “In Namibia, basic education is provided for in the constitution. As a government we have an obligation to ensure that every Namibian child has access to educational opportunities in the country. The challenge we have as a government is to introduce free education to the entire education and training sector.”

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