Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso) has proposed a number of avenues which can be explored to ensure free tertiary education. This comes just weeks after government said calls for free tertiary education are unjustified. Nanso is of the view that it makes no sense for government to offer free primary and secondary education, yet the very same learners are expected to pay at tertiary level. Government warned earlier this month that the implementation thereof might not be sustainable. Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation, Dr. Itah Kandjii Murangi at the time said: “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.” During an interview this week, Nanso Acting-president Maitjituavi Kavetu came in defence of calls for free tertiary education, saying it is a justified call.
The student body believes that if necessary procedures are followed such as the creation of avenues to fund higher education in Namibia, the long term dream of free tertiary education in the country for deserving and students from poor backgrounds could be achieved. Critics have accused student movements of romanticising the act of being activists while other dimensions such as how and where can those funds come from goes unheeded. To this effect, Nanso proposes for the introduction of levies (special taxes) on the mining, tourism and fishing sectors, deliberately aimed at funding higher education. “Free tertiary education is justifiable if we (government) implement it by putting in place right formulas as to how we are going to fund it…Issues of levies, education taxes and all that. It is a very justifiable goal if we put those mechanisms in place and take a step-by-step approach,” said Kavetu.
Kavetu added that the first step that government should take towards realising free tertiary education is by converting loans given to students through the Namibia Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) into grants. “First you have to convert these loans into grants and see how it goes. By conversion of loans into grants and funding NSFAF through education levies and education taxes, you will determine whether free tertiary education is affordable or whether the formula of giving grants to deserving students and those who cannot really afford (tertiary education) is much more sustainable and a better approach. Then you won’t even have to implement universal free tertiary education at all,” Kavetu further explained. Kavetu said students who graduate with the aid of grants from the government should not be expected to repay the money to the student fund but rather re-invest such money into their communities. According to Kavetu, it is not fair for government to provide free primary and secondary education just for the same government to demand fees from the same learners once they reach tertiary education. “There is really no point in you having to go through basic and secondary education free of charge (which is cheaper) just for you to be told ‘you have to pay for tertiary education’. That’s why we are saying the mining, the fishing and other resources of this country should fund tertiary education,” he added.
When asked who should benefit from the proposed government-funded tertiary education, Kavetu responded: “As I have said, free tertiary education is a long term goal. The short term goal should be the conversion of loans into grants which is much more to the poor students and learners.” With the precarious economic situation that has seen government unable to duly fulfil its financial obligations in mind, the student leader added: “Given the current economic climate in the country, one would argue that putting a burden on government where nobody pays anything for tertiary education is a huge burden on the State. Students who fall under the NSFAF should have their loans converted into grants. That has always been our position.” In Namibia, the Constitution makes provision for free basic education. As such, the government is obliged to ensure that every Namibian child has access to educational opportunities in the country, an exercise that comes at high cost.