Wednesday 14 April 2021
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High Pricing of Public Higher Education Harms Society

One of the disconcerting things of living in Namibia is witnessing the ever-increasing cost of high education that is strongly taking after capitalist business models in which education is a luxurious commodity. This transplantation of educational cost into a context where majority of students can’t afford the it, reinforces the ideas of structural discrimination of the poor by refusing them an opportunity to come out of poverty.
Public universities were meant to revolutionised access and affordability of education in order to expand knowledge and skill acquisition, a privilege previously confined to the aristocrats. However, these state owned institutions have progressively adopted corporation ideologies, in which the students are the consumers of their product ‘education.’ This commodification  motivates increasing the cost because the product in demand now promises better employment opportunities and possible reduction in individual poverty levels. Rather than the universities serving as institutions of educating the student, they have become nothing more than information service deliverers – if not sophisticatedly legalised degree mills.

Year after year we continue to witness how UNAM and NUST which are public institutions of higher learning, have evolved in a short space of time to be leading in selling the ‘education product.’ They have surrendered to the thinking of market forces as seen in the dominantly capitalist systems – to make more money out of the students at all cost. For example, what is the logic behind a registration fee every year, for a student that is already in the system? Why a 30% of total tuition fee per annum? These costs and charges are fixed without consideration of the most vulnerable students who don’t have the kind of means of payment.
These public universities are following business ideologies whose sole objective is to generate income to cover their costs, at the expense of the student. Education, which ought to be their goal continues to deteriorate, in the midst of poor administration, uncommitted faculty and lack of learning enhancing resources. While the cost of accessing education is increasing, the universities are failing in be part of addressing the deteriorating economy, nurturing of new knowledge, developing new cultural and political understanding and being part of the general answers to the issues facing our society.

Am I advocating for free tertiary education? I wish I could, however, that kind of a system would not work in a service dependent economy which lacks the needed production and public income to subsidise the running costs of public institutions. I’m simply saying, let public institutions of higher learning be operated as public entities that seek to educate the student, rather than as corporations that are selling the ‘education product’ to the student. That the educational cost is structured with the least advantaged in mind and not merely for profit making.
The cost of entering a public university in this country is ridiculously costly. It is not designed with the understanding of the economic background of majority of Namibians who can barely pay for other services on their incomes. In so doing, the inaccessibility due to cost contributes to disadvantaging already disadvantaged students. This kind of denial to obtain education because of it being treated as a luxury commodity operated by corporation ideologies robs students to obtain the needed academic training that will enhance their chances to a better living.

Shouldn’t public institutions be concerned with the promotion of public happiness or good? Logically, it ought to. Unfortunately, there seem to be a general absence of a philosophy that informs how we determine the cost of public education for the average university student. The only philosophy present in the Council discussions is market related, purely profit-centred approaches.
Quite different from the ‘free tertiary education’ concept, which I think, is practically unsustainable; there should be a thorough review of the current cost of education. The profit-driven models that are presently affecting the accessing of university education promote social injustice and are tools of frustrating the very national goals we have promised to achieve. These national goals cannot be achieved at the current rate of overpriced education that does not affect skill development and contribution to the public discourse. What we are currently delivering to students is a highly priced commodity that rarely produced the desired developmental results.
What are national development goals when institutions that ought to provide the needed knowledge, skills and expertise are overpriced? Are these goals attainable when high education accommodates only for those who can afford it or whose parents/guardians have the means to access financial services to pay for their education?

This blind following of a profit-driven model fails to realise how these institutions of learning are contributing to a misplaced cultural revolution that doesn’t see education as a vehicle of development but one that seeks to make as much money as possible. Not that there is something inherently wrong with capitalism but when it’s pushed to be the informing ideology for operating public institutions, it erodes the meaning of education and serves no public good. Rather than public institution being places of developing cultural, national, political and intellectual transformation – the students are merely customers. Commodification denies value creation in the student thus, the student that can’t afford to access public education is then thrown to the streets.

We have to face the reality facing the public today, the undisguised overpricing of public higher education commercialised to pursue profits, while excluding the poor and economically disadvantaged students. This is rapidly destroying a country that is still developing, therefore, we need government intervention to call institutions of higher learning to cease from this culture of overpricing a generally poor public.

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