Allow me to write on the nature of our tertiary education and how political interference hinders academic progress and public transformation.
I should applaud the Namibian government for prioritising education right at independence. We’ve come a long way from a country without a state university to owning what we have today. Thanks to the early visionary leadership of Tate Nujoma and his team.
For example, UNAM was establish by an act of parliament to be the national university that would drive the formation and production local academics and workforce.
In principle, we all welcome that idea, we were going to have our own university, academic freedom from the South Africa. Twenty-eight years later, we need reflect on this vision and ask new questions.
While many of us had no clue of structures of universities, today we are quite aware that these state institutions of higher learning, were set up to fail.
And the failure is structural rather than as a matter of ability or qualifications of those managing the institutions. Government’s direct interference in the management of these institutions is today at the centre of what is leading to their deterioration. How?
For starters, UNAM’s future failure and ability to malfunction was determined at the very decision of making the Head of State its Chancellor.
No institution of high learning can ever function with the needed academic freedom and integrity with that level of political presence.
This position should have been the decision to be made by the university’s highest governing body, not by parliament.
I’m glad that for once the Head of State turned down the offer, although I wished he had overturned the entire practice. At a crucial time like this and even right after independence, UNAM should have been at the centre of shaping public opinion. This institution we’re all proud of should’ve been at the forefront of scientific research, business innovation, and driving the vehicle of intellectual engagement.
However, after 28, although there has been administrative growth, infrastructural development etc, UNAM is an intellectual dwarf. An institution that spends most of its time to survive politically, with academics that offer no critical analysis but forced to sing in favour of government.
UNAM by any comparison houses most of this country’s brilliant minds that are underused and confined to bureaucracies to silence their academic input. It’s as if UNAM was initially designed to be an institution of choosing between one’s bread and academic freedom.
The faculty of humanities which ought to be the driving force of intellectual formation and public discussion, has been reduced to textbook only interactions. There is no place to allow open public debate on matters that affect society or question government and the politics of the day – because the entire key decision-making body serves to protect a specific political interest.
While we think that this is mere politics, we should be more concerned.
This kind of institution cannot be the place where we want entrust our children for academic and life formation. It simply becomes a place of textbook recitations, no curiosity to explore and know more about the world etc.
This is evidenced by the fact that the average university graduate that goes to university thinks of himself as being prepared to become an employee.
A student would go through public our universities, graduate after 4 or 6 years with a postgraduate degree, without having read nothing else except his/her lecture notes. Because the academia has been reduced to textbook work only, those who teach can’t inspire the students to be more or become more.
So, what do I propose? I don’t have a new proposal other that what many have probably proposed over the years but fell on deaf ears. Remove politicians from heading institutions of higher learning, give that task to academic administrators.
You cannot proudly say that you are operating a university, when your academics can’t be heard in public because of fear of losing their jobs.
The world is changing fast but we can’t catch up its pace with this kind of government interference, politics and control. I’d like to think that the Head of State or his Deputy have pressing national issues to be concerned with rather than seek to micro-manage public institutions of higher learning. Namibia is not short of skills to find a capable independent academic and leader that could lead UNAM, far qualified than Tate Mumba.
If there’s any public institution of learning that is being destroyed by political interference, UNAM tops that list. So much untapped potential, so much of suppressed talents, so much of human resources which won’t be engaged for the good of the nation because of politics.
But this continue until there be a deliberate decision to make UNAM operate an institution that encourages academic freedom and expression, uncontrolled by politicians.
We appreciate that politicians are playing the role of national policy makers and they should stick to that.
However, we need see a clear separation of politics and the state institutions for hire learning, to allow them to flourish and fulfil their function of education the public and preparing the youth for the future.
Disclaimer: Basilius M. Kasera is Dean of Students at IUM, the views expressed in this article are his person opinions and do not reflect those of his employer or his associates.