To Improve, Namibia Needs To Broaden, Differentiate Higher Education

Namibia should differentiate higher education if it is to transform into a knowledge-based economy, according to Professor Rolf Stumpf. This recommendation was made by Stumpf during a public lecture hosted by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) in October in the Namibian capital of Windhoek.

Stumpf is a former vice-chancellor in South Africa, ex-president of the Human Sciences Research Council and currently a top consultant. He delivered the lecture, "Higher Education Landscape in Namibia with Particular Reference to Increasing Access while Improving Quality and Increasing Institutional Diversity," on institutional diversification to increase higher education access and improve quality, efficiency and effectiveness, writes Moses Magadza of University World News.

Stumpf urged the Namibian government to strengthen education and training to improve access to a more diverse system that will better meet the needs of the developing Southern African country. NCHE hosted the public lecture to review Namibia's higher education system against the goals and objectives of the country's development blueprint, Vision 2030.

Diversification means the variety of entities in a higher education system at any given time, while differentiation refers to the process by which diversity is achieved. Institutional diversification advocates said that a diversified system provides more differentiated access to higher education and is better suited to meeting the diverse needs of students in developing countries.

Stumpf touched on the 2011 review of Namibia's higher education system, which used a framework that identified eight core conditions for higher education to contribute to sustainable development and a knowledge economy. With respect to tertiary education participation, it emerged that the gross enrolment ratio for Namibia – the proportion of 20-24 year olds in higher education – was 10.5% in 2011.

If Namibia set a gross enrollment target of 48% by 2030, it would require 10% growth of enrollment per annum for nearly 20 years, or 10,000 new students in the system per year, according to Stumpf.

The sustainability of such growth rates given Namibia's present expenditure of 0.6% of gross domestic product on higher education was deemed questionable.

The review showed that nearly 49% of students were enrolled in vocational programs, 36% in professional programs, and about 16% in general programs. Stumpf said the University of Namibia (UNAM) had a large percentage of enrollments in what would typically be called vocational programs.

The survey showed that about 54% of students were enrolled in vocational courses, 42% in professional programs and 4% in general programs offered by Polytechnic of Namibia (PoN).

Stumpf gave four options that Namibia could consider to strengthen higher education. The first option, which he called the easy way out, would entail UNAM paying particular attention to enrolling more students in the humanities and advancing postgraduate research at masters and PhD degree levels. UNAM would then begin to phase out some certificate and diploma programs. The polytechnic would enroll more certificate and diploma students and emphasize more SET enrollments.

The second option, called between a rock and a hard place, would involve partial re-establishment of colleges of education for primary teacher training. NCHE would develop a quality assurance support system for the colleges. This option would also involve expanding the Namibia College of Open Learning's (NAMCOL) open and distance learning mandate considerably to allow it to offer lower-level higher education qualifications, certificates, and diplomas.

The third option, called all eggs in one basket, would entail consolidating all public open distance learning into one institution like NAMCOL.

The last option, called many eggs in many baskets, combined the best elements of all the other options. It would involve establishing two university colleges outside Windhoek.

Stumpf said after careful analysis, his view was that only option four would increase access to higher education in Namibia. It would also allow for a wide variety of different kinds of institutions that would meet the diverse student needs of the population.

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