STRIVING FOR A KNOWLEDGE-BASED ECONOMY

As Government has taken a deliberate move to promote vocational education and also find the best ways of making the local graduates appeal to the needs of industry, in a bid to curb runaway unemployment that has been around 28 percent for the past three years, Prime Focus Magazine Managing Editor, Tiri Masawi (TM) engages the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation, Dr. Becky Ndjoze-Ojo (BNO), to get insight on the Ministry’s road-map in improving tertiary education. Dr. Ojo also speaks about the plans for the Ministry in the future, challenges faced and how they plan to tackle the issues related to skills deficit in the economy in a manner that will see the country running a knowledge-based economy.

TM: Could you please outline the mandate of the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation when compared to that of the Ministry of Education which was there before its inception?

BNO: May I first all thank you and the OMALAETI PRODUCTION PTY Ltd. Trading as PRIME FOCUS for thinking that there is something I, as the Deputy Minister of Higher Education Training and Innovation, and on behalf of MHETI, have something to contribute to possibly inform the public to update and thereto enrich the rich education discourse in our beloved country, Namibia. Thank you sincerely.

The MHETI came into existence following the inauguration of Namibia’s 3rd President on the 21st of March 2015. The MHETI derives its legislative mandate from the Supreme law of the Republic of Namibia, the Namibian Constitution, which within is enshrined Article 20. All the relevant Acts of parliament such as:
 Higher Education (HE) Act, 2003 (Act No. 26 of 2003);
Vocational and Training Education (VET) Act (Act No. 1 of 2008);
Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) Act, 2000 No. 291 (Act 26 of 2000);
 Namibia Qualifications Authority (NQA) Act, 1996 (Act No. 29 of 1996); and
 Research, Science and Technology Act, 2004 (Act No. 23 of 2004) are enabling legislative instruments by which, and within which MHETI’s legislative mandate is enhanced.

MHETI’s underlying mandate is to within this legislature framework outlined above to provide Higher Education; to train and to innovate. Taking into cognisance that knowledge is old, yet recognising that old knowledge could be perceived, and tackled in a new way to create new dimensions of knowledge, it is therefore possible to argue that MHETI is a newly established Ministry yet within existing Acts of Parliament. In other words, MHETI is old, yet new and is similar yet distinct from Ministry of Education (MoE) that was there before it. As someone who has had the privilege to serve as Deputy Minister in both Ministries: (2005- 2010) both MOE and now MHETI (2015-date) and if I am to compare and contrast them, then I shall simply state that MoE was mainly geared towards consolidation, whereas MHETI is mainly aimed at foregrounding such as Higher Education, Training and Innovation.

TM : Upon your appointment as the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, what were some of the challenges that you identified earlier on and how has your Ministry worked to address these?

BNO:  First of all, may I again use this opportunity to sincerely thank God Almighty for having honoured me with this sacred privilege to serve Him yet again in this capacity and who has helped me this far to work as unto God and not unto man. And secondly, may I thank His Excellency the President, Dr. Hage Geingob, for having thought that there is a something I could contribute to the education landscape and thus to nation of our beloved country Namibia.

I am greatly honoured. When one is appointed as I have been, the greatest challenge is the trust, and that which has been entrusted to me as a consequences of that trust.

With particular reference to the specific challenge we; as a new team identified again is not necessarily new. However, within the newly created discourse of foregrounding Higher Education, Training and Innovation, the challenge is for us to find a correlation between this discourse and the great expectations from the Namibian people. We are expected to perceive old knowledge with new vigour, and thereto create new knowledge. In fact the MHETI is tasked with knowledge creation; skills development; equitable funding and access to quality tertiary education; harnessing and leveraging of modern technologies, conducting relevant research leading to innovation to unleash the human potential and talent to drive expand and accelerate Namibia’s economic vibrant  growth and competitiveness.

In regards to new challenges, Tertiary Education recognizes its the potential to contribute to economic, social development and poverty alleviation. Distributing, monitoring and accounting for education financial resources in a manner that favours those who are poor and have been disadvantaged, thereby realising equity. Inaccessibility of vocational education and training facilities to regions that do not have such facilities, poorly qualified vocational education training instructors. Non-articulation of the Namibian vocational education and training output to the tertiary education sub-system, to allow graduates to pursue degree courses at higher education institutions.

TM: With education regarded as a catalyst to the country’s economic transformation, how will the Ministry of Higher Education ensure that more Namibians can access higher education?

BNO: As Namibia continues to work towards universal primary education (UPE)—and increasing secondary education coverage—it is expanding the pool of educated youth who will soon make unprecedented demands for higher education opportunities. In order to meet this challenge, it is critical for the Ministry to understand the status of higher education—its governance, financing, the quality and quantity of its inputs and outputs.

TM: The transformation of the Polytechnic of Namibia to the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) has left a void in terms of an institution that can train individuals who are not academically or practically inclined. How does the Ministry aim to address this issue?

BNO: It is extremely important to contextualize the transformation of the former Polytechnic of Namibia (PON) into the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). Within the evolution of Higher Education in Namibia. For instance at independence  in 1990 our focus as the then emerging Africa Independent nation, was to set up new institutions of higher education that will address and redress the anomaly of Namibia prior to independence. For example, there was a single university in the entire country. Yes, there was an Academy that was a semblance of a university, but that was in essence, a college of higher learning that awarded mainly certificates and diplomas but could not award degrees. The Academy had a technical arm the Technicon that provided technical and, to a limited extent vocational training; as well as a college for out of school training (COST) that served as a bridge between school and higher education.

With the establishment of the University of Namibia (UNAM) by an Act of Parliament No. 8 of 1992 as the first, one and only national University of Namibia. It was then expected that the time had come for Namibia to have a university that will mainly award academic university degrees, certificates and diplomas as bridging qualifications to such degrees. For example, if UNAM was developing a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) degrees, then there was a justification found to upgrade those with a Higher National Certificate in Education (HNCE) to be admitted to UNAM to pursue a Higher National Certificate in Education as bridging qualification to a B.Ed.

The Technicon and COST were amalgamated and transformed into the PON that was mainly expected to provide that technical arm, yet linking the school-leavers to higher technical education that may start with a certificate and or National Diploma in Police Training and or any other qualification leading to a technical degree for example, the B.Tech.

It is against this elaborate genesis of higher education in Namibia that I wish to juxtapose your question. In juxtaposition thereto, and within this context therefore, I wish to state that appropriate transformation of institutions has been with us since independence. Change as we know is not static but dynamic. Thus, transformations of yesterday are but challenges of today and will often require even more transformations. We, at MHETI are delighted at the prospects of the transformation of the PON to NUST because in such lies  more focused niche for Science and Technology. That should be at the center of our own subsequent national development agenda (NDA). This NDA should become the engine and must propel economic growth for the vibrant, forward-looking, innovative industry with a futuristic trajectory as it co- opts and absorbs well-trained trainees and students, trained to their specifications, in collaborative ventures between Industry and NUST and between them both and MHETI. These are exciting prospects and processes are being put in place to ensure this NDA is realized for prosperity of all Namibians.

As to the void you referred to in your question, our hands as a team at MHETI are on deck to ensure that such void is immediately and adequately filled. In fact, one of our key focus, as set out in the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP), is to dominantly  focus on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and make sure that it is aimed at training Namibian youth who wish to embark on such studies.

It suffices to add that subsequently, MHETI is and shall continue to work tirelessly on ensuring that the Namibian Education System shall no longer limp but run in a balanced way, on two equally appreciated legs namely, that of Technical Vocational Education and Training  (TVET) and the Academic leg. In fact, TVET transformation as we develop it, shall no longer be regarded as being for those that are ‘so-called’ not academically inclined, but by all the youth, we envisage a transformed and attractive TVET with clearly defined articulation across the board to enable the youth to access TVET yet, if they so wish, to access Higher Academic via the TVET route and Vice Versa. They are equal!

TM: Could you outline the short and long term objectives of your Ministry?

BNO: The long-term objectives of the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation has the strategic direction and framework for the period namely, 2016-2020, in order to fulfil the mandate and achieve the Ministry’s vision, mission and strategic objectives.