NAMIBIA: Training cuts expat academic numbers

The University of Namibia has trained close to 250 of its staff at postgraduate level over the past 15 years, enabling the institution to drastically reduce its proportion of expatriate academics from 40% to around 6% of all lecturers. Of these, 149 have been trained at masters level while 99 have completed PhD degrees at universities around the world.

Almost 160 academics are studying through the national university's staff development programme, 27 full-time at various universities and 132 on a part-time and distance-education basis. The university has 784 permanent employees, of whom 403 are academics so one in five of its total staff are undertaking further studies.

The university's annual budget of around N$1.3 million (US$175,000) for staff development is assisted by the Chinese and Indian governments which offer up to 10 scholarships a year to university staff to pursue postgraduate studies in their countries. This is through bilateral agreements between the governments of China, India and Namibia.

Indiana University in the US also contributes to the university's efforts by offering its academics scholarships to do masters and PhD degrees there.

Apart from identifying staff members for postgraduate study, the university also selects top-performing final year students for scholarships. The aim is that they will join the academic staff on completion of their studies.

Despite this progress, attracting and retaining competent staff in specialised areas such as engineering, geology, medical sciences and management accounting remains an uphill battle.

"We are supposed to have a Namibian undertaking study for every expatriate. But it is so difficult to attract them because they get paid far more in the private sector," said Director of Human Resources Reggy Izaks.

There was no critical mass of highly qualified people in this southern African country of just under 2 million people, Izaks said. "And the few that are there are grabbed by commercial entities for their much-needed expertise and to partly fulfil affirmative action requirements."

The university has also lost some employees whose further study it funded although in most cases their new employers paid out their contractual obligations to the university. "Unfortunately, we are not a commercial entity and are therefore limited in what we can offer," Izaks said.

University of Namibia Vice-chancellor Professor Lazarus Hangula is a strong advocate of diversity. Hangula stressed that while there was a need for more Namibians to be trained at the postgraduate level, a true university could not only employ its own nationals: foreign staff and students were the mark of a truly universal institution.

* Utaara Hoveka works in the communications and marketing department at the University of Namibia.