NAMIBIA: Government snubs new degree courses

The academic future of 73 students who registered for two newly-introduced degree programmes at the Polytechnic of Namibia last year are uncertain after the government refused to recognise the degrees or provide the students with loans. New applications for the same courses this year have also been thrown into confusion amidst conflicting reports from the polytechnic and the Ministry of Education.

The polytechnic stirred a hornet's nest after it introduced degrees in applied English, communication and entrepreneurship in 2009 without seeking the blessing of the government. The ministry reacted angrily and refused to grant loans under the Government Student Financial Assistance Fund to students enrolled for the degrees.

Vitalis Ankama, Permanent Secretary in the ministry, blasted the polytechnic for masquerading as a university of science and technology while its application for enhanced status was still pending with the National Council on Higher Education.

"The Polytechnic came into being after an Act of parliament and it should cover certain programmes and they should not do what they want. It's the University of Namibia which should offer those programmes not them...We can't have an institution grabbing anything it wants, they should have a terrain they abide by," Ankama told a local newspaper recently.

This week the polytechnic hit back, saying the Act of parliament gave it the right to offer any degree programme without getting permission from the ministry.

In a statement made available to University World News, it said that in terms of section 24 (1) of the Act (33 of 1994) the polytechnic "may confer any degree, diploma and certificate that it may consider expedient to confer. This clearly grants the polytechnic the authority to offer and confer bachelor and master degrees, which the institution has done since 2000.

"Two major factors determine the range of academic programmes offered by the polytechnic - whether certificate, diploma or degree. The first is public demand, the second the national development agenda," said the statement.

It reassured "all current and prospective students, their sponsors, parents and families, that the degrees and other qualifications for which they have registered or plan to enroll this week or next week, are perfectly authentic and as highly rated by employers as they are by other universities locally, regionally and internationally."

But Ankama stuck to the government's stance against funding the new degree courses, and said the issue was "all about an institution not observing its mandate", apparently referring to the polytechnic offering undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in addition to certificates and diplomas.

The Namibia Qualification Authority is yet to accredit the controversial and other new programmes offered by the polytechnic. Well-placed sources said the authority had set a deadline of 2015 to accredit all degree programmes.

A leading academic, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was unfortunate that students and their parents were bearing the brunt of a disagreement between the ministry and polytechnic. "These are seemingly irreconcilable differences. Sadly, it is always the grass that suffers when elephants fight."