National university celebrates 20th anniversary

The University of Namibia, established two years after independence in 1990, marked its 20th anniversary this month. Speaking at the celebrations, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba said the university had exceeded expectations in training human resources for socio-economic development.

He told hundreds of people who thronged the main campus in the capital Windhoek on 6 September that the university should continue to help the government improve the quality of education at all levels and enable local officials to manage a decentralised political system.

The University of Namibia, or UNAM, was set up by a parliamentary act in 1992 as one of several strategic institutions established after independence from South Africa, which had taken over administration of the former German colony after World War I.

A 24-year liberation struggle was waged led by the South West African People’s Organisation, which has won every election since independence.

The university’s purpose was to provide higher education, undertake research, advance and disseminate knowledge, provide extension services and nurture cultural expression. Before independence, black Namibians were excluded from higher education.

“In terms of institution building, such as the establishment of administrative structures and systems, the creation of new faculties and the introduction of new training programmes, UNAM has done well,” Pohamba said.

Student enrolment had steadily increased, and so opportunities for tertiary education were being provided to more Namibians.

“We are proud that the university has established new faculties to train our people in critical fields such as medicine, engineering, environmental management and veterinary medicine,” said the president. He urged UNAM to continue strengthening its academic programmes and its profile regionally and internationally.

Pohamba said that among the challenges the university had faced over the years was to match student population growth with infrastructural development. He urged its management to prioritise hostels and lecture halls for students.

“Attention must also be given to initiatives aimed at improving the quality of teaching, ensuring the relevance of courses and completion rates by students,” he said, adding that UNAM should also introduce more extracurricular activities so as to produce well-rounded graduates.

The Namibian government, he said, recognised the important role that tertiary education played in development and would continue to support the sector.

He urged the Ministry of Education to collaborate with the university, which recently merged with all the country’s teacher training colleges, to ensure that the quality of teaching at schools in rural areas is improved to produce “students who will excel in English, maths, science and other subjects”.

Also speaking at the ceremony, UNAM Vice-chancellor Lazarus Hangula said the university had grown from a single campus with only 3,727 students to 16,813 students in eight faculties, two schools and seven centres distributed across 11 campuses around the country.

The university had grown into a major institution, and had become a key player in all development initiatives of the Namibian government, Hangula said.

“We have succeeded in producing high-calibre human resources as exemplified by the many high profile positions that our graduates now hold locally and internationally in public and private institutions. UNAM has played its part in the production of human resources for the socio-economic development of our country.”

Hangula said the university had substantially expanded access to higher education by setting up constituent campuses, the imaginative use of technology and distance learning. “Thanks to the advent of e-learning, we are extending even more opportunities to Namibians.”

Through the innovation of experts in the agriculture faculty, a major breakthrough in rice production had been made. “Our hope is that through research and collaboration, we will help the country to produce enough rice for domestic consumption and export.

“Namibia has just discovered a huge fresh water reservoir about 300 metres below the surface in the north of the country. With this convergence of good luck and foresight, there is no limit to what we can achieve together for our country.”

Moving into the future, the desire was to make UNAM viable through income generation activities and investments and, importantly, through linking with industry. “Ideally, our university should generate ideas and pass them onto industry for commercialisation.”

The government had initiated decentralisation of services, and Hangula said UNAM could play a pivotal role in training local officials to manage a decentralised system.

“Gone, and gone for good, are the days when UNAM operated as a magnetic centre that waited for people to come to it. Today it is proactive and is going to the people to serve them.” Some students were deployed to communities and combined learning with service.

To remain relevant and responsive to national needs, the vice-chancellor said UNAM would continue to develop new courses and reconfigure the type of graduates it produced, so that they not only solved problems but also prevented them.

Under his stewardship, UNAM would continue to network with the government, the private sector and other development partners to generate ideas that could improve industry, the performance of government, the civil service and the private sector.

To rapturous applause Dr Sam Nujoma, founding president of Namibia and first chancellor of the university, released 20 white homing pigeons in a gesture signifying love, peace and breakthrough for the young institution.