Twelfth campus takes university closer to more people

Namibia’s President Hifikipunye Pohamba officiated at a groundbreaking ceremony for a long-awaited campus of the University of Namibia in Keetmanshoop. The new campus, 500 kilometres south of the capital Windhoek, will be the 12th set up under an ambitious initiative to take higher education closer to the people and achieve more equitable access.

Already the roll-out programme of the University of Namibia, or UNAM, has established a physical presence in most parts of the sparsely populated, semi-arid country of approximately two million people.

Stressing that there was no part of the country too far to be reached with development, the president said the government appreciated the role of education in socio-economic development so much that it channelled the lion’s share of the national budget to the sector.

“Our institutions of higher learning play a vital role in the development of our country and uplifting the living standards of our people through the production of relevant skills and knowledge. In this context we will continue to invest in our education system,” he told hundreds of people at the recent ceremony, including top politicians and foreign diplomats.

Important milestone

He said the setting up of UNAM-Keetmanshoop, the first major tertiary institution in the Karas region, was an important milestone. “Young people of this region will no longer have to travel long distances in order to access and pursue higher education.”

Karas is one of Namibia’s most important regions, with the bulk of the country’s mineral wealth.

Pohamba said it was important to take the university there, to develop the technical expertise and research needed for meaningful exploitation of the areas’ natural resources for the benefit of all citizens.

Adding value to Namibia’s natural resources locally would go a long way towards overcoming many of the challenges the country faced, especially lack of employment. Currently Namibia exports raw materials to the developed world for value addition there.

The president challenged the country’s experts to come up with innovative ideas on how to harness resources that include wind, sun and land, which remain largely untapped.

Pohamba thanked those who had supported UNAM in its expansion but challenged others, especially in the private sector, to also support the university.

He said he was proud that the university was venturing into areas that even colonialists never got to, and that the government would provide the means and resources to ensure the new campus became a reality.

Earlier, UNAM Vice-chancellor Professor Lazarus Hangula said that the Keetmanshoop municipality had donated the land to UNAM for the campus. The presence of many people from all walks of life at the groundbreaking ceremony was an eloquent testimony to the fact that UNAM’s decision to roll out its services enjoyed popular support.

“This is also a promising sign that you will continue to support the UNAM community in this campus all the way until the first fruits of our collective efforts would have emerged in the form of UNAM graduates from this campus.

“Let us pull together to make that dream a reality.”

An upbeat Hangula said by setting up a campus in the Karas region, UNAM was sending a strong signal to its young people that their future was bright. The university was determined to start activities on the campus in January 2014, he said, and planned to make the new campus a centre of excellence for geo-sciences.

Hangula told the president that UNAM needed resources for the Keetmanshoop campus to get off the ground. “We are thankful that we don’t need to buy land and that the Ministry of Education in Karas region has allowed us to temporarily use their teachers’ resource centre.”

Well-placed sources told University World News that several faculties would be represented at Keetmanshoop. They include the faculty of education, which will help to improve the quality of teaching in the region.

The faculty of health sciences, through its school of nursing and public health, will be there to help improve access to quality health care, and the faculty of agriculture will work to improve and expand agriculture.

Local support

Scores of companies and individuals pledged financial and other support to the new campus.

Hangula revealed that Skorpion Zinc, one of the biggest mining companies in the area, had promised to build a structure on the new campus.

A representative of the commercial farmers’ union in the region pledged all the animals that the campus’ agriculture students would need for learning and training. He also offered “the experience” of all commercial farmers in the region.

Observers said that with the world economy in turbulence, ensuring the sustainability of expansion projects like UNAM’s would be challenging. Public-private partnerships will be central to developing new ventures such as the Keetmanshoop campus – and others planned for the future.

Karas Governor Clinton Bernadus Swartbooi, a UNAM alumni, told the president that what had been started under his stewardship would “yield the fruits of fundamental and irreversible transformation of society”.

The youthful Swartbooi likened education to a great train that allows people to expand their horizons. He enjoined people of the region to grab the opportunity provided by the government through UNAM with both hands, lest they be left behind.

“We cannot play victims forever,” he said, adding that a time would come when people would stop listening to those who claimed to be perpetual victims.