Windhoek — The Namibian tertiary education sector faces a serious threat of termination of critical programmes and erosion of the quality of tertiary education, which may lead to a reduction in the new student intakes if the severe cuts in the national budget allocation continues in the next financial year.
"Our public universities are operating under heavy and severe financial constraints. This might lead to termination of critical programmes and reduction of new student intakes," warned the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Itah Kandjii-Murangi, in the National Assembly this week.
Commenting on the total budget allocation of N$3.23 billion to the tertiary education ministry, Kandjii-Murangi told fellow parliamentarians that there is a steady reduction of direct subventions to the University of Namibia (Unam) and the Namibian University of Science and Technology (NUST).
Nearly half of the total budget allocation to the ministry, or N$1.45 billion, would go to the Namibian Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF), which has found itself overcommitted and without funds for the more than 5,000 students it has signed funding contracts with. NSFAF only had money to fund 18,000 students but went to overcommit itself to additionally more than 5,000 students, forcing Treasury to take money from the National Emergency Fund to fund the stranded students.
Unam is set to receive N$960 million, which is marginally higher than the previous year's allocation of N$926 million, while NUST would get N$600 million, a slight increase from N$534 million allocated last year 2017/18.
An amount of N$422,000 has been set aside for the Namibia National Student Organisation (NANSO).
The minister has asked the universities to be proactive and aggressive in exploring funding, collaborative projects and joint research that would help the public universities to complement their State funding with other revenue generation.
"Legal and realistic strategies that do not interfere with the mandate of our public universities should be explored and agreed to by key stakeholders, to gradually reduce the over-dependence of higher education institutions on government subvention," she said.
In 2017/18, NASFAF provided loans and grants funding to 16,529 tertiary education students. These were 10,685 undergraduate students at higher education institutions and 4,683 technical and vocational education and training (TVET) trainees. There were also 1,161 postgraduate students who benefited. Total enrolment at the two public universities during the 2017 academic year stood at 35,820 students, of whom 25,684 students are at Unam and 11,230 at NUST. For this year Unam has enrolled 26,645 students while NUST registered 1,424 students.