Namibia: Nust in Financial Squeeze

The Namibia University of Science and Technology (Nust) is in a financial squeeze, which has forced it to tap into its reserves to keep the lights on.

This was said by acting vice chancellor Morné du Toit at Nust's annual academic welcome where he stressed that constant budget cuts in the past three years had resulted in the institution barely holding on.

The tight spot the institution finds itself in might force it to review certain programmes that are not sustainable, and look to gradually phase them out, he said.

Du Toit stressed that some of these programmes are not of national interest and are not economically viable. However, he did not specify the programmes.

He said that the institution's request for N$600 million has over the years been slashed to N$400 million, as part of the government's austerity measures meant 'to do more with less.'

The acting vice chancellor noted that the financial woes the university faces have made it difficult for Nust to execute its operational needs.

"We have been struggling, and last year we survived on our savings from 2016, but the challenge is how do we survive this year if we get another reduced budget? Essentially, for the 2019 fiscal year, when we prepared our original budget, we felt that an absolute minimum of N$600 million in subsidy is required for us to balance our books.

"However, in the March budget speech, the finance minister announced that he will only give us N$500 million. That in itself became a challenge because it was N$100 million less than what we were hoping for as a minimum amount. Then our budget was cut further by another N$100 million, in support of the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund that was short of funds," he said.

Du Toit noted that the N$400 million given to Nust last year was not sufficient to cover the operational costs.

"As you are aware, a significant part of our budget is used to cover salaries and those alone are more than our total budget. Essentially, what I am saying is that we need to review programmes that are not economically viable.

"I am not just talking about any programme, but rather those that are not of national interest, and are completely under-subscribed. We need to assess whether we really want to run those programmes," he said.

Du Toit added that they are hopeful that the government will this year inject more than N$400 million into the university, as any shortfall would pose another challenge.

"We are looking at places where we can save, and that does not mean cutting of products such as 'teabags' as an example, because that alone will not help us raise N$150 million, but what I am saying is that we need to be prudent and look after every dollar. We need to take some tough decisions, prioritise but not compromise on the quality of our education."

HUNT FOR NEW VICE CHANCELLOR

Nust will also kick-start the advertising for the recruitment of a full time vice chancellor next week, with shortlisting expected to start by the end of February. Du Toit said the process of putting together the requirements of the advert were recently completed by the new Nust council.

This comes after higher education minister Itah Murangi-Kandjii halted the process last year. The job fell vacant after Tjama Tjivikua retired.

Speaking at the same platform, Nust pro-vice chancellor academic affairs, Andrew Niikondo said another challenge facing the university was the low pass rate of students who come for the STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) courses without the relevant qualifications.

Niikondo stressed the need for Nust to grow a national and global presence, while promoting internationalisation.

"We need to promote the internationalisation of the curriculum and introduce double-degree programmes to ensure that students are exposed to global perspectives to build global competence. We should also ensure the development of long-term relationships with industry and alumni," he said.

Nust chancellor Peter Katjavivi called on the university to strengthen its research capacity, and address the challenges the country faces.

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