‘Angula tells Tjivikua to forget about university status’, was the headline in a weekly paper. It contained what I assume were extracts from Angula’s speech at the 17th graduation ceremony of the Polytechnic of Namibia.
I have previously written in support of the university status for the Poly. What I would like to do here is something slightly different. I will tease out some of comrade Angula’s statements in an attempt to make explicit the underlying metaphysical suppositions and assumptions through a close analysis of the language that he uses to convey his message to us. I’m not a deconstructionist ala Jacques Derrida but I will attempt to do some deconstruction work here.
Let me on a lighter note start by saying that a graduation ceremony is a solemn occasion – serious and dignified but also a moment of joy. The graduates have gone through a gruelling four years (in most cases) of study to get their degrees and the last thing they would like to hear, at such an occasion, are politicians picking up old political battles. In my view our PM chose the wrong occasion and platform to re-launch his fight against the Poly’s dream of a university status.
I think that we are now basically dealing with philosophic fragments and political ruins because the two sides – those in favour of a university status and those against – have all exhausted their arguments. The real battle is now between political power and institutional autonomy. Thus what I’m doing is merely academic – perhaps a personal reflection on an issue that keep on popping up like the proverbial frog on the beer mug. Don’t get me wrong because I’m not saying this is a closed debate. But suffice to say that most of the objections against the establishment of a university have been debunked and found superfluous. The two or so reasons that keep coming up are the issue of duplication and the question of financing two universities in the country.
Now when the PM was telling his audience that the Poly was established for a specific reason which is to offer degree courses of an applied nature, he was basically throwing the last punch which turned out to be too weak. I’m surprised that the PM thinks universities cannot offer applied degrees. Maybe he and his other colleagues should pay a visit to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, at Kumasi in Ghana. It does what a science and technology university is supposed to do. The same applies to others in that league.
When comrade Angula says ‘the bachelor in engineering which is applied engineering is exactly the purpose for which the Poly was created’, does he mean that the engineering degree at the University of Namibia is theoretical. Or what exactly does he mean? I thought that all science related courses have both theoretical and applied components.
If the right hook was too weak the left hook was equally so when he tried to raise the issue of barriers being created once the Poly is transformed into a university. This argument doesn’t hold water either because the Poly has same entry requirements as Unam, thus the students who go the Poly are not of a lower IQ. The barrier to education is the lack of enough colleges of higher education in the country and also access to bursaries.
He should go to both the Poly and Unam to get statistics of eligible students who apply there but fail to secure admission because of lack of space at these institutions. I have before suggested that we should do away with the idea of satellite campuses and instead set up community colleges in towns like Keetmanshoop, Opuwo, Rundu and Katima and transform the Unam Northern Campus into the University of the North. That’s the future scenario as I envisage it.
The irony in this non-ending drama – the battle between the academe and the politicians is that the Poly is ranked as one of the best among universities not only in Africa but globally. But is it a university? The other irony is that government brought in two foreign consultants to evaluate whether or not the Poly could be transformed into a full-fledged university. The consultants gave it a thumbs-up. But perhaps this was not the answer they praying for and they went back into the laager. We are now at ground zero again.
Citizen Nahas and those opposed to a university status seem to forget that the Poly was established through an Act of Parliament. So it’s Parliament that should pronounce itself on this issue and not them. What Tjivikua is trying to do, if I understand him correctly, is that he doesn’t want the Poly to end its long journey in the Kalahari Desert like the Okavango River to form the swamps – scenic as they may be – but rather want to reach the sea like the other great rivers of the world.