Undoubtedly there are many good things that have happened in Namibia since the country attained independence in 1990.
Among the noteworthy achievements in the post-independence era in Namibia has been the proliferation of Higher Education Institutions. These include; the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), University of Namibia(UNAM), International University of Management, Limkokwing University, Botho University, Triumphant College just to name a few. These institutions play an important role in terms of human development and training in the country.
Research has shown that quality higher education is the main driver of economic and social development of any given state.
As the country celebrates 30 years of independence, it is perhaps prudent for us to reflect on the role that universities have played in Namibia’s development, and how we can further harness their potential contributions.
Universities’ contributions to the nation’s socio-economic development are multifaceted, and oftentimes, are not fully appreciated. The role of universities is not confined to the borders of Namibia, but rather extends to all corners of the world.
Periodically, one comes across fully paid scholarships in other countries, such as China, India, and the United States of America. As much as the scholarships are very welcome to citizens of developing countries, the gains flow in both directions (the receiving and sending countries).
Steven Rothman noted that, “Asian nations such as China and Japan use their educational institutions in different ways to further the national goals through educational soft power influences”. This is not an unjustifiable endeavour, as scholars such as Amirbek and Ydyrys have argued that “unfolding political events have demonstrated that political leaders may show sympathy and favour to the countries where they studied”.
Western nations have long used their universities as a tool for cultivating “soft power”. Giulio Gallarotti equates soft power to endearment, which is characterised by admiration, respect, and esteem.
The Universities Australia Deputy Chief Executive, Anne-Marie Lansdown, is quoted as saying “…when international students return home from their studies – which the vast majority do – this creates a powerful network of global alumni with great affection for Australia.”
Today, the vast majority of students from the developing world would undoubtedly choose to study at Western institutions if they had an opportunity to go overseas.
When one studies in a foreign country, they absorb more than just the classroom education. Long lasting relationships are formed, and these relationships can hold untold benefits for both host and home countries
These relationships, which are a form of social capital, an often under-appreciated resource.
As Namibians, particularly the Namibian government, it is important that we begin to appreciate this fact and purposefully seek to cultivate soft power through our higher education institutions in the region.
A foreign student enrolled in Namibia today is potentially Namibia’s advocate tomorrow in their home countries.
Namibian universities are not only a potential source of soft power, but for much needed revenue as well.
A foreign student who studies in Namibia will not only pay rentals but also spend money on fees, study materials and other general living expenses. Cumulatively, this translates into tens of thousands of Namibian dollars per student.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that in the financial year ending June 2018, international students injected AU $31.9 (1UAD = 1.54 AUD) billion into Australia's economy.
To put this figure into perspective, it is larger than the GDP of Namibia, (which the World Bank (2018) estimates to be US$14.5 billion). This inflow of capital creates jobs and vast opportunities for Australians. With our high unemployment rates in Namibia, we cannot afford to ignore such figures.
Namibia, due to issues beyond its control, does not easily attract manufacturing industries.
The small population and long distances between towns are some of the structural handicaps. Whilst these challenges are pronounced for some sectors, the service economy is relatively less affected.
However the stable and peaceful environment enjoyed by Namibians, and as well as the metropolitan demographics are strong selling points that should always be foregrounded when talking about the country’s value proposition.
It is pertinent that all stakeholders do their bit to position Namibian universities for their fair slice of the international student market. This may require attending international exhibitions, agricultural shows and marketing expos so that we can properly sell our universities within the region and beyond.
In addition to concerted efforts to market our institutions, there is a need to develop quality higher education systems within our institutions.
It is only through the cultivation of quality educational systems that we would be able to attract students from all over the world, and thereby realise the benefits outlined above.
There is also need to ensure that we retain qualified and experienced staff as well as implementing staff development programmes so that our education institutions are competitive in the region and the rest of the continent.
– Godwin Kaisara is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Management Sciences at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. Here he writes in his personal capacity.