In conversation with
Dr Tjama Tjivikua
Vice-Chancellor | Namibia University of Science and Technology
FDI Spotlight: In 2015 the Polytechnic of Namibia was renamed and transformed to the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). What was the motivation for the change and what are the objectives, vision and a new role of the university in Namibia’s national development?
Dr Tjama Tjivikua: I was appointed as the Founding Rector in 1995 and since my interview for the post, it had been my dream to transform the Polytechnic to a University of Science and Technology. While polytechnic establishments are important, there is a need for more technological and professional skills in Namibia, in line with the global trends and the national development trajectory.
My main motivation came from the fact that the world is becoming more technologically oriented and educational institutions have to change to meet the demands of such a world. Looking at global trends and what has been happening in the Commonwealth, you can see the trend toward transforming polytechnics into universities. Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa and other African countries have transformed some or all of their polytechnics and vocational and technical (TVET) institutions to universities.
We need to think about tomorrow and ask ourselves if we will be relevant in 20 or 50 years. For the future, we need to strengthen the university in all spheres and diversify the skills base of current and future students, employees and employers. Another and different institution means a healthy balance or competition, which is good for any industry and country, but we should ensure the quality and innovation in the higher education system.
There was resistance to the establishment of the University. How do you respond to this and to criticism you received?
Dr Tjama Tjivikua: First, it is important for people to remember that we shall still offer degrees, but the focus will be on science and technology. The mandate and character of the institution was well-established over the preceding 20 years. The biggest challenge was fear for the unknown or unfamiliar, ignorance and self-interest from some sections of the Namibian society. As expected, the university nomenclature has opened a lot more doors and opportunities and has improved the institution’s standing and reputation. This is now undisputed and appreciated.
Second, the economy must diversify to employ the professional skills. On the one hand, we need new technical and vocational skills that the existing institutions have not fully embraced yet. We need to consider modernity and the future the world is moving into. Current and future requirements need to be addressed as soon as possible, and both the private and public sector stakeholders need to realise that there is no point in holding back progress by withholding investment and action from their side.
Every player within the higher education sector needs to focus and produce professionals who will add value to the economy, those who have the required skillet to find employment easier or create employment before or once they graduate, and help diversify and strengthen what Namibia can offer to the world.
Beyond teaching, the research, innovation and service and to society – which universities must drive – are critical for economic growth. The new university is well positioned for these challenges.
Do you agree that there is the need for greater dialogue between higher education and industry, both on a national and regional level? What is your own approach to building sustainable and significant ties with industry?
Dr Tjama Tjivikua: Yes, the principle and thought process of give-and-take should apply to industries and educational institutions. There needs to be more communication and interaction between the education sector and industry, for you cannot give students the correct skills without knowing what those skills are.
We need to address the shortcomings in the economy urgently by projecting growth and addressing the skills gap. Namibia’s economy is not, in its current state and set-up, appropriately or adequately supporting industrialization and SMEs so they can grow and employ graduates. Therefore, it doesn’t add great value when you produce entrepreneurs with low-level skills. Even university graduates without the appropriate environment and support will struggle too much to make a success of themselves. We need to produce graduates who have the required capabilities but they should be nurtured into the workforce.
The government needs to spur growth in the technology industries. The world is moving into the Fourth Industrial Revolution – IT and everything related to it. That is the future for which we need to prepare our educational institutions and graduates to meet the future job requirements.
We engage the stakeholders (government, private sector, professional and regulatory bodies, etc. ) extensively in developing and accrediting the qualifications. Students are required to learn by doing – through practicals and work-integrated learning in the industry. These are powerful imperatives. These are characteristics we have preserved over time and shall continue to refine.
Where do you believe Namibia’s potential to be a global player lies and how do you see NUST contributing to the creation and growth of those industries that will take the country forward?
Dr Tjama Tjivikua: Namibia’s best potential lies in human capital development and innovation. We need a more competitive workforce and the government needs to innovate more; they need to diversify the economy from being a primarily extractive economy. While natural resources have been the mainstay of the economy, this will not be case forever. We need to accept that there are other areas of growth we have to leverage, such as value addition through minerals beneficiation and spinoffs in the extractive industries.
Let’s look at other products. We import beef and milk products when there is no need to, just because we haven’t done enough to innovate and promote our industries. We have abundant resources and can create sustainable markets for these products locally and internationally. If we enlarge the local industries and markets, we set off a domino effect because we can then work on offering more courses and creating new enterprises aligned with industry needs. Ultimately, this leads to a larger workforce base with a diverse range of skills and new potential for more industries and spin-offs. Otherwise we are continuing to ‘export jobs, income and valuable skills. ’
Do you believe Namibia is building an entrepreneurial mind-set, creating the leaders needed in Africa and taking advantage of the opportunities on the continent and within the SADC region, regarding venture capital?
Dr Tjama Tjivikua: Unfortunately, Namibia’s economy – as is with other African countries – is too dependent on the government as employer and funder of the private sector. So when the government cannot grow its income or borrow from itself or elsewhere, the economy comes to an abrupt halt.
African countries need to reassess the current state of their economic settings and competitiveness strategies. Too many people are trying to find or create jobs but without success, for they don’t have the appropriate skills and environment with the right financial instruments. If we can grow the number of private businesses with the right incentives, if we can grow the number of venture capitalists and support the SMEs better, this would go a long way to change perceptions and broaden economic opportunity.
What would you like your legacy to be in Namibian higher education?
Dr Tjama Tjivikua: I have been privileged to lay the foundation for this venerable university. I started and oversaw two major transformations: from Technikon Namibia to Polytechnic of Namibia to the Namibia University of Science and Technology, with great success. We have been building an excellent university, known for innovation and responsiveness. It is well respected and delivers quality. That is my legacy. I hope the university will continue to shine long after my tenure, long after the current students, faculty and administrators are gone. But the legacy can only be preserved if the new leadership is visionary and the funding and resourcing otherwise are adequate.
What would be your message of confidence to potential international investors looking to Namibia as an investment destination?
Dr Tjama Tjivikua: Namibia is a beautiful place; it has natural beauty. Namibia is also well-endowed with natural resources. It offers many opportunities in existing and emerging industries or sectors. Namibia offers political stability, an investment-friendly environment and a growing talent to grow your investment. Come and invest in Namibia!