• June 3rd, 2020

A competitive higher education environment is healthy

With the rapidly increasing new tertiary education institutions in Namibia, there is enough evidence to suggest that there is already stiff competition in the higher education market. It is no longer the usual way of conducting the education business for the long established institutions, mostly national and public institutions, which used to enjoy the monopoly of enrolling tertiary students in the past, without a challenge. Faced with the inexorable establishment of new colleges and universities, existing institutions need to up their game if they are to remain as competitive as before in the new environment.

Correspondingly, new and upcoming institutions have to prove their mettle in the competitive environment in order to attract customers in the form of students, parents and guardians. 
What this means is that this market competition in this knowledge-driven economy puts both the traditional higher education institutions and the new ones in challenging situations, and often in a quandary as the market forces keep on shaping the higher education landscape. In worst cases, the market competition may force some higher education institutions to call it a day and close shop. It is true that there have already been some casualties in this regard, and more will come as the battle for dominance in higher education thickens.  The institutions that face the market competition head on, and adapt to the dictates of environment, will flourish and become leaders of quality education in this country.

These higher education institutions’ cutting edge programmes and research activities will propel them to greater heights in the global education market. More importantly, the nature and distinctive character of each higher education institution will emerge in the market. These characteristics assist the market to judge whether the institution is strong or weak in the education arena.

As I see it, the competition in higher education is healthy. The competition is based on open-market principles. It is supported by the neo-liberal ideology which promotes free market competition. Since higher education has become a commodity to be traded, higher education institutions must strive to offer the most attractive and competitive degree programmes that produce skilled graduates for market. No single higher education has a monopoly of the commodity.  As the commodification of higher education intensifies, so does the market competition which becomes cut-throat business competition. Again no single higher education has control over academic programmes. 

In addition to introducing new competitive programmes, and consolidating their best-selling programmes, higher education institutions will be forced to discard irrelevant and outdated ones. In other words, the development of market-oriented programmes becomes a natural process in the survival-of-the-fittest education game.

 Related to this, higher education institutions are forced to match their market-driven programmes to the needs of the society. To achieve their goals, higher education institutions are also forced to recruit the best local and international academics. It is no longer the game as usual; academics with lower qualifications, for example bachelor and master’s degrees, are slowly but surely being replaced by those with specialised doctoral degrees in higher education institutions. Someone has estimated that give Namibia 10 years from now, all academics in higher education institutions will require a doctorate as a minimum qualification to teach at university level. The PhD rule for university lecturers affected many academics at the University of Zimbabwe recently as their contracts were not renewed because they failed to produce PhDs after being given a grace period of 5 years. Warning bells are ringing for those academics who have lower qualifications, but still want to remain in the higher education sector. No offence intended, but just stating the fact as it is. 

The newly hired highly qualified academics show a track record of excellence in research, teaching and community service. Their research publications show that they are academic authorities in their areas of specialisations. In all their academic activities, the academics display unquestionable knowledge of university systems. They also show perfect understanding of a university as a crucial centre or pith of the production, preservation and dissemination of knowledge. The highly qualified academics, cutting-edge programmes, state-of-the-art infrastructure and good governance combine in building the social and academic prestige of the institutions. However, the benchmarks or yardsticks remain Havard, Cambridge, Oxford, and other world-class universities. 

Importantly, at the centre of the competitive environment in higher education are students, parents and guardians. Students benefit in the sense that there is a wide choice of higher education institutions in the country to choose from. Since the packaging of programmes may differ from institution to institution, students have the liberty to select which programmes suit them best. It is common that students might start a degree programme at one institution, but along the way the student realises that another institution offers a better programme. This gives the student a chance to enrol at the institution with a better programme.

 The competition also gives an opportunity to access higher education to the not-so-gifted students who score the basic minimum points required for entry into a degree programme. This is so because not all higher education institutions have the same entry requirements into degree programmes. Although this may come under criticism, it is not an understatement to say that some students who entered university with low points have proved to be more successful in their degree programmes than those who entered with very high points. So, the rigid entry requirements to university entry which would have shut the doors to education for many students are relaxed because of the competition in the higher education market.  While competition in higher education is healthy and encouraged, the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) and the Namibia Qualifications Authority (NQA) must stop unregistered and bogus institutions from operating in Namibia. 

A competitive high education market promotes diversity and the creation of know.

* Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes on his own accord. Email address: kjairos@gmail.com

Staff Reporter
2019-06-14 10:52:28 | 11 months ago

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