Student leaders at the University of Namibia (Unam) say they have never engaged the government on the initiative of laptop purchases from funds provided by the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) and therefore distance themselves from the communication that such decision was approved by their constituency.
This comes after higher education minister Itah Kandjii-Murangi last week in the National Assembly assured that NSFAF-funded students would not forfeit their non-tuition fees as per signed contract. Meanwhile, some student bodies have approached lawyers in an attempt to stop NSFAF from procuring laptops for students with their non-tuition fees.
This follows a bidding process advertised by NSFAF on 1 September and ending on 7 September calling for business submission by interested parties to procure laptops for students.
The laptop contract initiative of N$180 million to supply university students with 32 000 laptops is part of the government’s support plan for higher education institutions and students to boost e-learning platforms and ensure that remote teaching takes place during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kandjii-Murangi explained that NSFAF-funded as well as privately funded students would benefit from the Covid-19 emergency support programme.
“The government will subsidise the cost of the laptop by 50%. The students will be given two options to finance the remaining 50%. One option will be for the student to finance it through a NSFAF loan, which will be repayable as per the NSFAF Financial Assistance and Recovery Policy. The other option will be for the student to finance the 50% through a cash payment,” she noted.
However, Unam student leaders suggested students be given their non-tuition fees and that they themselves choose what to do with it as their needs arise.
“There is a large population of students who are in possession of devices to access e-learning currently. Students have different academic needs, especially at this point in the academic year when e-learning has been taking place as of March 2020. This initiative, to say the least, is late in its coming and students deserve to be given the funds as per their contracts with NSFAF,” the student representatives wrote to the minister as well as NSFAF management.
The needs analysis done by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) also found that about 32 000 students have no access to laptops or computers.
Unam student leaders furthermore requested that the criteria used by NCHE be provided and be made clear to the public on how exactly these students were identified and on what basis.
They also requested that the needy students be provided with these funds to purchase the gadgets they deem necessary for e-learning as each student’s circumstances differ.
Kandjii-Murangi said the ministry had resolved to engage the elected student leaders of the various higher education institutions and the newly established apolitical Namibia student leaders’ task force team, adding that in fact they recently engaged the elected student leaders, including presidents of representative councils.
But Unam student leaders reacted that their council has not been engaged on this matter.
“We request that the minutes of this engagement be provided as we have not agreed to use students’ non-tuition funds.”
The students accused the minister’s office of having shown a lack of judgement and research on students’ views and opinions on the matter since the announcement of the initiative to use student funds to provide them with laptops.
“The student population at tertiary level is that of adult citizens who are more than capable of handling their finances without having NSFAF dictate how the monies owed to them be spent. We lastly inform that NSFAF abides by the contract they have with students and pay out what is due to students within the month of October 2020; failure to do so may result in legal action being taken against them,” they threatened.
The Students Union of Namibia (SUN) president Bernard Kavau said their position has always been that no students’ contracts should be defaulted and that both tuition and non-tuition fees be settled in full.
“However, we cannot deny the facts that some students need those laptops with internet connectivity gadgets therefore students must be given an option to choose the type of laptop they want and another option on whether they want the laptop or their full non-tuitions,” he added. – email@example.com