• July 9th, 2020

Low morale descends on higher education as economic crunch bites hard

By using the participant observation method, I have observed with great concern that, in recent years, the higher education sector has been seriously affected by the economic crisis that is threatening the operations of this onetime vibrant and noble sector. The saddening fact is that the morale of both academics and students has reached a bottom low. It is true that in public higher education institutions, government austerity measures have worsened the situation as budget cuts have not only adversely affected staff but also students, especially students from poor economic backgrounds. We are experiencing a situation that can be described as lethargic; a situation in which operations can easily come to a standstill if innovative ways are not found to rejuvenate higher education institutions. 

Our institutions are facing trying times – they are forced to fend for themselves by supplementing government funding. Although seeking additional funding seems to be a viable solution, no meaningful success can be achieved here since the commercial sector has its own economic dire straits. There is no immediate bail out that can be extended to our starving higher education institutions that are facing doom and gloom as we helplessly watch every day.

This may sound pessimistic but it is the reality our institutions are experiencing daily. Put frankly, our higher education institutions have no money, and this has negatively affected their operations. It is no longer business as usual. There no longer is motivation for academics to pursue excellence in teaching, research and community engagement. Faced with this inexorable catastrophe, academics are in a panic mode. It is difficult for them to conduct serious research in these conditions. Funds, which used to be available for research activities, have dwindled or, in some cases, they are non-existent. Gone are the days when academics would be sponsored by their institutions to attend conferences in other parts of the world. Gone are the days when meaningful research funds would be granted to avid academic researchers. Instead, academics have to fundraise for themselves in most cases. Nothing wrong with this, but the time spent on fundraising activities affects the quality of teaching.

This in turn affects the quality of our graduates. It becomes a vicious circle; one problem leads to the next and in the end, we have dejected and demotivated academics in the fold. Research has proved that motivating faculty or academic staff plays a vital role in the success of higher education institutions. In their article, titled ‘Motivation and performance in higher education’, Stephan Zlate and Gabriel Cucui (2015) stated that “Motivation is the key problem that universities have to solve today”.  

They came to this conclusion after applying different motivation theories to the work of academics in various institutions. 
When it comes to students, morale is low due to a variety of reasons. Although some governments give financial assistants to students, this support has not always been extended to all who need it. Some governments in the SADC region have since stopped giving students loans and grants. Some students who come from poor backgrounds have failed to complete their studies. To others, higher education has become a luxury since their parents cannot afford to pay for them. Students have aired their concerns through various bodies and through the “Feesmustfall” movement as in the case of South Africa. It appears that little or no tangible results have been realised through this movement. But in all this, the reality is that the severe economic crisis is racking havoc. It does not show mercy to anyone. It bites the academic; it equally bites the student. Those students who have been lucky to register in institutions face accommodation and transport woes.

While a few get decent accommodation, the majority live in shacks. Others live under bridges or become ‘malalapipe’ as they are often called – literally meaning “people who sleep in pipes” – a sad reality. All this, in the hope for a brighter future, amid a ravaging economic crisis. A dream that may be realised after four years of uncertainty, four years of consuming those voluminous books – four years of toil, frustration and dejection. Acquiring higher education has ceased to be a pleasurable and rewarding journey nowadays. It is now a struggle in this economic jungle in which survival of the fittest is the dicey game.

Some school of thought says ‘to end the low morale in the higher education fraternity, industry and commerce must take a leading role’. Following the triple helix innovation model, the argument is that the harsh economic situation may be improved by harnessing the benefits of the involvement of the higher education institutions, industry and government. This model has been tried with success in other countries, but research shows it is not the panacea to all the economic problems that are experienced by higher education institutions. What is agreeable is that there is no one way that can be used to end the economic woes of universities. Universities themselves cannot be fully commercial, as this is not their mandate.

Academics should teach, research and service the community. They must not be forced to engage in incoming generating projects; this is the preserve for researchers and research professors in the institutions. 

It is hoped that all stakeholders will find ways to bring back glamour and nobility in higher education institutions. As it stands, there is low morale in the noble profession everywhere. 
* Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. Please send your comments to: kjairos@gmail.com

Staff Reporter
2020-02-21 12:19:24 | 4 months ago

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