• October 1st, 2020

Opinion - Collaboration of tertiary institutions a catalyst for development

The higher education fraternity in Namibia and elsewhere is made up of public institutions which are state-aided institutions and private institutions which are owned by individuals or organisations. In their operations, these higher education institutions need to team up to achieve their common academic and research goals. Literature reveals that collective efforts by higher education institutions are necessary catalysts for development. Collaboration in areas of common interests has great impact on the country’s economy. When two or more institutions put their financial and human resources together in joint ventures in a win-win manner, all parties will enjoy the benefits that accrue from such ventures.

Conversely, the old mentality of encouraging a dichotomy between ‘us’ and ‘others’ is counter-productive and a dangerous approach in the fast-changing environment that calls for strong and renewed collaborations among institutions in research and advancement of knowledge in this knowledge-based economy that is driven by industrial revolutions. It is common for individual universities to go it alone and keep the secret of their successes to themselves. Such institutions forbid collaborations with other institutions nationally. They are preoccupied with the idea of being regarded as the best in the country, oblivious of the fact that all higher education institutions serve Namibian students regardless of whether they are public or private.

Some of these selfish institutions forbid their staff members to share their expertise with their counterparts in institutions in desperate need of their skills required. 
Literature shows that cross-teaching and collaborative research among institutions are encouraged in progressive countries. As long as there are memorandums of understanding, and they are well managed, cross-teaching and collaborative research have made collaborating institutions to realise their academic and research dreams and goals which they would otherwise not have accomplished without collaboration.

In ideal situations, collaborative academic work and research have contributed to the development of manpower and skills in countries that encourage partnerships in higher education within their borders. In these countries, universities have teamed up to work on national projects that have assisted governments in offering services to the broad sections of their societies. We can learn from how the University of Helsinki and the Aalto University in Finland have collaborated with other private partners “to make the Helsinki Region the leading research, innovation and business development hub of the life science and health technology field in Northern Europe.”

Likewise, two or three local universities can come together and seek partners from industry and work on joint projects that will benefit our society, especially in these troubled times of the Covid-19 pandemic and economic meltdown. The nation needs solutions and universities as the reservoirs of knowledge need to be more proactive by identifying areas of collaboration among themselves and selected companies. Universities must, therefore, put in place working agreements among themselves and approach appropriate partners from industry and commerce.

When local universities enter genuine collaboration, their students and staff benefit from it. Student and staff mobility between partnering universities brings about a world of difference in the experiences of both staff students and staff. The exchange of students and staff allows the cross-fertilisation of ideas and optimum benefit from the resources and skilled manpower that universities have. We take into cognizance that not all universities have the same facilities locally and even abroad. This fact, therefore, makes it necessary for collaboration so that disadvantaged institutions can benefit from the resources of others. Of course, this has to be carefully managed so that disadvantaged institutions do not take undue advantage of others. 

A few years back, the National Commission on Research, Science and Technology held a national conference whose major objectives were to assess the number and quality of laboratories and how these could be shared by institutions in the country. At this conference, it was found that while some institutions had state-of-the-art equipment, there was not much collaboration among higher education institutions in the country as far as the use of these facilities were concerned. Despite this, what I liked most was that at least the conference managed to have an inventory of the laboratories and equipment in the country. The participating institutions committed that their laboratories and equipment were open for use by other institutions as long as proper arrangements were made. This is the spirit we want to promote in all higher education institutions in Namibia.  

Local universities can also have collaboration in their qualifications. Students should be able to enrol for sandwich programmes that straddle two or three partnering universities. These programmes can be run in more or the same way other programmes are run with international partner universities. For instance, a sandwich programme in science and technology can be run by two universities so that students can benefit more from both universities’ offerings.

 Equally important in this regard is the cultural exchange that occurs among students. It might be surprising to realise how students in the same country learn from different cultures among them.

As I see it, most of our local higher education institutions are operating independently. The thrust in these institutions is signing many agreements with international institutions instead of having memorandums of understanding among themselves. In most cases, some of these international agreements gather dust in offices without meaningful collaborations taking place. While it is commendable to partner with international institutions, this must not be viewed as the only possible option. Our institutions must invest in local partnerships in the same way they do with international partnerships. In this way, we use our local resources and skills in developing our country.
 – kjairos@gmail.com

Staff Reporter
2020-08-07 10:56:11 | 1 months ago

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