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Opinion - Watershedding quality of research in local universities

2021-11-26  Prof Makala Lilemba

Opinion - Watershedding quality of research in local universities
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One major reason for the young Namibians to venture into the unknown world and jungle to wage the war of liberation was the need to overhaul Bantu Education. Strides have been made in this direction that after 31 years of independence, Namibia saw the establishment of three universities which should oversee the role of quality research. It was assumed that by merging the colleges of education with the University of Namibia, the quality of education, including research, would be improved and brought on par with other systems around the globe. 

It was a naïve idea of collapsing the colleges, as the quality of research at that level has been compromised as many supervisors found themselves handling complex topics which were outside their realm of knowledge. Many supervisors at that time and level were mere first-degree holders, and it may have inhibited their capacity to handle university students. This trend might have been corrected by now, but the aftermath side-effect might have continued up to date.

Conducting research is key in every tertiary institution, hence being a prerequisite to promotion in many universities. It is research which has brought many developmental and gigantic advances in today’s world. It is research which has propelled humankind and landed him on the moon. It is research advanced for that matter which has ushered in major developments in medicine and other spheres of life like economics and many others. 

However, it is disheartening to note that this field of enormous proportions is taken lightly by institutions of higher learning, defeating the early cause of establishing universities, which was to produce educated and trained individuals. It is equally fair to point out that many graduates in our institutions of higher learning lack the capacity to conduct quality research, as such institutions do not attach importance to such realm of knowledge. Institutions of higher learning are bastions of knowledge, and theories are manufactured here. Anything outside such thinking is something else coming from another planet. There could be many reasons pertaining to the loss of quality research in our institutions, but maybe the following could suffice:


Overloaded supervisors

Institutions enroll students in large numbers in order to secure funds for their personal upkeep. These students are hardly given a fair share of research supervision because the staff members are always overloaded, and therefore cannot cope with large numbers.  Whatever quality of research the students produce is not really an issue as long as the managers of these institutions fill their pockets with cash. 


Nepotism during supervision

Some research supervisors have developed the syndrome dictum of knowing your own. This evil in research has come out strongly, and devoured the quality and ethics of research. Many students undertake research and graduate, not that they are up to the research task, but they went through the research mill after being let in by a relative or a close friend of the family. Those being supervised by ‘others’ from the other side of the ethnic grouping are always frustrated and deliberately delayed to graduate when ‘their own’ get first preference. No wonder that when these students are called upon to defend their theses or dissertations, they dismally fail to deliver the required research fruits. There are many graduates out there who are mingling with others who got their research work in a genuine manner, and behave as if they are well-versed in research.


Irrelevant research topics

It is time that researchers start thinking outside the research box when undertaking any topic, and come up with solutions to issues which affect our societies. In education, we have heard many research papers addressing the causes of high failure rates in schools, but nothing is said about the Government’s failure of providing computers and textbooks to learners “in the land of plenty.” Likewise, in the field of economics, researchers are scared of explaining the causes of poverty and the disappearance of millions of Namibia dollars from Treasury. In political science, students are not keen on explaining the emergence of coups d’etat in Africa, and the consequences of extending the terms for presidents. Researchers pay lip-ice service to research when such undertaking should have assisted our societies. Newton and Galileo stood their ground about their findings, and we consequently find ourselves wallowing in their research limelight.


Plagiarised research

This has equally destroyed the quality of research and its ethics. Thank God, experts in research are coming up with programmes to detect such theft. Despite such mechanisms, other institutions simply ignore using such programmes and continue to steal other renowned researchers’ work. In the worst-case scenario, students hire other students or knowledgeable persons to write for them. This system is not only practised for research, but also even during the examinations.


Fear of victimisation

Many researchers have to think twice to pursue a topic of their choice for fear of victimisation. Yes, there are topics and issues which may appear to be sensitive and pose the so-called security risk to the state and citizens, but these could be done within the accepted legal framework, and the findings be related to the benefit of the people.

As Nietzsche, one of the philosophers, puts it, “All life is an argument about matters of taste,” so is quality research an important component to unveil the realities of life.

2021-11-26  Prof Makala Lilemba

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