Van Wyk Amutenya
The Namibia University of Science and Technology’s students representative council will not attend this week’s graduation ceremony. This is the SRC’s way to protest the exclusion of more than 1 000 graduands from attending the ceremony over unsettled accounts. This decision by the NUST executive committee has caused outrage among the affected students, with the SRC now
demanding urgent legal intervention to counter the decision.
The ceremonies are slated for Thursday
and Friday. “I am appalled by this decision,” SRC president Martha Ambabi said in a missive dated 20 April and addressed to NUST council chairperson, Florette Nakusera. “It is unacceptable to deny students their right to attend their own graduation ceremonies, just because they have outstanding debts. This is a clear violation of their rights, and it goes against the very principles of justice and fairness that NUST claims to uphold.
“Management made no attempt to provide alternatives or any mitigating measures to recover student debt otherwise.
It seems that it is a common practice of NUST management to threaten students for non-payment, especially during registration, examinations and now, unexpectedly, graduation ceremonies,” she charged.
Meanwhile, the NUST management seems to be undeterred by the threats.
The university maintained that it respects the students' body’s right to “express themselves as they deem necessary”. “We are, however, disappointed that the one time we refuse an SRC proposal, the response is a boycott. Ultimatums aren’t an action of good faith between parties that enjoy a good relationship. Management always considers proposals from student leaders with the utmost of care and in good faith,” NUST spokesperson John Haufiku said over the weekend.
He added that the university cannot function optimally without the requisite financial resources. “Fees, unfortunately, aren’t discretionary. They are necessary for the optimal functioning of the university. We cannot keep making financial concessions at every junction where payment is required, and a wise student leadership will understand this,” he stated. The indebted graduands have been blocked from attending the ceremony for different reasons. Chiefly, the current students owe the university more than N$270 million in tuition fees.
“It will be an operational hazard to allow exiting students to also leave with debt. During registration this year, NUST management made several concessions to allow indebted students to be allowed to register. Each year, students who owe are allowed to sit for exams,” Haufiku explained.
The university, he noted, is aware of the economic hardships faced by Namibians.
“These are all concessions made, which are against the university’s rules, because management understands the harsh realities of the communities where students come from,” he noted. When Ambabi took up the issue with the NUST management last week, she was “belittled and insulted”.
“This disrespect of my mandate by virtue of my position is unacceptable. I was even told that the person with the locus standi is my predecessor Mr Paulus Filippus, which is a surprise, given that his mandate expired on the day I got elected as the new SRC president. Chairperson, I feel belittled in this SRC president position as a woman in a leadership position,” Ambabi responded while registering her dismay to Nakusera.
What is peculiar, however is, that the decision does not only affect self-funded and privately-funded students. Students funded through the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund have not been spared either.
Students with payment arrangements with the department of student services have likewise been barred from attending the glamorous occasion.
“This decision is unjustified and unfair, and it was handled in an insensitive and arbitrary manner. No prior consultation with the director for student services or the SRC took place, and therefore due processes were not followed. As a result, exco’s decision did not give students ample opportunity to make provisions or arrangements to settle their accounts before the graduation date,” Ambabi continued. It is also her fervent view that refusing students attendance to their own graduation ceremonies defeats the goodwill between NUST management and students.
“As student leadership, and the student population at large, we are led to believe by NUST management that NUST is student-centric. However, this is not the case,” the student leader said.
“If no favourable outcome can be reached, the SRC will have no choice but to refuse to attend the graduation ceremonies in solidarity. This will be communicated to the student population to encourage them to stand united against this decision,” she stated.
Over the past few weeks, the university has been the centre of attention, for the wrong reasons. At the moment, some employees are up in arms over the purported abuse of power by management, disregard for university policies and the Labour Act, nepotism claims as well as allegations of graft.
Meanwhile, the management has vindicated itself of any wrongdoing on the above issues.