Higher Education Systems and Institutions, Namibia

  • Lazarus Hangula
  • Kenneth Kamwi MatenguEmail author
  • Gilbert Likando
  • Rachel N. Shanyanana
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9553-1_464-1

Higher Education System Development

Namibia is a nation-state in Southern Africa which gained its independence from apartheid South Africa in 1990. It has a population of 2,113,077 (GRN 2011, p. 8). The country covers an area of approximately 823,000 km2. After independence critical investigations into higher education took place, the most notable was the Presidential Commission on Higher Education of 1991, which precipitated the creation of the University of Namibia (UNAM) in 1992, and the Polytechnic of Namibia (PoN), now University of Science and Technology (NUST) in 1994 as state-funded public higher education institutions (HEIs) (Turner 1991). Prior to this, Namibia had an apartheid-led higher education system where education was offered according to skin color (for blacks and for whites). Therefore, major changes were needed. The rationale for reforming was to ensure that every Namibian had equal access to higher education. The reforms in the entire education system were guided by four major goals of education: access, equity, quality, and democracy (Ministry of Education and Culture 1993, p. 14). These goals were reinforced by the 1990 World Declaration on Education For All (UNESCO 1994) that reaffirmed education as the right to every person. While the strategic goals of access, equity, quality, and democracy remained relevant, the Namibian HEI focus has only recently focused on positioning higher education as a pillar in national development.

Funding and Governance

Since 1992, major qualitative and quantitative developments have occurred. Although state expenditure on higher education in Namibia is as new as the country itself, the government has remained the biggest funder of higher education, in terms of infrastructure development, operational costs, and student funding. For example, when UNAM was established in 1992, the Government of Namibia injected N$8,774 million. Since then, government has continued to subsidize the activities of UNAM, enabling it to fulfill its mandate and mission. Currently UNAM operates from 12 campuses and 9 regional centers countrywide. It is through such type of subsidy that public HEIs in the country enhanced their teaching and learning facilities, laboratory and office infrastructure, as well as diversifying student services. According to the Government Republic of Namibia, the 2014/2015 budget allocation to HEIs was at N$2.212 billion, of which UNAM received N$870.5 million that enabled the institution to undertake 19 major projects, which among others included school of medicine phase 2 and phase 3; faculty of engineering phase 1, 2; lecture halls, student hostels and gyms, chemical storerooms, and additional offices across its campuses. The total accumulative government subsidy to UNAM since inception in 2015 stood at N$7.224 billion. NUST, then Polytechnic of Namibia, was created 2 years after UNAM in 1994. Since then, NUST has expanded significantly in terms of program offering and infrastructure. The institution received N$449 million in the 2014/2015 financial year. However, its geographical coverage remains in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city with only a satellite campus in Luderitz and regional offices in many towns catering for its distance education students.

In terms of financing student studies, there are two funding schemes available to aspiring students, the Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) and the Namibia Government Scholarship and Training Program (NGSTP). NSFAF is a loan/grant scheme, established in 2005 (GRN 2005a, b; GRN 2000). The rationale of establishing the NSFAF was to replace public service bursary scheme which provided grants to students and guaranteed jobs on completion. The abolition of student bursaries was necessitated by the following reasons, namely: (1) the government could not anymore guarantee jobs for graduates; (2) the increase in the demand for financial assistance by needy students was higher than what government could afford; and (3) the government needed to recover monies from beneficiaries upon completion of their studies in order to continue financing other potential students.

The other financial assistance scheme provided was the Namibia Government Scholarship and Training Program (NGSTP) which was previously administered by the Africa-America Institute (AAI) but is currently funded by the Government Endowment Fund. It caters for graduate studies or postgraduate level degrees in Namibia and abroad. The number of people who are awarded financial aid from NSFAF every year by discipline is generally low, although it has steadily been increasing per year. Despite this commitment by the government, the lack of financial support remains a major barrier to accessing higher education (Matengu et al. 2009).

Overall, higher education in Namibia remains heavily driven through state subsidies although administratively the HEIs are semiautonomously governed. The Namibian Government apart from funding public HEIs also subsidizes private HEIs in terms of student fees and tuition. The first private university in Namibia, the International University of Management (IUM), was founded in 1994 (IUM 2017). Since then a large number of private educational institutions, which are not classified as HEIs but offer postsecondary education, have been registered. More than 40 private institutions are registered by the National Qualifications Authority (NQA) and undergoing accreditation by the National Council on Higher Education (NCHE 2016, p. 1) see more details below.

This liberalization signals that the government recognizes that knowledge and skills produced by the higher education system, be it emanating from private or public institutions, become a deciding factor in the promotion of social and economic progress of a nation. The key in this process is the role research plays in serving as an engine of growth and as a dynamo of economic performance. That said, there is no single higher education policy that unifies all HE providers, which results in gaps in the quality of education provided.

Since the amendment of the Academy Act of 1984, and the enactment of the University of Namibia Act (Act No.18 of 1992) (GRN 1992), and Polytechnic of Namibia Act (Act No. 33 of 1994) (GRN 1994), a series of other forms of legislation ranging from research, to teacher training, to plant specimen collection, to biosafety and labor practice among others have ensued. In terms of governance, the autonomy of HEIs has remained with Councils and Boards, thus steering away from political interference.

National Agencies of Higher Education Governance

The National Advisory Council on Education

The National Advisory Council on Education was created by an Act of Parliament, the Education Act No. 16 of 2001 (GRN 2001, p. 7). NACE is governed by an Advisory Council. The powers and functions of the Advisory Council are grossly undefined, other than that it should advise the Minister on educational matters, upon the Advisory Council’s own initiative or in response to any question referred to it “Advisory Council” by the Minister. In spite of being established nearly 17 years ago, the body has in practice provided little to no guidance to higher education system coordination in Namibia.

The National Qualifications Authority

National Qualification Authority (NQA) was constituted by an Act of Parliament, the National Qualification Authority of 1996 (GRN 1996). It is tasked with the responsibility of, through the National Qualification Framework (NQF):
  1. (A)

    Evaluation of qualifications

  2. (B)

    Setting standards

  3. (C)

    Recognition of prior learning

  4. (D)


  5. (E)

    Quality audits


NQA reports to its governing NQA Council. On some aspects of higher education, NQA is assisted by the national standards setting bodies and their subcommittees, the Standard Generating Bodies (SGB). NQA legislation does not make it compulsory for all HEIs to be assessed in all aspects. It does not prescribe how institutions of higher education should ensure quality. As such, in its enforcement of the law, it only quality assures those HEIs who wish to have their academic programs evaluated and registered.

The National Council for Higher Education

The National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) was established by an Act of Parliament, Higher Education Act No. 26 of 2003. According to the Act, the objectives of the NCHE are:
  1. (A)
    To promote the following:
    1. I.

      The establishment of a coordinated higher education system

    2. II.

      Access for students to higher education institutions

    3. III.

      Quality assurance in higher education

  2. (B)

    To advise on the allocation of moneys to public higher education institutions Some of its functions include:

  1. (a)

    To accredit, with the concurrence of the National Qualifications Authority, programs of higher education provided at HEIs

    To take measures to promote access of students to HEIs

  2. (b)

    To undertake such research with regard to its objectives as it may think necessary or as the Minister may require

  3. (c)

    To advise the Minister, on its own accord or at the request of the Minister, on a number of issues including the structure of higher education, the governance matters, and the allocation of funds to HEIs


Administratively, the NCHE is managed by a secretariat whose functions include the provision of such secretarial and administrative services and technical assistance as may be required by the NCHE or any committee of the NCHE (GRN 2003, p. 11). NCHE works closely with quality assurance offices/directorates at the three higher education institutions in the country. For lack of broad expertise but also in line with best practice, NCHE deploys their quality audit mandates by using local and external experts within Africa and beyond. Quality audits NCHE undertakes are not limited to research, teaching, and learning only but also include administration and support services.

National Commission for Research, Science, and Technology (NCRST)

In recognition of the importance of research, science, technology, and innovation, the Namibian parliament passed a legislation “Research Science and Technology Act, 2004 (Act no 23 of 2004).” The broad aims of NCRST as outlined in section 2 of the Act are:

To ensure the coordination, monitoring, and supervision of research, science, and technology in Namibia
  1. 1.

    To promote and develop research, science, and technology in Namibia

  2. 2.

    To promote common ground in research, scientific, and technological thinking across all disciplines, including the physical, mathematical, and life sciences, as well as human, social, and economic sciences

  3. 3.

    To encourage and promote innovative and independent thinking and the optimum development of intellectual capacity of people in research, science, and technology

  4. 4.

    To ensure dedicated, prioritized, and systematic funding for research, science, and technology application and development in Namibia

  5. 5.

    To promote linkages between Namibia and international institutions and bodies on the development of research, science, and technology


Despite the legislation having been passed in 2004, NCRST begun its operations only in 2013 after its enabling regulations, policies, and procedures were approved.

Student Enrolment

In terms of student numbers, the higher education sector in Namibia has experienced high growth in the last 10 years. More than 40 private institutions were registered by the National Qualification Authority (NQA) in 2016. Many of these institutions were established not necessarily as a response to market demands but as a result of high demand by the youths who do not meet minimum requirements for admission in public HEIs to earn some form of postsecondary qualifications. The enrolment in 2017 show high enrolments at lead public universities. UNAM total student enrolment stands at 25, 936, with respect to gender parity 16,920 (65.2%) are female and 9016 (34.8%) are male (UNAM Statistics 2017). For NUST the total figure stands at 11,226 of which 5,643 (50.3%) are female and 5,583 (49.7%) are male (NUST Statistics 2017). Similar comparison could be made with IUM where the total student enrolment figure stands at 8,773, with 6,060 (69%) female and 2,713 (31%) male. The exponential growth in the number of female students has been observed for the last 10 years. The phenomenon cuts across all fields of study including science fields that were predominantly male dominated. Based on this phenomenon, the question on the future of the boy child should in future be examined (Table 1).
Table 1

2017 Students enrolment at HEIs in Namibia






5,583 (49.7%)

5,643 (50.3%)



9,016 (34.8%)

16,920 (65.2%)



2,713 (31%)

6,060 (69%)






Overall, despite the increase in the number of private higher education institutions, it is evident that the majority of students are still at public institutions (NCHE 2016). The norm for admission to public universities in Namibia is 25 points (equivalent to five C symbols) in five subjects inclusive of a C symbol or better in English – the language of instruction. The number of international students in the country continues to grow, estimated to be approximately 5,000 of which the majority are from the SADC region, while the rest are from other African countries (non-SADC) as well as from Europe, North America, South America, the Middle East, and Asia. In 2017, foreign students originated from over 50 countries across the globe.


In relation to capacity development in HEIs, Namibia has a National Human Resource Development Plan 2010–2025, which serves as a policy framework to guide capacity building efforts in the country (GRN 2012). However, there is no direct links between this HRD plan and how higher education institutions are funded. Achieving Namibia’s Vision 2030, which aims to “develop a diversified competent and highly productive resources and institutions” (GRN 2004, p. 41), requires huge investment for HEIs. Nevertheless, in terms of staffing, particularly at the lead institutions the growth in the number of staff in relation to growth has been witnessed. For UNAM the total staff complement stands at 2,302 of which 1,403 (61%) are academic and 899 (39%) are administrative. In terms of qualifications among academic staff, 215 (21.65%) possess PhDs, and 534 (53.72%) hold Masters degrees in various fields (UNAM Statistics 2017).

The rest of the academic staff members hold bachelor level qualifications. With regard to staff complement at NUST, the institution has 1,681 of which (66%) 1,108 (421 full-time and 687 part-time) are academic and (34%) 573 (459 full-time and 114 part-time) are administrative (Table 2).
Table 2

Academic staff complement at leading HEIs in Namibia






121 (37%)

206 (63%)



108 (66%)

373 (34%)



899 (39%)

1,403 (61%)






With reference to qualifications among academic staff, 111 (10%) hold PhDs, and 251 (22.7%) possess Masters degrees (NUST Statistics 2017). Whereas, at IUM the staff complement stands at 327 of which 206 (63%) academic and 121 (37%) administrative. With regard to qualifications, 26 (8 %) staff members hold PhDs and 130 (40 %) with master’s degrees and other qualifications (IUM Statistics 2017). While significant progress has been achieved in attracting competent and qualified staff, all these institutions are in the process of developing retention and talent management policies which would enable them to maintain competitiveness in staff recruitment and retention. Although they all consider staff development programs as critical for capacity building, it is only the UNAM that has an active staff development program and policy (Table 3).
Table 3

Academic staff qualifications at leading HEIs in Namibia






26 (8%)

130 (44%)

156 (48%)


111 (10%)

251 (22.7%)

362 (32.7%)


215 (21.65%)

534 (53.72%)

749 (75.37%)





Quality and Relevance

The AU Agenda 2063, African Critical Technical Skills Report (2016), points to the challenges and the weaknesses of science and technology in Namibian institution, where the country 2.86 on a score of 1–7, (7 being excellent and 1 giving a rating of poor). This shortcoming is attributed to long-standing and systemic legacy of apartheid that strongly weakened educational offering in Science, Math, and English. Other challenges include:
  • Weak links between scientific enterprises and political institutions/policy makers

  • Low and falling STEM public and private funding as a share of GDP

  • Declining quality of STEM education at all levels of education – primary, secondary, tertiary, and vocational

  • Lack of institutions dedicated to scientific and technological innovation and commercialization

  • Weak links between public research and development (R&D) institutions and industry (African Union 2016, pp. 34–45)

According to Namibia’s Fifth National Development Plan (NDP 5), “quality and relevance of university education has been a serious concern of both private and public sector employers, due to weak linkages with labor market, including industry impacting negatively on relevance of training programs and employability” (GRN 2017, p. 61). Thus, when implemented, Namibia will have committed to establish an education system that responds to industrial needs by 2021/2022 (GRN 2017, p. 17). Nevertheless, the country will still need to develop a national postgraduate policy, and a national postdoctoral strategy to guide HEIs and build capacity in critical areas to ensure postgraduate programs are not perceived as not being in sync with the needs of the industry. In the sphere of research, the National Commission for Research, Science, and Technology (NRCST) was established in 2012, to address some of the systemic challenges in funding and research collaboration between HEIs within and outside Namibia. The results have been low publications in internationally peer reviewed journals. This is why Namibia’s HEIs are not featuring on major university rankings. Through a consultative process, the National Program for Research, Science, Technology, and Innovation is now established, and more than N$15mil have been disbursed to HEIs in the country in a period of 3 years. In addition, an innovation policy review has also been done. This positive transition arguably in jeopardy now owing to unfavorable economic climate in the country, if well-funded, will strengthen the country’s HEIs and systems. What remains to be answered is what instruments and how those instruments will be used to steer higher education to achieve Vision 2030 as well as ensure Namibia’s progression into a formidable higher education producer.


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Extra Readings

  1. Amukugo, M. Elizabeth, Gilbert Likando, and John Mushaandja. 2010. Access and quality dilemma in education: Implication for Namibia Vision 2030. RIHE Journal 7: 101–111. http://en.rihe.hiroshima-u.ac.jp/. Accessed, 10 April 2017.Google Scholar
  2. Likando, N. Gilbert, and Charl Wolhuter. 2013. Namibia. An overview of system reform. In Education in Southern Africa, ed. Clive Harber. London: Bloomsbury. accessed April, 10, 2017, http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/education-in-southern-africa-9781441171498.Google Scholar
  3. Matengu, Kenneth, Gilbert Likando, and Bennett Kangumu. 2014. Governance and coordination of higher education system in Namibia: Challenges and prospects. Forum for International Research in Education (FIRE) Journal. 1 (2): 83–96. http://preserve.lehigh.edu/fire/vol1/iss2/4. Accessed, 25 Apr 2017.Google Scholar
  4. Namibia Qualification Authority, (NQA). 2014. Namibian Institutions and their Programmes Accredited by the Namibia Qualifications Authority. http://www.namqa.org/files/files/Namibian%20Institutions%20and%20their%20programmes%20Accredited%20by%20the%20Namibia.pdf. Accesssed 14 May 2017.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lazarus Hangula
    • 1
  • Kenneth Kamwi Matengu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gilbert Likando
    • 1
  • Rachel N. Shanyanana
    • 1
  1. 1.University of NamibiaWindhoekNamibia