May 15, 2009

A signature trademark of Polytechnics is the bullying of academics at all levels...

Dear Editor,

I recently found an article on the merits of the Polytechnic becoming a University, see website which stated the case against the Polytechnic becoming a University very clearly (although I have some reservations with respect to part of the content). I would add my voice and concerns to those of that author.

Primarily, a University is a place of Higher Education which extols the following values:
• High academic achievement
• Ethical and moral leadership in the academic field
• The value of learning and research to society

To demonstrate the above, a University must clearly show that it behaves in a manner which supports those values. I will show, through several examples, how the Polytechnic, primarily due to lack of senior leadership, fails in all three areas.

It is inexcusable for an institution to claim for itself the title of University or University of Applied Science without justification and without approval.

It is insufficient for an institution to proclaim high academic achievement without proof. No amount of speeches by the Rector nor spurious claims to already being a University of Applied Science can make it so.

For example, in the School of Information Technology (IT), the curriculum owes little to Computer Science and therefore can ‘apply’ little. Practice and profession in the institute are what counts.

Demonstration by example and not by personal ego and photo opportunity are required.

High academic achievement can only come from the efforts of a well qualified and highly motivated staff coupled with capable students who can be nurtured towards a higher level of understanding of their chosen subjects. The nature and style of teaching and learning changes with the higher levels of academic acheivement. In the final undergraduate year, self study and high levels of personal motivation are required; at Masters level we must insist on the individual student seeking ‘new knowledge’ so that the academic staff become guides and no longer ‘givers of facts’.

When the staff themselves do not have this experience and the executive fail to support such approaches to learning and understanding, then improvement towards true University status will not occur. Yes, there are some very good students in the Polytechnic but they are ill-served currently. Yes, there are many excellent academic staff willing to help the students although they are hindered at every turn.

A signature trademark of the Polytechnic is the bullying of academics at all levels by the executive and self-interest groups which is preventing high academic achievement. Staff become afraid to innovate, afraid to challenge the status quo, afraid to advocate change and afraid to address known poor behaviour by students.

If we take the School of IT as an example, how can it produce masters students/graduates when those staff with relevant MSc’s or their equivalent (an absolute minimum qualification at this level) are not allowed to function and teach at that level? How can a Masters programme exist when there are no PhDs in the relevant field capable of supporting it within the school?
How can genuinely senior and experienced staff function when they must report to the inexperienced self-interest group of expatriate non-Africans who dominate the running of the school?

If we look at the composition of the controlling group within the School of IT at the beginning of the year, there was one staff member with a Doctorate which has more claim to social science than IT, two German members of staff who are not qualified to be lecturers by virtue of their lack of a Masters qualification and any experience of teaching in a University external to Namibia. How did they get their work visas? How were their contracts renewed over qualified Namibians?

Two other Germans do not have qualifications in the IT field (this is true of a further member of the IT staff). Yet despite these abysmal qualifications (that lack relevance to the field of IT and to the school of IT at the higher levels of academic challenge) they are allowed to produce a failing Masters programme and talk of introducing Doctoral study. This is not the way to raise academic standards among the students.

However, it is the way to become a laughing stock in the eyes of the academic world. What use is such a PhD to a Namibian or the aspirations of Namibia? This situation cannot be remedied as long as the Rector shows favour to such a group against the advice of those with greater real experience of academia and management of Universities across the globe.

The Polytechnic does not value such people and this is clearly demonstrated by its apparent belief that there is no need for an Academic Vice Rector to replace those forced out by the inappropriate behaviour of senior administrators and the Rector towards them.

Ethical and moral leadership cannot be demonstrated by words alone. Promotions are sought and given to members of self-interest groups regardless of qualification backed by experience.

Why can an African lecturer with years of experience be denied a senior lecturer post because he does not have a PhD, yet a German without a Masters degree or experience beyond that in the school of IT is campaigned for vigorously by his equally poorly qualified friends? Work permits are regularly obtained for the unqualified yet they are not forthcoming in a timely manner for the honest majority.

Posts are given to people who have lied about the level and nature of their qualifications without due process, contracts are renewed on the same basis. These may be matters for the Anti-Corruption Commission but they also fully demonstrate a lack of propriety and ethical behaviour at the highest level in the Polytechnic which is not appropriate to a University.

Much damage is done to the structure and organisation of academic life by the executives’ open-door policy towards dissidents, trouble-makers and self-interest groups who bypass the lines of supervisory responsibility.

The Rector and the leading administrators must stop allowing audiences to, and accepting accusatory letters from, the unethical schemers behind tales of wrongdoing and malicious gossip whilst denying the poor ‘’accused’’ the opportunity to defend themselves.

These fish-wives are only interested in their own self-advancement and that of their friends. On the grounds of ethical and moral leadership in the administrative field and some academic areas, the Polytechnic fails miserably.

The value of learning and research to society is one of those imponderables which is so beset by the supporters of ‘self-evident truths’ as to be almost impossible to accurately quantify.

However, the Polytechnic must demonstrate it believes in such values if it wishes to become a University. Rigorous standards must be maintained by the academics who should be supported in their efforts by the administrators.

Academics must be led academically by the Professors and not by the poorly qualified committee structure currently favoured by the senior administrators.

Professors /Directors must be allowed to lead academically and not find themselves abused and forced to report through unqualified staff and subject to the whims of self-interest groups. Senior administrators who condone student poor behaviour, eg, plagiarism, are sending a clear message to the student about the value of their qualification. Anyone can ‘’cut and paste’’ from Google, whereas it takes true intellectual merit to make a voyage of discovery in science based on your own efforts. The Polytechnic needs to put in place real academic quality standards through an Academic Vice Rector’s office and not through the administration if it is to achieve University standards in this area.

I have shown only a few of the problems with changing the name of the Polytechnic to a University as a way of highlighting major deficiencies, but perhaps the greatest argument against this is the Rector’s own doubts.

Why did he last year bring in from the USA staff from an institution recently granted University status to show the Polytechnic how to become a University, if he genuinely believes that he already runs a University? The drive for a name change has nothing to offer the nation of Namibia and is simply based on the self-interest of a few.

Namibia has two Universities, leave the higher level degrees to them and focus on improving the general standard of education at the levels a Polytechnic was established for.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ethical and moral leadership cannot be demonstrated by words alone.

My quote from the article

Aphra Behn