Bogus universities, a menace to Namibian higher education sector
Windhoek- Diploma mills, as unaccredited universities are informally called, is a global scourge that authorities have for many years tried to root out, but with little success.
These bogus tertiary institutions mostly privately owned or fly-by-night colleges as they are known in Namibia continue to flourish, duping desperate students by offering them worthless diplomas.
Thousands of students in Namibia, who fail to enrol at the two public institutions – the University of Namibia and the Polytechnic of Namibia, or government vocational training colleges, flock to unaccredited institutions of higher learning.
This trend continues despite repeated calls by government for students to be wary of unaccredited institutions.
The Namibian Qualifications Authority (NQA) has been urging potential students to first verify the accreditation of private institutions of higher learning before enrolling.
The qualification authority has been warning students to avoid falling victim, wasting their time and money on qualifications that won’t be recognised anywhere in the world.
The NQA is an independent, constitutional body with the mandate to accredit person, institutions and organisations providing education services in Namibia.
In interview with The Southern Times, the NQA Chief Executive, Franz Gertze noted that the issue of bogus institutions was not unique to Namibia.
He said it is a global challenge, “which may be exacerbated by the increasing link between qualifications and promise of a better life through employment”.
Gertze has cautioned prospective students not to be misled “by certain institutions that spend thousands of dollars advertising on radio and full page adverts in newspapers while, offering unregistered qualifications that are not even worth the paper they are printed on.
“As we are about to enter the critical phase of academic registration for 2015, many of these illegal operators will advertise themselves to attract more students. Namibians are urged to guard against these unscrupulous institutions,” he said.
The problem is not confined to students inside the country. Gertze noted that those aspiring to study at foreign institutions abroad are also at risk of falling into the trap of bogus institutions. And the only sure way to avoid such eventualities is to verify the legal status of the institution and its programmes prior to enrolment, he said.
The qualification authority has intensified its battle against bogus institutions of higher learning and has warned of heavy consequences for those contravening the law.
Getze emphasised that the regulation of the education sector in Namibia is done in accordance with the relevant legislations that owners of unaccredited colleges will not only be exposed, but will be prosecuted.
“They will feel the full wrath of the law. There are critical consequences associated with the operation of bogus institutions. Primarily, these institutions mislead people into spending their hard earned money and time studying for worthless qualifications which will never be recognized anywhere in the world,” he said.
Late last year, Education Minister David Namwandi came out with guns blazing against fake universities following the arrest by Namibian Police of more than 23 young people for possessing fake qualifications that were issued by bogus colleges in Zimbabwe.
According to media reports, some have used fake qualifications to join the Namibian Defence Force (NDF), while others have gained admission to tertiary institution’s including the University of Namibia, the Polytechnic of Namibia and the College of the Arts.
This has prompted the education minister to issue a directive to the Namibian Qualifications Authority, Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) and the National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) to scrutinise all qualifications.
Colleges like the Azalia College, Bema College and Anvil College were shut down by the NQA for contravening the law a few years ago and Gertze promised that the same fate will befall others who are disregarding the procedures.
The NQA chief executive has appealed to institutions that are operating illegally to apply for accreditation, and have all their programmes registered with the regulation authority.
Gertze described the practice as a ‘win- win situation’ for all parties involved, saying that “the registered institutions achieves status of good standing and operates legally which will inspire public trust and confidence in its programmes and peace of mind for students”.
For the qualifications authority to grant accreditation, the applicant has to meet specific requirements including capacity to provide specific courses and have clear measurable goals and objectives supported by relevant stakeholders.
Other key issues that the NQA Council looks at are whether the institution employs appropriately qualified staff, has designed relevant courses and study materials and provides appropriate facilities and resources for students.
At the moment, NQA does not have a list of unaccredited colleges in Namibia. “The challenge with bogus institutions is that they operate in the shadows. These institutions can crop up anywhere in the country, and unfortunately due to limited resources, the NQA cannot place watchmen in every town to look out for these elements,” he said. He explained that the qualifications authority grants accreditation to institutions that applied and have met the requirements as stipulated by the NQA Act (29 of 1996), which make it difficult to determine the number of institutions offering unaccredited programmes.
Official records indicate that currently, there are 34 accredited institutions of higher learning in Namibia, with the NQA accrediting on average 10 training providers annually. Every accreditation lapses after 3 years as per provisions of the Act.
Gertze said their success strongly depend on public assistance by not enrolling at any institution before they have verified its accreditation status with the NQA.
“In essence, every member of the society be it a student, parent or community leader should be watchmen for the NQA. When they contact us for accreditation status verification, we will be able to act against these bogus institutions,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Namibian Qualifications Authority has decided to release to the public a list of all accredited institutions of high leaning in Namibia on a quarterly basis.
In addition, the authority is rolling out an aggressive public awareness programme using both the mainstream and social media across the country.