Taking NUST to greater heights

HAVING been confronted by many challenges due to Covid-19, the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) Vice Chancellor Dr Erold Naomab has however managed to transform the institution to greater heights in his first 100 days in office.

In this view Confidente’s reporter Tracy Tafirenyika (TT) interviewed Dr Naomab (EN) on a wide array of issues critical to the innovations and progress of the institution. Dr Naomab also availed that, they have managed to launch nine new projects with a combined value of around N$240m during his 100 days in the office at the helm of NUST.

(TT): How would you describe your first 100 days in the office at the helm of NUST?

(EN): My 100 days in the office at the helm of NUST have been highly successful, there are a number of significant milestones we have achieved. First of all as you are aware that NUST had been without a substantive Vice Chancellor for a number of years, it was absolutely necessary within the first 100 days that l was in the office to lead the institution such as NUST.

It was highly important for me to lead during the advent and the destructive nature of Covid-19, although it had implications on our operations. For example when l arrived at NUST we were still doing the 2020 academic year in 2021 that was not completed due to Covid-19. There was a backlog for 2020 to deal with in the 2021 academic year and that had a very bad impact on the start of our 2021 academic year. So it was therefore necessary to lead the EXCO in turning the institution to a normally used academic calendar that was one of the first successes of my first 100 days at NUST. We returned NUST to a normal academic year.

Furthermore it was absolutely critical during my 100 days to strengthen the governance, management and leadership of NUST, particularly because we are the only science and technology university in Namibia. We had to do so that we could restore and uphold the institutional values that govern our institution and it has been very successful in the first 100 days.

We managed to get everyone on board including governenment as the main shareholder, Council, EXCO, Student leaders, stakeholders and development partners and this resulted in assigning agreements. Some of the agreements that we have signed includes signing agreement with the Student Representative Council (SRC), and various others such as Government ministries, offices agencies including Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA), Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) and many more.

We assured commitment with our development partners and also formed new relationships with new partners and the outcome of that was that we raised funds for the university towards student support, towards research projects and in these first 100 days we launched nine new projects, the combined value of these projects being roughly N$240m and directly as NUST we are operating N$64m of this that includes the new HTTPS.

(TT):  What have been the challenges in delivering your mandate in the first 100 days?

(EN): The first 100 days have been highly successful, l would highlight two main challenges that l experienced in the first 100 days, first of all Covid-19 remains the key challenge. The second one that is more distinguished to Nust is that it was absolutely necessary to reposition NUST strategically as a Science and Technology University and therefore we had to make sure that the first strategic plan for NUST was to build on a strong foundation that can illustrate the leadership that will bring NUST in line with the definition of a science and technology university.

The main challenge was therefore to revise the strategic plan and ensure that it is in sync with a science and technology university. We have been dealing with this challenge in order to make sure that we create NUST’s right size, shape and identity.

(TT): During interviews for your current position, you made a strong case for harnessing the rewards of the fourth industrial revolution to improve the status of NUST. Now that you are in office, how are you seeking to achieve this goal?

(EN): We already had a breakthrough regarding my first 100 days in the office. The breakthrough was to harness the fourth industrial revolution. We have recently inaugurated the first of its kind that is called the HTTPS. This is a joint thought leadership between NUST and MTC and we have done so on the understanding that one cannot undertake harnessing the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on our own. Therefore one needs a functional ecosystem, and the HTTPS is an ecosystem that is premised to bring all the confluence of all the fourth IR technologies together under one physical and virtual platform and therefore immerse the engagement between academia, the private sector, start-ups, development partners and entrepreneurs so that we can through that harness the potential of the fourth industrial revolution

(TT): The recently unveiled HTTPS is a step in the right direction. Kindly share what this innovation will bring to NUST?

(EN): This is a technological inspired ecosystem, it did not exist before in Namibia and therefore holds a lot of promise that still needs to be showcased, but the whole idea is to enhance the competitiveness of our industries whether you are in the sector of agriculture, mining, architecture or even in production. We want to make sure that there is a space where trans-disciplinary research is, co-creation, co-development and co-working can happen so that we accelerate the rate at which we transfer technology and infuse technology-led innovation within our industry.

That is what we believe in, because we are concentrating on technologies that we will

be able to push out innovations in a much faster way and on a much bigger scale for Namibia. With HTTPS we have our development partners GIZ, MTC, NUST and others who are still in the pipeline to join this ecosystem but it has been already a fruitful venture.

(TT):Academically, what new programmes and innovations can we expect to be introduced in your tenure? Also discuss how these will improve the ratings of the institution in comparison to other regional and continental academic institutions.

(EN): The important aspect to understand is that,  from a global perspective in academia the standards with which we are being evaluated and rated is vastly different depending on where we want to be positioned. But if you look at global standards such as the Times Higher Global Rankings that ranks the world’s best universities, there are three main focal areas, that is with respect to teaching and learing, the research and innovation and development and finally industry engagement. so it means that when we look at NUST it is so prudent in our strategic thinking that we have built in these elements so that we are able to meet the potential of ranking, not necessarily to be ranked, but to at least have the potential to be ranked. this has been our focus, as I referred to laying down the proper foundation of our institution to ensure that we are the right size and shape as an institution. This means that we have made sure that first of all the proportionality in terms of how we focus on teaching and learning vis-a-vie our research focus, we had to adjust that a little bit. In the past we were a teaching focused institution. Now with our new strategic thinking we are a research, innovation, development and industry-oriented institution. and that transition is what we believe will help us to achieve not only the ranking potential but at least some kind of ranking.

(TT): The recruitment of a registrar has also stalled. What is being done to ensure that a substantive registrar will be appointed soon?

(EN): The recruitment in higher education is a process we undertake, but one thing that l am proud of and confident about is that at NUST we have highly competent staff members and whenever there is vacancy we can call on our internal capability to step into the vacancy rankings and therefore we don’t necessarily feel a void in leadership because we have competent staff members that we can utilise.

At the moment we have a very competent acting Registrar , in place, nonetheless we are looking forward to fill in the vacancies not only that of the registrar but of others as well. As you are aware we have also advertised the position of the deputy vice chancellor for finance and administration.

(TT): How has been your relationship with the council and what support has it offered you in the beginning of your tenure?

(EN):  I am very fortunate that l have come on board with such a highly experienced and

highly competent Council at the university. The NUST council that is presiding over the University has been very supportive in allowing me to settle in into my tenure and also to ensure that the institution is cohesively working together diligently. We want to make sure that working together with an impeccable resolve NUST is governed prudently

l am very happy that l came into this place at a time when the institution is having a competent and experienced council. They have been quite supportive.

(TT): Holistically, what do you hope to achieve at the end of your five-year tenure?

(EN): We have a shared vision in this regard and this shared vision carries the interest of the shareholder, government, and it carries the stakeholder imperatives, our students are of primary importance to us, and this vision is encapsulated in the strategic plan of NUST. My success in five years will be predicated on the successful implentaiton of the strategic plan. This vision is within the strategic plan of Nust. The most important thing is the successful implementation of the strategic plan so that we can move the institution in light with this shared vision. My success in five years will be simply on the successful implementation of the strategic plan and that remains my focus.