Assignment report of Beat Gerber, Science Communication expert assigned by the NGO "B360 - education partnerships" Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), Windhoek October 26 - November 13, 2015
SHARPENING THE PROFILE OF THE NEWBORN UNIVERSITY
How does the worldwide youngest university want be seen from the outside? By prospective students and lecturers, by industry, politics and the population? What messages convince these stakeholders? What are the greatest successes in the last years? The biggest challenges and barriers to overcome? What are the key changes needed in the near future?
These questions shaped the thematic frame for eight brainstorming sessions which I designed and moderated. Each School with its Dean and Heads of Departments, the Centres with their Directors, and the members of the Student Representative Council were lively participants. For what purpose? The Polytechnic of Namibia was newly renamed as Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). This transition is a great opportunity for enhancing the corporate profile. Or with the words of the Rector (now: Vice-Chancellor), Prof Tjama Tjivikua: “New wine should be fermented for a new bottle.” The sharpened profile will highlight the assets and strengths of the emerging university and underline its uniqueness, so that public visibility and academic recognition will increase on regional and international level.
Moderated brainstorming sessions form an important element in the development process for the updated profile. The participants spontaneously bring in their ideas and comments according to a thematic frame. Based on this broad input, the NUST profile can be crystallised and shaped. The eight 2-hour-sessions generated a huge amount of valuable information (written down on 53 flip chart sheets).
Multifaceted results, but unique picture The results are quite multifaceted; every School has its own focus, each Centre its specific needs. However, the new university as a whole reveals its unique picture, not all over quite sharp, perfected and fully developed, but with a lot of promising potential. What are the essential characteristics that distinguish the university from other tertiary education institutions?
NUST is young and agile, student-centred and career-oriented. It educates highly qualified experts, critical and creative thinkers, and solution-oriented leaders. The new university contributes to the National Agenda’s solutions, the economy’s development and to the community’s relevant tasks. It aspires to top academic quality, a multidisciplinary approach, and to be the university of choice in Africa. But NUST is also challenged by inadequate subsidies (institutional fundraising initiative needed), lacking facilities and devices (offices, labs, computers, canteen, cafeterias, accommodation for students, sports grounds) and by lecturers’ work overload (i.e. enhancing career development, staff retention).
The gained information is just the start to pursue the profiling process. However, the new university cannot avoid concrete actions and measures. In any case, the students strongly request tangible results from the transformation process. They wish for a university of quality rather than of quantity.
Assignment Report of Beat Gerber, Science Communication Expert assigned by the NGO "B360 - education partnerships" Polytechnic of Namibia, Windhoek; April 10 - May 1, 2015
SHOWCASING SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
It was a stimulating 4-hour workshop, with a lot of laughter, curiosity, knowledge exchange, with many questions and remarks. The future mining engineers, all of them bachelor students, were full of life, humorous and self-confident. And almost half of them were women. The mining industry is Namibia's economic engine and feeds the coffers of the state and a (still minor) part of the population. Interesting work and the prospect of well-paid jobs are the motivation to study in this field.
However, my workshop with 25 students was not about the extraction of diamonds, uranium or gold, but about science communication. The Department of Mining and Process Engineering, within the School of Engineering, considers public relations to be important and is taking a forerunner role at the Polytechnic in this area. The department presents itself by means of an attractive flyer and informs the stakeholders through a periodical newsletter about its activities.
Deep gap between population and science Especially in Africa, the gap between the population and the scientific community is very deep. On the other hand, society cannot take advantage of the medical, scientific and technological results generated at universities and other academic institutions, if this knowledge is not being disseminated widely.
For this reason, the workshop wants to increase the awareness that scientists and engineers have to explain their work to the general public more frequently. The tools needed for this task are exlained to the participants, such as different information products, interview techniques and concrete hints for optimal science writing. Moreover, practical exercises linked to the engineering study are built in.
The tailor-made education module was realized also for the lecturers of the School of Engineering (SOE). Dean Dr Samuel John formulated the motivation for this initiative as follows: "Actually, the public outside of our School is short of information about what we are doing here to support the national development goals."
The pilot workshop was welcomed as well at the School of Health and Applied Sciences (SHAS) where 40 students (4th year) and 25 lecturers participated. The event has already boosted some projects at the SHAS, for instance the launch of an electronic newsletter and the participation on Facebook. The lecturers are even considering starting a science blog in the near future.