Growing Pains (AMSEN)


A brand new Faculty of Engineering at the University of Namibia (UNAM) will provide a professional home for at least three students pursuing MSc degrees through AMSEN.

After he receives his degree, Odilon Ilunga, who is doing his research in the analysis and refinement of Namibian copper ore, plans to divide his time between employment in the copper industry and teaching at UNAM.

Lloyd Nyemba, a Zimbabwean national, also has an academic job waiting for him at UNAM – although if conditions improve in his home country and he chooses to return to Zimbabwe, “it would not be a loss to the project,” according to his co-supervisor, Frank Kavishe. Professor Kavishe, who heads the UNAM-based AMSEN secretariat, explains that the network aims to build capacity throughout the SADC region.

A native of Namibia, William Nashidengo will begin his studies in January at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where he will learn the fundamentals that underpin his project in corrosion control along the Namibian coast. At Wits, he also will have access to sophisticated equipment unavailable to him in Namibia. He will undertake his second year of study at UNAM, and when he finishes he too will have a job there.

Although employment awaits these students at the completion of their MSc’s, all three hope to continue their studies through AMSEN and earn their PhD’s before taking up their academic posts. Prof. Kavishe is eager to give them the opportunity, should funding continue to be available through RISE.

Professor Kavishe is a busy man. In addition to teaching and supervising students and running the AMSEN secretariat, he is spearheading the establishment of his university’s new Faculty of Engineering. To complicate the task, UNAM’s main campus, home of the former engineering department, is in Windhoek, while the new faculty is located in Ongwediva, 720 kilometers to the north. Prof. Kavishe divides his time between the two campuses, flying back and forth weekly. He works with engineering students and oversees development of the new faculty in Ongwediva, and teaches pre-engineering students and tends to administrative matters in Windhoek.

In many ways, Ongwediva seems to be an ideal site for UNAM’s expansion. The town council, hoping to turn Ongwediva into a “university city of the future,” has offered generous incentives, including free land, to educational institutions to open campuses there, and many are doing so. UNAM’s Faculty of Engineering will be one of six components of a Center for the Built Environment, with architecture, town planning, and other related faculties to be phased in over the next decade. The Government of India is funding buildings and equipment for two departments – computer engineering and information technology, and mining engineering – and will provide visiting faculty. Located 25 kilometers from an airport, Ongwediva is not difficult to reach.

But there’s a problem, a rather serious one for an institution meant to serve as a regional research facility and as the coordinating hub of a regional network. The 60 computer users – staff and students – in the Faculty of Engineering in Ongwediva are linked to the outside world via a single 256K connection to UNAM’s Windhoek campus. As a consequence, simple text emails sometimes take several days to reach their destinations, if they arrive at all, and it is impossible to transmit attachments. The internet is almost inaccessible. Bandwidth is available, but the cost is prohibitive; UNAM pays 3,000 Namibian dollars (US$380) per month for 256K. There are plans to increase the bandwidth to1MB in December or January and 2MB in the coming year, but this will clearly be inadequate even for basic communication, much less for accessing on-line research resources.

Prof. Kavishe hopes the Indian government’s support for an IT department will include funding for bandwidth or for satellite equipment, which after an initial large investment would make internet access more affordable. Until then, he tends to his responsibilities as a network coordinator when he is in Windhoek – or he uses the telephone.

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