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Director reject 'bogus college' claims

November 11, 2008
Nangula Shejavali
The Namibian

THE Executive Chairman of the Higher Learning International Centre (HLIC), Alexander P Castanheira, has denied allegations of running a "bogus college", as reported in a weekly newspaper, despite a mound of evidence against him, including an arrest by immigration officials last week, and documentation from students at the college.

BOGUS COLLEGE? On Wednesday last week, the Legal Assistance Centre, acting on behalf of 14 Zimbabwean students, issued a summons against Rachiel S and Alexander P Castanheira for N$141 000 in fees and rent paid to HLIC.

Mr Castanheira serves as the Executive Chairman and Registrar of the Centre, Mrs Castanheira as the Director, and their children, who recently returned to Zimbabwe, are purported to have been the receptionists at the college.

The students claim that the Centre had been falsely advertised to them when they were recruited from Zimbabwe, as a grandiose operation with a sprawling campus and departments located throughout the city.

At its inception, the centre attracted about 40 registered students, but this has since dwindled to a handful, with fewer than 20 students, mostly Zimbabwean, remaining.

Students claim to have never received a prospectus or student guide, claiming that rules and regulations, particularly where money was concerned, were constructed as complaints were raised.

Upon arrival in Windhoek after having to register in Botswana, students found that when lectures finally began following a three-week orientation, they were placed in two offices lacking sufficient furniture to seat all students, leaving them to sit on the floor.

Furthermore, the students allege that the college, which boasted three faculties - Beauty Therapy, Hospitality Management, and Art and Design - only has two "under-qualified" lecturers teaching subjects in all three departments.

For the graphic design students, working with only two computers for the entire class was a challenge; and the students feel they learnt nothing during their time at the HLIC, despite paying fees in excess of those of recognised and accredited institutions, including the University of Namibia and the Polytechnic.

Foreign students claim they were also forced to live in 'college accommodation', paying N$1 300 each to share a room with two or three others in a prefabricated building in Windhoek North.

They claim each room should only have gone for N$600.

Castanheira is said to have stated that it was a Home Affairs requirement for them to remain in 'college accommodation', and when some left this accommodation, they were allegedly threatened with deportation.

Namibian students were not compelled to live in the 'college accommodation', but agree that the quality of the centre and its lectures left a great deal to be desired.

NQA ACCREDITATION The HLIC is not registered with the Namibia Qualifications Authority (NQA), but according to NQA director Frantz Gertze, it has applied for accreditation.

At the time The Namibian spoke to him, its application was still under review.

Gertze admitted that institutions are "unfortunately" allowed to teach classes for degree programmes without NQA accreditation, adding that "the NQA encourages students to find out whether an institution is accredited first in order to avoid enrolling in (fraudulent) institutions."

IMMIGRATION WOES The Castanheiras were arrested by immigration officers last Monday, on charges of working without a work permit and aiding the presence of illegal immigrants in the country.

In terms of aiding the presence of illegal immigrants, the two are said to have instructed Zimbabwean students to enter Namibia on visitors' permits, despite their plans to study in the country.

The Castanheiras allegedly charged students what they called a "SADC fee" of N$1 000 each.

Moreover, the students' passports were withheld from them from July until the time of the Castanheiras' arrest, under the pretext that they were having study permits issued, for which each student had to fork out more than N$2 000.

Whenever they raised concerns, students were threatened with deportation.

The Namibian has a copy of one such letter in its possession.

Because the students themselves reported the case to Immigration fearing that the Castanheiras would flee the country with their passports, they were not arrested, and are being assisted by the Zimbabwean High Commission in having their immigration woes sorted out.

Their passports are currently in the possession of Immigration.

The Castanheiras were released on Thursday afternoon, but according to Nehemiah Nghishekwa, Deputy Director for Immigration and Border Control at the Ministry of Home Affairs, he was unaware of Immigration issuing a warrant for their release.

"I have no information on why they were released, and their release should have been authorised by an immigration official through a warrant of release," he said.

Under immigration procedures, people arrested by Immigration may only be released by Immigration and not by the Police station, as was done in this case.

Both the Windhoek Police Station Commander and Immigration are looking into the matter.

CASTANHEIRA'S DEFENCE In a telephone conversation with Mr Castanheira on Friday, he told The Namibian that Immigration did not have any evidence against him and his wife, thus resulting in their release.

Further, "the accusations reported against us in the Informanté newspaper were all false.

We don't even have a single Malawian student at the Centre."

Asked about the students' complaints, Castanheira said: "Those are all lies.

The same students that are complaining are the ones that haven't being paying their fees."

He also claimed that he had not received a summons from the LAC.

He added that he and his wife are reputable professionals.

"We have 11 years of experience in university education; we work in partnership with Unisa [the University of South Africa], and have over 1 600 students at our college (the Higher Learning Centre) in Zimbabwe."

Khomotso Mabusela, Unisa's Collaboration Agreements Co-ordinator, confirmed that the institution has a partnership with Castanheira's Higher Learning Centre in Zimbabwe, but emphasised that "we do not allow institutions in one country to spread their function outside their borders.

When we approve a regional partnership, a contract sets the parameters of that partnership, and institutions are then given a licence to operate in that area."

She added that in Namibia, only NamCol and Unam are registered as Unisa partners.

A call to the centre in Zimbabwe only revealed surprise at being contacted, confirmation that its Director, Mr Castanheira, is in Namibia, and a request to e-mail any further questions to the centre.

Castanheira on Friday said he and his wife would be consulting their lawyers, and would get back to The Namibian to set the record straight.

WHAT NEXT? This instance is not the first of its kind to have happened in Namibia, and much remains to be seen in the imminent showdown between the students and the Castanheira couple, who have yet to respond to the LAC's summons.

In the meantime, students and policymakers alike can draw lessons from this case, in ensuring that the eagerness to learn and the weak bargaining position of students is not taken advantage of for personal gain.



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