Wednesday, July 17, 2024

A coherent plan needed to save University of Botswana from predatory pretenders

The University of Botswana faces the biggest existential challenge since it was established from scratch with neither resources nor manpower over a generation ago.

Ironically, this biggest challenge to the University of Botswana is aided and abetted by people who ordinarily should be on the side of the university.

These are senior Government officials and their political masters.

There is no point denying that the University of Botswana needs to reform and make efforts to stay relevant.

The needed reforms include making the curriculum relevant to international trends in human resource dynamics. There is also an imperative to look at coming up with ways to attract and retain top notch academics and researchers at a time when competition for these is high and resources needed are at their lowest.

Admittedly, like many other institutions in the country University of Botswana has had to contend with glaring deficit in leadership. This applies to both the top as well as middle leadership.

The arrival of competition in the form of locally based, privately owned tertiary institutions has also meant that the hegemony of the University of Botswana has for the first time been tested.

But the biggest challenge to University of Botswana has come from political corruption.

This has happened in the form of tuition fees that are now being artificially channeled towards privately owned colleges while deliberately starving the University of Botswana.

This has gone to the core of even testing the long term efficacy of what is in all pragmatic terms the only university in the country.

Government officials, clearly taking instructions from their political masters have been capricious and manipulative in their disbursement of tuition fees.

Over the recent years we have seen private colleges that have no claim to being colleges enjoying excessive patronage in the form of government sponsored students.

There is now ample evidence that suggests some of the money ends up lining the pockets of these political elite, a thing that could not happen had the money been sent to finance students at the University of Botswana.

This drives us to believe that the only reason why officials always seem eager to prop up some of these fly-by-night bush colleges against the University of Botswana is for pure venal reasons.

The upshot of this uneven treatment has been a development of widespread malaise at this once flagship institution.

The University of Botswana has terribly weakened against its global peers.

Its ability to attract top academics has declined to unprecedented levels.

So too has output and quality of research, publishing and indeed teaching by its academics.

The University of Botswana is under siege.

Where in the past there were ample research resources, those too have declined, thereby hampering the quality of outcome but also the enthusiasm among both the lecturers and indeed their students.

People who ideally should not be sitting on its Council are now there ÔÇô calling the shots simply on account of their connections to the political elite who while instinctively contemptuous of the academia, are by their positions the appointing authority.

This should be reversed.

But the starting point should be saving the university from the predatory pretenders that are often the beneficiaries of the tendency to overlook the University of Botswana.

University of Botswana should never be treated the same way like private colleges when it comes to financing under some vague pretence of fairness and objectivity.

That is unwise and possibly illegal.

The University of Botswana is the backbone of the country’s education system.

And that should be reflected in the treatment it receives from Government when it comes to student tuition.

A weak University of Botswana spells a weak education system for Botswana.

Other than make millions for their owners and other political benefactors, private colleges in Botswana are in no way ready to act as substitutes for the University of Botswana.

Many of them cannot even afford to hire and pay a researcher with a doctorate.

Few of them have anything resembling a library.

And even fewer of them have a structure that looks like a science lab.

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