Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Authorities being diplomatic about Prof Fako’s criticism of it

It was clear what and whom the former University of Botswana Vice Chancellor, Professor Thabo Fako, was talking about when he said that the “university” title should be legally protected.

The occasion was the official opening of the UB’s gymnasium and speaking at the event, Fako called on members of parliament to protect the “university” title such that not every supposed institution of higher learning can call itself a university. Until not too long ago, UB was the only university in Botswana but with the entry of the private sector into the higher education business, the country now has at least three more universities and many more university colleges. At the time, Sunday Standard quoted Fako as saying that institutions “must go through stringent processes to allow them to use the title ‘university’ and the state must jealously guard against the use of the title ‘university’ and ensure that it is reserved for the most rigorous exercise of the mind on big questions of national and global importance.”

Fako’s concerns have been expressed by other people, members of parliament included. In the past session of parliament, the Gaborone North MP, Haskins Nkaigwa said that of all the misfortune that could have been visited upon him, being a student at the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology would have been the worst imaginable. He was on the floor debating the 2017/18 budget allocation to the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology and felt the need to tell his colleagues how lucky he is to have gone to UB.

“We are so proud of that university and I feel very proud to be a graduate of that university rather than having studied at Limkokwing. That could have really broken my heart,” said Nkaigwa who graduated from UB in 2001 with a bachelor degree in business administration.

He was reacting to a question-comment by the Gaborone Central MP, Dr. Phenyo Butale, who sought clarification on whether as a public university, UB should be treated like private tertiary education institutions “that are in business.” The two MPs were echoing sentiments held by some that the government is handsomely rewarding private tertiary education institutions for providing substandard education.

The “university” title is conferred upon these institutions by the Botswana Qualifications Authority and in a diplomatic way, Fako was basically saying that the Authority is doling out the “university” title to institutions that don’t make the grade. Naturally, this raises the question (which Sunday Standard put to BQA) of whether the Authority is confident that all Botswana tertiary education institutions (especially private ones) that use the “university” title are good enough to deserve it. The response from the Communications and Public Relations Manager, Selwana Pilatwe-Koppenhaver, is that the criteria on registration and accreditation of Education and Training Providers (ETPs) sets norms and standards for categories of providers.

“An ETP has to meet the set standards and norms to qualify as either a college, university or any other category. The application to be a university is informed by validating the ETP against the set norms and standards,” she says.

However, if there was ever any laxity in the past, the situation may be about to change. Pilatwe-Koppenhaver reveals that ETPs that use university “were granted the university status as per the norms and standards that existed then and they will have to satisfy the current norms and standards to maintain the status.”


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