On January 19, 2024 a bizarre official communication was dispatched from BIUST (Botswana International University of Science and Technology) to students and staff.
Part of it read like this, “the BIUST Senate Executive met on the 19th of January 2024 and approved that : 1. All first year students will proceed to second Semester irrespective of their Semester academic standing.
2. The pre-requisites will be waived to allow first year students to take second Semester modules
3. The University takes first year student retention seriously and makes this decision in an effort to improve first year student retention.”
The letter which was signed by Patience Khuwa. Acting Senate Secretary was copied to the university Vice Chancellor and the Deputy Vice Chancellor.
When we got hold of this communication, as the Sunday Standard the first thing we did was to establish its authenticity.
After doing so positively we reported on it.
A few reasons informed our decision to report on it.
Firstly in our view the matter being communicated by the letter is of public interest with far reaching consequences.
Secondly, such a matter has a huge bearing not only on BIUST, its reputation and even long term viability, but also on the overall qualifications offered by the Botswana education system.
We also felt very strongly that together with the public, an institution like the Botswana Qualification Authority needed to see the communication so that we could get a public discussion going around the matter.
It is our considered view that what the BIUST Senate Executive did is unethical, illegal and possibly criminal.
Their letter does not provide context or explanation why BIUST would find it fit and acceptable to “allow all first year students to proceed irrespective of their Semester academic standing.”
BIUST does also not say how many students would be beneficiaries of the said decision.
Allowing students that have not met the set threshold to proceed cannot be an easy thing that is thrown under the carpet. Yet that is what BIUST are saying they had expected from Sunday Standard.
When BIUST was created, it was made clear at the time that the future of the university was predicated on attracting foreign students and also post graduate students.
That set a high bar because it meant that the university needed to work on molding a world-wide reputation of academic excellence.
It is public knowledge that Botswana government has been cutting down on the subvention paid to tertiary education institutions.
Pressure is on for these universities to establish new streams of cash so that they could sustain themselves.
There is no doubt that with the student numbers dwindling there is massive pressure on universities to cut corners.
And it is the quality of education and with that qualifications that will be among the victims, as BIUST has so clearly shown.
What has however surprised us has been the speed with which this has happened.
And even more, it is the fact that it all happened at BIUST.
From where we are seated as the Sunday Standard, we have always held BIUST in very high regard.
This communication has thus come as a shock and disappointment to us.
This week BIUST released another statement..
They were this time taking a veiled swipe at the Sunday Standard.
For a university that has recently been on the news for the wrong reasons, the second statement was totally an unforced error.
“Following the online publication relating to first year students’ progression by the Sunday Standard Newspaper on the 20th January 2024, the University management would like to clarify that the decision was yet to be considered by the University Senate as recommended by the Senate Executive and therefore not yet final. The Senate Executive decisions are not final decisions to the extent that they need further approval by University Senate. BIUST continues to maintain its rigorous high academic standards in line with established laws statutes and policies. Members of the University Community and general public are enjoined to completely disregard the report and note that the recommendation from the Senate Executive Committee shared with the University staff and students was forwarded to the University Senate for consideration. All students will be progressed in accordance with the established pre-requisites set by law, the regulatory institutions and the University Senate. Please be reassured of the University’s commitment to its mandate and the University regrets the anxiety the publication has caused to the public, students and our stakeholders in general.”
How did Sunday Standard cause anxiety? In our view anxiety was caused by the recklessness of the Senate Executive. The Senate Executive consists of Vice Chancellor, his deputies, and faculty deans.
These are very senior people who should know the implications of the decision they took which they now say was still to be pondered over by the Senate as if that makes it any more palatable.
We at Sunday Standard will not participate in creating doubt around the true value of BIUST attained qualifications. Hence our decision to report.
We call on BIUST to publicly apologise to Sunday Standard.