Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Board says it can’t lower standards to accommodate GUC engineering graduates

The words used to describe the expected outcome of intervention by the Minister of Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Douglas Letsholathebe, in the stalemate that the Gaborone University College of Law (GUC) and the Engineers Registration Board (ERB) have ran into may have given students and parents false hope. Public reporting has raised hopes by stating that the minister will “resolve” the GUC-ERB stalemate. The Monitor quotes him as saying that the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) has embarked on a process to “convince” ERB to “recognise” GUC’s Bachelor of Technology in Construction Engineering programme.

On the other hand, ERB has explicitly stated that it “cannot not lower its standards” in order to accommodate GUC’s graduates. To be clear, the latter phrase was Sunday Standard’s and ERB only mirrored it back in its response to a question that we posed. The Board’s position is that GUC’s engineering degree doesn’t meet its standards. The latter means that the only way that the Board can recognise the degree is if BQA “convinces” it to essentially lower it standards.

“ERB cannot lower standards in order to accommodate any party that does not meet requirements,” the Board said in a written response to a set of questions that we sent to its office in Gaborone. “Lowering standards would counter the Boards’ efforts of ensuring that the engineering profession in Botswana is regulated through internationally acceptable standards. Moreover, this would hamper the Boards’ endeavour of affiliating with the International Engineering Alliance and thus facilitate for the mobility of Botswana engineering professionals and scholars.”

On its website, ERB, which has over 7500 members, says that its mandate is to promote “the highest standards of engineering practice and protects the welfare and interest of the public in the engineering practice.”

The above notwithstanding, the Board says that it is always available to assist institutions in getting information on standards available and facilitate access to available processes that can be taken in addressing gaps identified in their programmes.

“This is done by organising linkages for the institutions with the relevant experts. This is done so that ERB is aware of the improvements and how remedial action has been taken to assist the impacted students or graduates,” it told Sunday Standard.

We had also sought precise information on the deficiencies of the engineering programme that GUC offers – which information ERB has compiled but has never made public. Apparently, GUC had applied for recognition of this programme but in its own review (which has been packaged into a report) the Board found the programme to be as deficient as to not merit its recognition. In response to our request, ERB said that it could not divulge information about what the GUC programme lacks that could compromise engineering standards.

“Unfortunately, ERB is not in a position to discuss this as the report is still tabled before the Board for their ratification and decision. It is to be noted that ERB has to follow all communication protocols in reaching a decision and informing an applicant of the status and level of registration. Please be assured that communication with the applicants will be done as soon as a decision has been made.”

The most confounding part of this saga though is that BQA has accredited the programme in question. In other simpler words, BQA says that GUC’s degree is good enough while ERB says that it is not. The oddity of this situation is that both bodies are established by acts of parliament – which should perceptibly align the operational processes and systems of the two bodies such that they are never at odds.

Sunday Standard wanted to know if BQA ever asked ERB to make any input when the GUC programme was being developed.

“No,” ERB responded. “Such a request has never been made. ERB only entered into an MoU with BQA in August 2017 and this instrument is aimed at collaboration with BQA in areas of development of engineering education standards, assessment for endorsement, registration of qualifications and programmes.”

Subsequent to the latter, ERB and BQA signed another agreement in July last year and thereafter, ERB set up an Education and Accreditation Committee.

“The Committee aims to facilitate for the development and implementation of education policies and standards which include programme accreditation, qualification evaluation and recognition, continuing professional development and attending to matters of quality assurance in line with local and international standards to support effectiveness of the ERB and BQA. This Committee will be playing a crucial role in the standards of education in the country and allow for Botswana engineer’s recognition across the board,” ERB’s statement says.

ERB’s non-accreditation of the programme has come as a shock to GUC students, some of whom are in their final year and all things being equal, should be joining the engineering industry soon. To work as an engineer requires ERB recognition of the engineering programme that one studied in university. A university may confer a degree but in order to have market relevance, such degree needs to be recognised by ERB. A degree with no ERB recognition is worthless and that is why GUC students are up in arms. There is a consumer rights dimension to this case: tuition for each student is P144 000 for the four-year Bachelor of Technology in Construction Engineering programme that GUC offers. Without ERB recognition, all that money would have gone to waste.

The situation could get even more complicated. With ERB unwilling to basically lower its standards to accommodate GUC students, the only realistic solution would seem to closing the instructional gaps that have been identified with more study time. The latter means that students would have to spend more time at GUC and in the field getting more practical and relevant experience – which is a standard requirement. It also means that the tuition would go up and raises the question of who, between students and the university, would be required to pay the extra cost.

The most difficult part will be convincing ERB to be flexible with or lower its standards. While that might ease the entry of GUC graduates into the industry, it would also contravene the Engineers Registration Act which prescribes inflexible standards for a profession whose practitioners construct buildings taller than the i-Towers in Gaborone.

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