Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Botswana aims for knowledge-based economy but without national research agency

Only time will tell if Botswana’s aspirations of becoming a knowledge-based economy will be see the light of the day outside a modern-day national research agency.

As it stands, the Botswana Government has no plans of introducing a National Research Agency but instead has opted to review the Post Graduate Research Fund to enable it to cover other areas unintentionally ignored.

Available figures show that the Botswana government might have recorded surplus budgets in previous years but that is deficient in the share of the money dedicated to research and development.

This has been identified as one of the red flags that the tiny nation could fail in its mission to diversify from a mineral led to a knowledge base economy.

Junior Minister Ronald Shamukuni at the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology – Ronald Shamukuni says the revealed Government has since established the Botswana Innovation Hub which currently manages the Botswana Innovation Fund.  

“Our plan is to review this fund and broaden it so that it will cater for both research and innovation, and still to be managed by the Botswana Innovation Hub. Establishment of another agency to cater for national research funding would come at a cost, as a result, we will for now not consider establishing a National Research Funding Agency, but we cannot rule out the possibility of doing so in future as investment in research and innovation improves, particularly beyond Government financing,” he said.

Member of Parliament for Nkange Dr Never Tshabang asked the Minister to update Parliament, on the state of research funding in universities and to state, if he is aware that postgraduate student funding is a critical component in capacitating research institutions and it is non-existent in Botswana among other things.

The revelation comes at a time when Botswana universities are said to be ranking lower when compared to their international counterparts. There are several ranking systems used to rank world universities and they consider diverse factors to rank universities such as a number of fulltime enrolled students, number of students per staff, international students, female/male ratio and high-ranking universities have high values in these performance indicators. Botswana universities are therefore ranked lower because their indicators have low values compared to other universities.

“Our universities can be termed as comprehensive universities as they offer both undergraduate and graduate programmes. Some of the institutions award Masters Degrees and Doctorates. Public universities receive an annual subvention from Government which enables them to offer graduate programmes. No one can dispute the fact that the funding is not sufficient. I am aware that postgraduate student funding is one of the critical components to capacitating research institutions. Government has over the years funded postgraduate students essentially through in-service training,” Shamukuni said.

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