A white elephant teaching hospital, an unpopular Vice Chancellor who ended up resigning mid-term and a violent student strike are just some of the things that one can mention on the list of University of Botswana minuses.
However, there are some compensating balances in the form of milestones that UB has achieved in the analysis of the Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa (HERANA) at the Centre for Higher Education Trust (CHET) in Cape Town, South Africa. As one of the eight flagship universities in a HERANA programme, UB can claim part of the praise by Nico Cloete, Coordinator of HERANA, that “There are upward trends in a number of areas that I think are very positive.” Alongside universities from Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda, HERANA considers UB to be one of “Africa’s top public universities.”
UB may not be among universities that “expanded massively in the 15 years to 2015” but it registered acceptably “moderate” growth that saw its student population rise from 11 736 to 14 400. As at the University of Cape Town, student and staff growth at UB have kept pace.
All the eight varsities aspire to be research-intensive and in moving towards that goal, the ratio of undergraduate to postgraduate students becomes a key issue. According to HERANA, at least 15 percent to 20 percent of a research-led university’s students should be at the postgraduate level in order to support knowledge production. At 12 percent, UB is comfortably close to that target. UCT is the best performer with 34 percent.
In their presentation at a HERANA seminar held in South Africa last year, Mogodisheng Sekhwela and Onalenna Silas stated that over time, UB plans to decrease its intake of undergraduates. Through its Strategy for Excellence to 2016 and Beyond, UB plans to increase undergraduate part-time and distance learning as well as extend its range of offerings and expand postgraduate intake.
Perhaps the most interesting finding from HERANA is that staff-student ratios at all flagship universities were lowest and comparable with world-class universities like Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Apparently, this is the case with all other African universities. In 2015, Cape Town had the lowest ratio of 8:1 and the highest of 20:1 was at Mauritius. HERANA’s position is that if universities are to become more research-intensive, student growth must be carefully balanced alongside staff numbers.
Only UCT has considerably more senior than junior academics while Botswana, Mauritius and Nairobi have fairly equal numbers of senior and junior academics.