Thursday, June 20, 2024

DTEF should encourage excellence and not corruption

The Department of Tertiary Education Financing (DTEF) is a powerful institution. Under its responsibility are millions, if not billions, of Pula which are annually disbursed to fund thousands of students in both local and international institutions. Because of its funding role, DTEF is an important player in ensuring that quality education is maintained. They are an essential player in ensuring quality education and high levels of academic excellence are maintained. For all tertiary institutions, amongst these the Botswana Association of Private Tertiary Education Providers (BAPTEP), DTEF is an essential source of funds. The salary of staff members, and the profit margins of private institutions depend gravely on the payment of student fees by DTEF. This makes DTEF a powerful institution whose demands are eyed carefully by education providers – whether public or private. Incidentally, this exposes DTEF to the possibility of being corruptible by education providers who want to have more students given to them. This should not be allowed to prevail. The CID, DIS and DCEC should therefore consider DTEF an institution most susceptible to corruption and therefore continue to have its employees under its constant radar for possible manipulation and negative influence by interest groups.

DTEF must therefore function as an essential instrument that encourages competition and high quality in tertiary institutions. It must maintain the open market system which will invariably squeeze out unnecessary courses, programs, staff and institutions.

It should use its funding muscle to ensure that only quality courses, programs and institutions are funded, while the unnecessary ones are pushed out of the market. DTEF owes no institution or program its existence. No institution should come weeping to DTEF that it is sinking. Institutions must adapt and provide students with the best programs and learning environment. Those which were established to milk government of its money must close – they must be starved of student enrolment. DTEF has the power to play with students’ futures by sending them to weak institutions with weak staff complement, poor facilities and no prospect of graduate studies. DTEF should guard against being used as a cash cow to fund any institution whatsoever. We know that some of the institutions have invested greatly to develop their institutions. However, some of the investments have very little to do with the students’ needs but more with accumulation of profit. DTEF must recognize that the only way to maintain quality in higher education in Botswana is through competition amongst tertiary institutions, Tertiary institutions must battle for students. No institution should feel entitled to any government funding.

The open market system must therefore be maintained so that institutions can compete and partner with other international education providers to ensure that Botswana students can compete with the best in the world. What DTEF should strongly reject is an equitable allocation of students across institutions. The equitable distribution of students across institutions ignores the following: (1) that different institutions do not have the same strength. They do not offer the same programs which are needed by the market. (2) that different institutions do not have the same infrastructure. Some institutions do not have comprehensive libraries, laboratories, classrooms, sporting activities, internet, and computer networks etc (3) that different institutions don’t have the same trained staff compliment. The equitable distribution of students among institutions is therefore incongruent with competition and therefore will drive quality at high education down. It principally serves to promote profit and prop up poor institutions and poor programs. That must not be allowed.

For Botswana to grow its knowledge economy – to develop research institutions which develop innovative, competitive young people, it must ensure that local tertiary institutions are of a high quality. It is the DTEF which can force the hand of institutions to develop and offer premium quality programs by ensuring that there is competition amongst institutions. Those with better programs and educational landscape should be given a higher enrolment of students since the students deserve better facilities and educational environment. The student demands must come ahead of business interests.

No quota system between institutions is justifiable. All institutions must compete. Only the best institutions must be given most students. Government as the largest sponsor must have a long term look at higher education. It is not enough that some of the programs offered by tertiary institutions are unique. They must be needed by the market – not just the immediate market, but the long-term market.

The programs must not just have local relevance but also prepare students to create jobs, be entrepreneurs and compete internationally. If government wants to create a 21st century student who will participate and redefine the fourth, fifth and sixth industrial revolution as well as create a knowledge-based economy, it must encourage genuine competition. It must not nurse and fund mediocrity. It must maintain the open market system where institutions compete for students and funding. It must completely reject a quota system which rewards mediocrity and creates entitlement amongst players in the tertiary institution domain. Students must also be offered a choice to migrate towards the best institutions and to turn their backs from the weak ones. DTEF must ensure that it is not infiltrated by persons with narrow and private interests. It must always have the interest of the students and that of the country at heart. It must not just fund students locally, it must continue to send students to premier institutions outside the country – all this done in the best interest of both the students and Botswana.

Narrow and private interests may be here today and gone tomorrow. Learners, many who have no clue of how to choose the best institutions, must be protected from narrow business interests and be accorded a chance to be exposed to the best training. This cannot be achieved by equitable student and sponsorship allocation. Some institutions are small and ill prepared, while others are well established and well resourced. Above everything else, institutions must compete. They must not just compete locally, but regionally too. Tertiary institutions must therefore be encouraged to look for students outside the country to demonstrate that they are not just small local players. In all of this, DTEF must use its muscle to ensure national and regional quality.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper