An MP has echoed a version of what President Festus Mogae said in September 2007 when he gave a public lecture at the University of Botswana.
Mogae, who in keeping with age-old tradition of the time was also UB’s ex-officio Chancellor, said that by “doing Public Administration and Political Science … you won’t find work”. Among the audience were students studying for degrees in such programmes as well as their lecturers. Addressing himself to one particular group, Mogae added that were far too many political scientists with whom “you will have to compete when you finish your junior degrees.” He proposed that a more productive course of action would be to choose more marketable disciples like nursing, medicine and engineering.
“I encourage you to first look at the market when you choose courses so that you can find jobs,” the former president said.
Some 14 years later and in the same month, another Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) politician has also objected to UB’s prioritisation of Public Administration and Political Science. Contributing to a parliamentary debate last Thursday, the Molepolole North MP, Oabile Regoeng, lamented the continuance of educational programmes “that are taking us nowhere.” He noted that while Botswana has “so many political scientists” but not enough medical doctors, UB continues to churn out Political Science graduates. As worrisome was that the university continues to offer Public Administration when “we need engineers and psychologists.”
So why does UB still offer programmes that the job market and certain sections of the BDP (which appoints the UB Vice Chancellor and is over-represented in the UB Council) have not been enthusiastic about for more than a decade? In response to why UB continues to offer Public Administration and Political Science, its Director of Public Affairs, Mhitshane Reetsang, says that in much the same way that it needs medical doctors, engineers and psychologists, the economy also needs other disciplines. She points out that the number of medical doctors that the university can train is related to available resources – some of which are outside UB itself.
“Training medical students requires more resources, both monetary and physical,” Reetsang says. “UB works in partnership with local hospitals to train doctors – which also calls for more equipment at the hospitals for trainee doctors to use. Therefore, the student-hospital ratio in relation to equipment is also a point to consider in training.”
In elaborating the latter point, Reetsang says that training more doctors would also require “more lecturers at UB’s School of Medicine as well as “more hospitals and more laboratories.” To that end, she says that bringing the situation closer to the ideal would require greater and more meaningful private sector participation in tertiary education. While she lauds some private sector companies for donating medical equipment, she adds that there are not enough people to operate such equipment. The solution to the latter would be private sector participation in the training of staff.
The other question to tackle is whether UB’s Political Science and Public Administration graduates are able to get jobs in satisfactory numbers – Mogae didn’t think so.
“Satisfactory is a relative term but we see these graduates engaged in economic activities that are promoted by the government through other institutions,” says Reetsang. “Others join NGOs and the private sector. We are aware of the current challenges that are mostly due to coronavirus but efforts made, and those still to be made in addressing youth unemployment, should be commended.”