Sunday, November 29, 2020

Mogae kept HRDC management in the dark about BIUST

Former president Festus Mogae and his education minister at the time are alleged to have kept the Botswana Tertiary Education Council (BTEC) in the dark about plans to establish what is now known as the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST). This allegation is contained in a report from a South African think tank called the Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET).

The speaker, who is not named, is a senior Council official. The report doesn’t attribute statements to individuals ÔÇô it only refers to “respondents” who in the footnotes are identified as Felix Rex O’mara (Director: Quality Assurance and Regulation); Margaret Baiketsi (Acting Director: Policy and Planning); Masego Mokubung (Director: Knowledge Management); Morake Matlhaga (Head: Financial Planning, Directorate of Institutional Funding); Patrick Molutsi (Executive Secretary); and Theophilus Mooko (Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Skills Development).

These people held the stated positions at the time they were interviewed by CHET researchers in April 2012. What was odd about BTEC (now called the Human Resource Development Council) being kept in the dark was that it had been given an assignment to put together a task team to investigate and compile ideas about how and where a second university should be established. This was a costly exercise that saw members of the task team travelling to a number of countries like the United Kingdom, Malaysia, South Africa and Mauritius to gather relevant information. The team’s report came out in April 2004. “According to one respondent, the report was taken to the Minister in what just happened to be an election year.

Without any warning, the BTEC then learnt that a cabinet meeting had approved certain of the recommendations but introduced a number of other changes, including the name of the university, where it was to be located, and the focus on science and technology (requiring that the University of Botswana drop its science and technology programmes). The BTEC Secretariat heard about these developments in the national news,” CHET says. The respondent himself/herself is quoted as saying: “We were very influential from the beginning, at the conceptualisation stage, in identifying where [the new university] should be, what type of institution it should be, even the model they should follow in terms of financing.

Only, for us here at BTEC, remember we have a rule according to the Act to advise the Minister on issues of higher education. We started to hear, it was in the papers that the President was in Japan and he had pronounced this and this about BIUST. Can you imagine? We are here and people started phoning: BTEC, how did you advise? You are the people to advise! We are technocrats; those people are politicians, and we should have advised them. We look at comparative countries and we say: what is best for the country? So that is why I am saying there is political interference.

All of a sudden the Minister was there appointing people to start to look at the issue and we were excluded, but we had a report that this is what will be best for our tertiary education system.” CHET itself asserts that rejection of the Council recommendations was a case of “political interference and non-acceptance of the detailed, evidence-based policy advice provided by the BTEC to government.”

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Sunday Standard November 29 – 5 December

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of November 29 - 5 December, 2020.