Thursday, October 28, 2021

Mogae’s dream of a fewer political science students at UB coming true

Not always one to bite his tongue, then President Festus Mogae had some unflattering things to say about University of Botswana (UB) students who, against the reality of the job market, still chose to study political science and public administration. Mogae, who was UB Vice Chancellor by virtue of his position, was giving a public lecture at the university in September 2007.

Some 10 years later, the enrolment for those courses has gone down but not as far enough as would have been ideal. As part of eight emerging African universities enrolled on a project to strengthen their capacity to produce knowledge, UB was set a maximum target limit of a 30 percent enrolment in the broad field of social sciences. Alongside, the University of Dar es Salam and University of Ghana, UB hadn’t meet that target as late as 2015. The three universities had more than 50 percent of enrolments in this field: UB 53 percent, Dar es Salaam 69 percent and Ghana 58 percent. Only the University of Cape Town (35 percent) and Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique (32 percent) were close to the maximum target while the University of Mauritius (26 percent) fell below the target.

Producing knowledge necessarily requires more doctoral enrolments and while UB may be lagging far behind UCT, its figures are ticking up. In 2001, UB had only 23 enrolments, in 2011 the figure rose to 52 and in 2015 was 82. Between 2001 and 2015, enrolments increased by 9.5 percent. It is unclear what the effect of the controversial tenure of UB’s former Vice Chancellor, Professor Thabo Fako was but between 2010 and 2015, the number of staff with doctoral qualifications dropped. Fako reversed a policy implemented under his predecessor, Professor Bojosi Otlhogile, that required all professors to hold a doctoral degree.

Coming into office in 2011, Fako suspended UB’s Review of Academic Structure (ROAS) through which retention of staff was ensured through very generous pay. When ROAS was suspended, some disgruntled PhDs in the School of Medicine staff – who included the founding dean, quit. In all, the proportion of permanent academics with doctorates was 65 in 2001, 60 in 2011 and 58 in 2015. The worst such decline happened in the field of health where the proportion of permanent academics with doctorates fell from 96 in 2010 to 66 in 2013, before rebounding to 71 in 2015.

Dr. Sheldon Weeks, an American educationist who worked at UB for more than two decades, described how bad the suspension of ROAS was when he wrote in a tertiary education publication called University World News.

“During his current term, [Fako] has reversed many of the changes made in the university by his two predecessors, beginning in 1998. Most dramatic was a decision that no other member of staff employed by the university could earn more than the vice-chancellor. The consequence was that many foreign staff from Europe and North America, earning significantly more than the vice-chancellor, resigned,” Weeks wrote.

Enrolment figures for masters are also not as encouraging. While they went up (124 in 2001, 206 in 2011 and 241 in 2015), UB ÔÇô like Dar es Salaam, Eduardo Mondlane and the University of Nairobi fell below the target of 25 percent in all three of the recorded years.

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