Monday, October 25, 2021

Only the most innovative universities should survive

As is the case the world over, the pandemic has provided a big test for Botswana’s universities.

Post the pandemic, there is no going back to business as usual.

The pandemic has forced universities in Botswana to align themselves to its strictures for survival – and overall universities in Botswana have been found wanting.

It is very unlikely that all universities will survive.

If they do, what is certain is that they will have to make big reforms and do so quickly.

Universities in Botswana must provide a good experience for their students.

Teaching quality has to improve. Learner experience and satisfaction have to change for the better.

And universities need to respond to the pandemic accordingly – with investments, but also with clear lines of communication.

For many young people entering these places for the first time, their university years should ideally be the best in their lives.

Universities can only become so for these students if they listen more and are prepared to respond as demanded of them by the fast changing environment determined by the pandemic.

There is no question that the pandemic has placed added burdens on universities.

The universities have to be more agile, more responsive and be deft.

In Botswana there used to be a time when all universities were guaranteed students numbers.

Hopefully those years are gone, for good.

We should never again go back to those days.

The quota system was an inherently flawed and corrupt disgrace, that, thankfully was discontinued by government.

Sadly it looks like government is enroute to re-introducing it albeit under different guises with some universities being unduly favoured over others.

Universities should compete for students in the open market. That is important especially in instances where scholarships are loans not grants.

Universities should spend resources on convincing future students why they should enroll with them.

That means showcasing their strengths – including programmes, facilities; entertainment, sports and leisure.

Engagement with parents and guardians to students will also have to be maintained to appraise them why it is important and rewarding and safe for students to enroll with them.

The environment on campus has been a big driver behind poor performance.

Many universities do not even know why they exist.

They think they exist to make money for their owners and or founders.

Thus they make no attempt to give students a voice through relevant platforms.

Little investments are made on teaching and learning.

Few have libraries. Those who have so called libraries are little more than an apology.

Student satisfaction and student experience on campus are sadly not a big issue for leadership in these universities.

It is not unusual for universities in Botswana to strive to create subterranean linkages with politicians to get a cover from scrutiny, to buy immunity and even guarantees.

As a rule these universities pay backhanders to these politicians.

The Covid did not create all the problems. It arrived to find many universities already weal structurally.

But the pandemic magnified some challenges, exposed some cracks and took advantage of yet more others.

The universities were found to be vulnerable, weak and totally unprepared for difficult eventualities brought by the pandemic.

There are still universities that do not have access to reliable internet broadband.

There are still universities with no quality computers that are readily available to learners.

That is reprehensible given the tough strictures of the pandemic.

When added to the fact that many students do not have access to the internet at home, this has effectively meant that learning during covid when libraries closed or insisted on social distancing was almost impossible.

In short students arrive at many of these institutions only to find that the environment is far below what they had hoped for or what they had been promised in various marketing platforms and brochures of these colleges.

With more learning in these universities shifting towards online, Botswana government should take a relook at prices paid to these universities.

Students cannot be expected to pay same price for online teaching like before.

Universities in Botswana do not value social inclusion.

They simply do not care who they are welcoming into their learning halls.

All they care about is the amount Botswana Government pays them on behalf of these students.

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