Saturday, October 16, 2021

Research at university and colleges not producing new knowledge

If possession of a University of Botswana masters’ degree has been the sole reason for anyone to pimp-stroll at Gaborone International Convention Centre gatherings dropping some ‘when-I-was-doing-my-masters’ detail out of context, a report by the government suggests that there may be need for that person to slow his roll. 

As part of effort to “strengthen the match between qualifications and labour market requirements”, the Ministry of Education and Skills Development has developed what it calls the Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan (ETSSP) which is to be implemented between 2015 and 2020. The Plan raises grave concerns about both the quantity and quality of research at tertiary education institutions. 

“High quality tertiary education provides the backbone to knowledge creation and its strategic application. However, there is a lack of research and research outputs in sufficient quantities and quality to generate new knowledge. Equally, the small number of candidates in graduate studies leads to lower research output. Again, research impact is dependent on publication and dissemination. Botswana is well below optimal performance levels in terms of both research output and human capacity development in research,” the ETSSP says.
Academia’s cardinal rule with regard to research is that those undertaking this enterprise must stay off the beaten track because only then can they increase the stock of human knowledge and solve new or existing problems. What the ETSSP says about local research adds to indictment already made by a South African think tank called the Centre for Higher Education and Training (CHET).  

In one of its analyses, CHET found the ability of Botswana’s higher education systems to respond to the needs of the knowledge economy to be “poor” as it did their capacity/potential for research and innovation. It adjudged the linking of education and economic planning as well as acceptance of the knowledge economy approach across departments at the national level to be “ineffective”. As regards coordination structures, CHET found these to be “weak or unsystematic” and networks to be “more political than productive.” 

A “national stakeholder” told CHET researchers that “a key problem with regard to innovation and universityÔÇÉindustry partnerships is that the industrial base in Botswana is very small. The private sector mainly consists of organisations implementing government programmes, which effectively means that the market is the government. Part of the private sector is spillover from South Africa but this leads to a big disconnect because the R&D for these companies is done in South Africa and not Botswana.”

A UB lecturer-respondent told the CHET researchers that there were no incentives for staff to undertake research that is directly linked to development. The CHET report quotes the lecturer as saying: “Let me be honest here. Quite honestly at this stage, we don’t think government is consuming a lot of our research and I’m not saying they are to blame. The research that we’re doing here is mainly research driven by our need to publish because we’re living in a world where you publish or perish, and therefore it’s really not focused on trying to solve the real socioÔÇÉeconomic needs of the country. If I can publish in the Journal of African Economists, once it gets in there I’m done; I have fulfilled what I’m doing. Whether somebody picks it up or not, it has not been an issue.”
 

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