Monday, October 26, 2020

Revitalising Botswana’s Higher Education: The hard decisions to make

As a country we need to conceptualize and clarify the interrelated essential constructs that will assist us to rethink, restructure and revitalize public Higher Education (HE). In scoping the discussion on transforming Botswana’s HE system inevitably we are led to a need for major systemic and structural policy changes.  Botswana’s Public Higher Education needs to begin to operate from a global space and intensify its internationalization drive in order to attract more tuition fees from international students as a significant contributor to the sector’s revenue base.

This would require developing institutional strategic plans that zero in on projecting a global outlook while also strengthening and enriching their local brand presence. This is inevitable as every public higher institution is forced to operate from a global space regardless of its historical basis. Such thrust is a result of: growing demand for HE, dwindling public revenues, increased student needs centred tuition, market responsive courses, globalization, internationalization, corporatization and efficient and cost effective quality HE.

In taking this policy shift it would mean increasing service quality and student focus. Where institutions begin to be more and more outward looking this would require curriculum re-engineering towards more attractive, highly competitive market orientation. Institutions would then have to assess their position and map their most important customer segments. This means shedding off embedded cultural conservatism that have colored public higher education institutions in this country and acquiring the right fit of expertise and techno-innovation. This would call for HEIs to be more entrepreneurial as their existence would no longer be for national interests only.

In addition, rising student expectation, internationalization, and market competitiveness would compel HEIs to invest in targeted infrastructure, academic and career support to attract more students. This would mean developing transformational institutional strategic plans that seek to increase institutional efficiencies while cutting costs. Such transformation must form the basis of individual institutional continued self-invention modeled on a management outlook that is innovation focused. 

Likewise, vital to this would be investment in integrated and streamlined ICT systems to ensure smoother, more costÔÇæefficient running of HEIs. This is so as investing in targeted ICTs is no longer an option as globally HEIs depend more and more on ICTs for administration, student services, networking and general services. 

In view of this, for Botswana’s HEIs to be attractive they need to change from the one way traditional mass lecture learning spaces to more collaborative smaller learning spaces where learners negotiate and construct knowledge in communities of learning. This would require not only a paradigm shift in terms of educational philosophy but also in terms of sound higher education policy that is learner needs focused.

Another trajectory in revitalizing Botswana’s HE system is the need to hire and attract requisite talent that would feed and drive the new institutional strategic plans. HEIs must shed off the systemic tradition of hiring personnel on the basis of nepotism, toadying, reward for loyalty and longevity and align recruitment and promotion with institutional strategy and priority needs. 

Another critical area for the future of HEIs is concentration in research and finding other research revenue streams outside those from government. This is critical as with the expansion of the sector in terms of; physical growth, learner enrolment needs, staff, ICT infrastructure, and research engagement government funding has inversely dwindled due to socio-economic and political pressure on national revenue. Institutional competitiveness, internationalization and sound research engagement lead to global ranking especially of universities. Therefore, for Botswana to attain the status of a knowledge hub these are constructs that HEI must concentrate on besides their traditional local and national character and function.

The question is, is Botswana ready to have a world class university as envisioned by the Botswana University of Science and Technology whose mandate would be local and national; spending less time on teaching but more on undertaking sound research for the national mineral economy, other spheres of life and producing globally relevant research that would place the BUIST up there on the “league” table of world top notch universities? Is the University of Botswana as a major league player in HE willing to redefine its strategic direction and start providing courses that offer its students, both local and international, attractive competitiveness in the labor and academic markets? Are we as a country in the HE system willing to even shed off our over obsession with testing and concentrate on education for empowerment?

*David Keagakwa is an academic. He writes in his personal capacity.

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