Saturday, December 4, 2021

Tables turning on private varsities as UB share of govt sponsorship increases

The party may be over for private universities which, for more than a decade now, have been raking in millions of pula despite persistent and grave concern about the quality of education they offer.

That is so because government sponsorship for tertiary education in the 2021/2022 academic year, the University of Botswana (UB) got more students than it has been getting in the past several years. From 4921 for the previous academic year, the university admitted 6152 first-year students for the current academic year. The extra students are those who would otherwise have gone to private universities. Mostly being commercial enterprises than educational institutions, the decrease means that the latter will experience significant decline in earnings for this financial year.

As the nation’s oldest and most well-resourced institution, UB should never have to compete with new universities that are under-resourced and mostly oriented towards commerce than education. That however, is what is happening and it has been rumoured that the aforementioned oddity is a result of some palms in the civil service being greased. With regard to why UB’s student numbers so declined that it had to retrench some lecturers at one point, it has been alleged that some officers at the Department of Tertiary Education Financing under the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, purposefully diverted students to private varsities.

In some instances, such officers are alleged to have advised students (especially those who got grades high enough to get them into the more selective UB) to apply to certain private varsities, often telling them what benefits (like laptops) they would get at those universities that they wouldn’t get at UB. A source says that some would be told that their BGCSE points didn’t guarantee entry into universities that are competitive with admissions. All such universities – UB, Botswana International University of Science and Technology and the Botswana university of Agriculture and Natural Resources – are state-owned. These officers were basically marketing private universities in question to students, something which falls outside their remit.

The first sign that the party is over for private varsities began showing two months ago when the Tertiary Education Financing vote under the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology was transferred to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. This is one of reforms being undertaken by the MFED and was announced by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Peggy Serame when she presented the supplementary budget to parliament. The reforms are meant to ensure the future sustainability of tertiary education financing. Serame stated that MFED “will undertake an audit on the Tertiary Education Financing activities, including in-depth examination of management of the tertiary education financing, awarding of sponsorships, reasonability of tuition fee levels charged by all tertiary institutions, allocation of students to sundry tertiary institutions, payment of tuition and allowances.” That UB admissions went up would be a result of the reconfiguration of “allocation of students to sundry tertiary institutions.”

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