Friday, June 21, 2024

The imperative for BIUST is now!

There is an ongoing national debate about what should happen to what was originally conceived as BIUST (Botswana International University of Science and Technology.)

The debate, we are told, has come about as a result of a changed economic environment that saw a good amount of Botswana’s fortunes wiped out, especially during the years 2008 and 2009.

Government has waded into this debate by way of appointing a talk force made up of such luminaries as Dr. Happy Fidzani, the former head of the public policy think tank, BIDPA, and retired former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Serwalo Tumelo.

While Government has not seen it fit to make public the terms of reference of the task force, we have no reason to suspect any malice, not least because of the irreproachable integrity of people sitting on the task force.

But from public utterances, principally by the State President, especially while on a state visit to Japan last year, it has become almost clear that there is a strong narrative within Government that BUIST should be downgraded, downscaled and reduced to what, by all intents, amounts to a technical college.

We think that would be tragically wrong.

All countries that are today moving forward are countries that are investing significantly on human resources, especially on technical subjects.

Not so long ago, Botswana grew at a faster pace than such countries as Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.

But such countries have since overtaken Botswana in every economic measure.
The question is why has Botswana regressed?

While there are many reasons, the underlying fact is that while many Asian countries concentrated on developing their technical human resource skills, Botswana somewhat lagged.

Had Botswana paid even the barest attention towards fulfilling the minimum essentials in that regard the least we would be as a nation is that we would be playing in the same league in such countries as Japan, South Korea and Malaysia.

Hope was created when, following what amounted to a national referendum, Government agreed to build the second university at Palapye.

The University, which was billed to be international in outlook, was also going to focus on science and technology as its centerpieces.

Sadly, it would seem like all the musings from Government point towards backtracking and reneging on this noble cause.

We think that is a gross mistake.

While there is some element of truth that the economy has been losing grip, we are worried that the country’s subdued economic performance has all of a sudden become an alibi and excuse for every malaise, including shoddy planning.

The latest data indicated that like the rest of the world, Botswana is truly on a course for a rebound.

Of course, we are nowhere near the pre-recession levels, but postponing, deferring, down scaling or degrading BUIST will, in the long term, prove a fatal decision because the very reasons that necessitated its establishment will haunt this country, including by way of jeopardizing the very economic recovery we all clamour for.

One of the reasons why China is today an economic superpower, having surpassed such giants like Japan and Germany, is in no small measure because of hefty investments on producing technical skills.

Today, China produces more engineering graduates than even the United States.
It is public knowledge that today’s Botswana has an acute shortage of technical skills.

It is also public knowledge that the country has produced more than it needs in some skills, especially in the fields of humanities and social sciences.

There is no short cut to remedying this mismatch.

The only way forward is through concerted efforts to cost effectively produce more engineers, more technicians, more artisans, more doctors, more apprentices so that the country can best position itself to use its human resource base as a new sector of economic growth in the post recession era.
All imperatives point towards BIUST being constructed today.

Other than that it will be much more expensive in the future, the people of Palapye certainly did not give up their farmlands for a technical college. By the way they already have one.
They did not allow the graveyards of their ancestors to be mutilated and remains exhumed for a downgraded establishment.

They made all these painful concessions because they were told that the nation had to build a second university in their backyard.

As the taskforce compiles its report to the Government, we hope these are just some of the few considerations these men and women of repute will have in their minds.


Read this week's paper