Monday, January 24, 2022

UB not a world-class university

At a time that the government has announced intent to export education globally, its own university has failed to make it to the prestigious Times Higher Education World University rankings.

In 2008, the then minister of education, Jacob Nkate, said that with the establishment of the Education Hub in his ministry, the country’s education was primed to become the “envy of the world.”

Speaking at an education summit held in Morocco three years later, the former coordinator of the Education Hub, Moses Kewagamang, said that in line with the 2006 Botswana Excellence Strategy, the government was committed to establishing the country as a centre of excellence for the provision of quality education, training and research in the identified broad niche areas of business, mining and energy, medical science and research, agriculture and livestock management, hospitality and tourism, conservation and environment, peace, justice and democracy, governance and economic management.

Years later, however, the University of Botswana does not feature on the list of the top 400 universities in the world. To be fair to UB, the standards are so high that only three African universities made it onto the list – the University of Cape Town (126), the University of Witwatersrand (226) and Stellenbosch University (251).

Times Higher Education uses 13 performance indicators which are grouped into five areas: teaching (learning environment) which is worth 30 percent of the overall ranking score; research (volume, income and reputation) worth 30 percent; citations (research influence) worth 30 percent; industry income (innovation) worth 2.5 percent; and international outlook (staff, students and research) worth 7.5 percent. No institution can be included in the overall World University Rankings unless it has published a minimum of 200 research papers a year over the five years that are examined.

A summary of the report reads: “The results of the survey with regard to teaching make up 15 per cent of the overall rankings score. The teaching and learning category also employs a staff-to-student ratio (an institution’s total student numbers) as a simple (and admittedly crude) proxy for teaching quality. The proxy suggests that where there is a healthy ratio of students to staff, the former will get the personal attention they require from the institution’s faculty. This measure is worth 4.5 per cent of the overall ranking score. The teaching category also examines the ratio of doctoral to bachelor’s degrees awarded by each institution. We believe that institutions with a high density of research students are more knowledge-intensive and that the presence of an active postgraduate community is a marker of a research-led teaching environment valued by undergraduates and postgraduates alike.”

An article by Adam Habib, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand, says that the vast majority of Wits’ students ÔÇô well in excess of 80 per cent ÔÇô do not complete their degrees within the minimum time and that about 50 per cent leave the university without a qualification. While UB figures are not that high, the institution also has to contend with similar problems.

From the look of things, it will be some time before a Botswana institution becomes world-class.

While Kewagamang told the Morocco summit about “a thriving private sector involvement in education and training at all levels” when describing the Botswana situation, the fact of the matter is that, at this point, only UB appears to be making realistic effort to get on that list. A lecturer at one notorious tertiary education institution says that when staff suggested the establishment of a research and development unit, management responded by saying that marketing the school would actually be more productive use of resources.

The prestige of the Times Higher Learning rankings are such that it is trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments around the world.

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