Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) Vice Chancellor Professor Otlogetswe Totolo is a man on a mission.
Totolo has hinted his ambition of turning Palapye, where BIUST is located, into a fully blown university town in the not so distant future. Professor Totolo has highlighted that he intends to lend a leaf from two of the world’s prestigious Universities at the United Kingdom known as city universities. The UK universities are, owing to their considered location, in which they offer quality education – consequently centres of attraction to the world.
Professor Totolo told a delegation of editors from various media houses in Botswana who were touring BIUST this week that: “the dream is to have Palapye as a university town in the moulds of Oxford and Cambridge.” The two distinguished universities were even named by their cities. Oxford is a city in England which is known worldwide as the home of the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Equally, Cambridge is a university city in the country town of "Cambridgeshire" Cambridge shire, still in England.
According to the latest 2017 world universities rankings by Times Higher Education (THE), University of Oxford is on top for the second year in a row and rival Cambridge in second. The BIUST Professor has a truly ambitious vision. This vision, Professor Totolo insisted during the editors’ tour that: “we believe Palapye can change its status because of presence of BIUST like it is happening in developed countries.” His dream, he emphasized, is to make BIUST an internationally competitive university and make the town- Palapye (and surrounding areas) benefit from its strategic location.
By so doing, he will reinforce his undertaking by producing tomorrow’s leaders in the industry and society through the provision of relevant, innovative, quality research intensive education of an international standard. In addition he said he will promote community, national, regional and international development through the transfer of the University’s knowledge and the provision of its skills and expertise.
The Vice Chancellor also stressed that “from 2000 going forward the current discourse conceives of the African university (like BIUST) as an ‘entrepreneurial innovative engine of development’ and specifically at the institutional apex of the ‘knowledge economy.’” So far the university has invested a whopping 1 billion pula of Capital investment. It has 1,716 students, top achiever intake, 70 Postgraduate, 406 Staff, and to emphasize their seriousness – all academic staff has PhDs, and they will keep the trend in recruitment going forward. The university targets 6000 students (4500 undergraduates and 1500 post graduates) to be scientists by 2022 in which 10 to 15% will be international students to buttress its vision as a globally competitive university.
BIUST to be a Research and Innovation Excellence hub
BIUST, the only university, which specializes in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Botswana, will also focus largely on growing research portfolio.The varsity’s mission is to produce world class research and innovation in science, engineering and technology contributing to industry growth and development and advancement of a diversified knowledge-based economy. Totolo said they will “develop high quality research and innovation that can be transformed into tangible applications and products and provide research services and facilities that can support the needs of industry and society.”
The University Professor also added that they will establish research groups and focal areas, clusters, platforms, and networks in priority areas as defined by the University Research and Innovation Strategy which are aligned to local, national, regional and international needs and demands. “We will deepen the integration of student research (both undergraduate and post graduate) into the academic curriculum and increase postgraduate research output.” He added that they will be the engine of development in Science, Engineering and Technology to drive the economic, social, cultural, educational and industrial transformation of the local and national economies.
According to Totolo, a consensus is emerging among policy makers and economists that at least half, if not more, of the economic growth in countries is directly attributable to Science and Technology. In a globalizing, knowledge driven world with increasing importance of service industries and technological competitiveness, this contribution can only become higher, he pointed out. He said they envision “to be a premier research-based university of Science, Engineering & Technology, internationally recognized for the quality and excellence of its teaching and learning; research and innovation; and engagement”.
To justify this, he borrowed former President Sir Ketumile Masire’s words in 1995 where he said “we cannot survive the ruthless world of today without harvesting Science and technology (S&T). Only science led development will give us a chance to become serious players in the international market place.”
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”