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Private sector supports BIUST Phikwe campus debate

Botswana’s private sector lobby group, Business Botswana, has practically thrown all the advocacy weight behind the idea of relocating Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST)’s Departments of Mining and Geology from Palapye to Selibe Phikwe.


The private Sector federation has welcomed the suggested move saying that it would first and foremost go a long way in turning around the economy of Selibe Phikwe and surrounding areas. Business Botswana Vice President, Palalani Moithobogi told WeekendPost in a previous interview that BIUST is a partner to the private sector as a research, innovation and ground breaking solution seeking institution.


Moithobogi had observed that Phikwe has all necessary equipment to establish a department of geology and Mining or a fully fleshed college of engineering campus. Moithobogi’s view was that, the campus would complement the revitalization efforts in Phikwe as well as government’s mission of turning Botswana into a knowledge based economy.


Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament, Dithapelo Keorapetse had tabled the motion in parliament a fortnight ago. In the motion debated in parliament on the 10th of March, Keorapetse had asked Parliament to request government to relocate BIUST Mining and Geology academic services to Selibe Phikwe with a satellite engineering campus established in Phikwe. Keorapetse had argued that the relocation would develop Selibe Phikwe into an innovation and research academic centre, a move he added would undoubtedly go a long way in turning around the economy of Selibe Phikwe and the entire SPEDU region.


“Mr Speaker, when you go to other countries, I will give two examples from South Africa. When you take the town of Stellenbosch, the mainstay of the economy of the town of Stellenbosch is Stellenbosch University. So the university is very important in breathing economic life to the town of say Stellenbosch, when you go to Grahams town, there is Rhodes University,” he said


”Mr Speaker, another practice when you go to other countries is that you can have a university headquartered in a city or a town and then have faculties or schools or departments relocated in the neighbouring towns, When you look at the distance of Palapye and Selebi Phikwe, it is around plus 100 kilometres. It is very possible that we can relocate the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering of the College of Engineering and Technology at BIUST from Palapye to Selebi Phikwe to establish a BIUST Selebi Phikwe Campus,” he explained to parliament.


Keorapetse observed that for purposes of practicals, the BCL Mine would come in handy.  “It will be even more appropriate if the mine is re- opened with either private investors partnering with Government or whatever the case may be, It will be even more appropriate if the mine is running,” he said.  


Business Botswana strongly accedes to this view:  “Before the liquidation, there were apprentices who did their practicals for various disciplines at Selebi Phikwe Technical College at the BCL Mine. So I think that when you go to a country like France, to prevent what formerly was mining towns from becoming ghost towns, those places which were mined were turned into museums and they also offered practical’s for disciplines in mining related science and engineering programmes.”


Business Botswana who noted that their interests in the issue are business facilitation and concept commercializing anchored, are of the view that entrepreneurship and other private sector led economic activities can emerge simultaneously form such a development.
“ We are looking at long term SPEDU region economic transformation, thus when an institution of the magnitude of a university campus  is built here, the Small, Medium Enterprises  will flourish, accommodation rentals, transport; the economic activities unearthed as a result are very obvious and clear even to lame man,” said  Moithobogi.


In an interview this week, Keorapetse further told WeekendPost that the move will be a long term complementation to Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry Phikwe Revitalization Efforts towards fulfilling the aspiration of making sure that Selibe Phikwe does not become a ghost town.


 It will be costly for government


However the move has received mixed reactions from the legislators, Minister of Tertiary Education, Research and Technology, Mr Alfred Madigele aggrieved that the undertaking would be costly to his ministry. “The proposal to relocate the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering to Selebi Phikwe from BIUST in Palapye is not plausible as it will come at a huge cost to the Government of Botswana. It will be tantamount to building another BUIST in Selebi Phikwe,” he said. He further argued that BIUST’s academic service delivery will be negatively affected.


“Detaching and relocating the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering to Selebi Phikwe will cost daunting logistical and operational difficulties for both the students and the staff, in particular there is the need for comprehensive library facilities and resources as well as teaching laboratories which we all believe are an integral part of the education process and cannot be over-emphasized,” he said.


Madigele noted that various departments and colleges at BIUST share common resources, from sharing common facilities like lecturers, professors, laboratories, libraries to other administrative and logistical facilities. “By the current structure which is currently being used at  BIUST, year ones and year twos in the College of Engineering and Technology have to take common courses like Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Statistics like their counterparts in the College of Information and Communications Technology; that is the first and second year students, ” he noted and further stated that the departments of Mining and Geological Engineering offered programs which comprise common courses offered by the three (3) colleges at BIUST and use the same laboratories, using the same workshop facilities like others in the three colleges.


Government to consider the move in future


Meanwhile, Business Botswana believes that the cost can be overlapped by coming up with an arrangement that allows for partnership in setting up the campus: “The government doesn’t have to bear the costs alone, when you look at the research labs, innovation packs, the BCL metallurgy and mechanical workshops, they can be run independently by private sector businesses and BUIST would just have to devise a partnership model.”


According to Business Botswana, the campus arrangement, especially support services like accommodation for lectures, university staff  as well as other institution sectors like business facilities, can be developed by private sector or other government parastatals like Botswana Innovation Hub and  BITRI just to name a few.


Member of Parliament for Gaborone Bonnington South, Ndaba Gaolathe, was among those who supported the move to have the BIUST campus relocated to Phikwe. According to him, the development would also enhance learning at BIUST and turn the institution into a world-class research and innovation academic institution.


“Thank you Honourable Member of Parliament Keorapetse, for a motion that I think is worth considering. If you look at the tradition of universities, the tradition of academic rigor, the tradition of intellectual pursuit, you will find that universities that have been successful around the world, that have contributed profoundly to the body of knowledge are universities that have multiple campuses,” Gaolathe said.


He observed that the move would provide yet another opportunity not only for BIUST, but for Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI), both of which fall under Minister Madigele’s portfolio. Parliament ended up amending the motion to move from the house requesting government to relocate the campus from Palapye to Phikwe and settled for “Government to consider the relocation in future.” Member of Parliament for Nata-Gweta Polson Majaga moved the amendment.

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