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BIUST launches ambitious strategy

Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST)’s newly launched strategic plan envisages that the university will be in par with the world’s top universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Oxford University and Harvard University among others by the year 2022.  

The university’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Otlogetswe Totolo has revealed that key strategies including substantial investment on research and development, human resource capability and collaboration with the industry will see the university living its dream beyond the year 2022.

BIUST was conjured up by the 9th parliament in 2005, and came into operation in 2012, where it was initially housed at the Oodi College of Arts facilities, before moving to its own in 2014. The institution has never found inner peace since then after reports of political interference led to the departure of the university’s previous Vice Chancellors; Prof. Hillary Inyang and Prof.Kweku Bentil.

Professor Totolo comes aboard amid new hopes that the institution will live up to its true expectation, with the Strategic Plan 2016-2022 seen as the blue print to transforming the Palapye based science and technology institution.

Prof Totolo, who took office in March this year, has unveiled his strategy, which is now in effect, and will be valid until 2022 and paints a picture of changed landscape in Botswana, should the strategy enjoy the support of every stakeholder.

The Professor also wants his institution to set itself apart from other state owned institutions. He said BIUST should take a different path of not being heavily reliant on government for funding, but to explore other means of raising the funds.

Prof Totolo is optimistic that, like other internationally recognised universities in the world, BIUST can forge formidable partnerships with the industry players and other philanthropic individuals to source out funds for the institution.

“There are many people, whom I have met and interacted with who can be willing to give portions of their money to BIUST. But first we have to build relationships with them,” he said.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which has been consistently ranked as a top technology university in the world has fostered a problem-solving approach that encourages researchers to work together across departments, fields, and institutional boundaries. The resulting collaborations have included thousands of fruitful partnerships with industry and other leading research institutions.

Research sponsored directly by industry, according to the institution’s website totalled $134 million (about P1.4 billion) in fiscal year 2015, or 19 percent of all MIT research funding.

 According to the National Science Foundation, MIT ranks first in industry-financed research and development expenditures among all universities and colleges without a medical school. MIT has partnership with over 700 companies.

Furthermore, Totolo views the fact that universities now fall under the new Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, as an opportunity for BIUST to prosper. He said the development means that BIUST will form a close relationship with other quasi-government research institutions such as National Food Technology Research Centre (NFTRC) and Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI) among others.

It has been noted by BIUST itself that for it to claim the position of being considered the “engine of development” and flagship for science, engineering and technology university of reputable standing” will depend on it being able to embark on researches which can transform into tangible applications and products of importance to the society.

Prof Totolo affirmed that during the five year strategy, the university will strive to build strong linkages with the industry, look for research funding from various sources and have adequate and sustainable research staff and infrastructure.

The world over, governments fund research and development in universities a trend which means the success of BIUST ambitions will rely on government’s will to disburse substantial amounts for the purpose of research and development alone.

Botswana is currently spending a mere 0.2 percent of its GDP on research related activities, and has not had its universities make it in the prestigious Time Higher Education Ranking. The neighbouring South Africa, on the other hand, spends about 4 percent of its GDP on research and development and has had two of its universities; University of Cape Town and University of the Witwatersrand being ranked consistently as top universities.

BIUST currently has 1700 students in its ranks, with 242 of them pursuing postgraduate programmes. All academic staff at the university hold doctorate (PhD) qualifications, a strong intent for quality assurance in Prof Totolo’s assertion.

By the 2022/23 academic year, BIUST plans to enrol 100 percent of the country’s top students, with 15 percent of its enrolment being international students. The institution will have 6000 students of which between 4500-5000 should be in undergraduate programmes, and 1000-1500 in post graduate programmes.

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UDC founder warns against merger

19th October 2020
Ex UDC Convener: Mpotokwane

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.

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BDP attaches Boko’s property

19th October 2020
DUMA BOKO

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.

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COVID-19 exposes decay in the education system

19th October 2020
Education Systm

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.”

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