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Hon. Molao is right, UB should adapt or perish!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Recently, the University of Botswana (UB) Vice Chancellor, Professor Thabo Fako, has been on the offensive with the narrative that if government does not maintain its subventions and sponsor a certain number of students annually, there is a risk that the institution will fail to meet its financial obligations and close down.

He took exception at the fact that government made an abrupt decision to stop sponsoring students for certain courses at the UB, arguing that “… my belief is that, if the government no longer wants the university to offer a certain program, that should be an act of policy, and then we phase out the programme in a gradual manner, not just to pullout the plug…”

It is not true that government’s decision was not informed by policy. The decision was informed by the National Human Resource Development Policy (NHRDP) which UB is aware of and in fact participated in its development.  Prof. Fako has expressed discomfort with government’s decision to liberalize the education sector, with government sponsoring students to enroll in private tertiary institutions at the expense of public institutions. He regards it as a grave error which will have severe consequences and he is reported to be working on a report in that regard.

Prof. Fako is reported to be condemning government for allowing private institutions to use the name ‘University’ willy-nilly, arguing that “…to me a university is a prestigious institution, and the name ‘university’ should be protected. What we are doing is giving children the hope that they are something which they are not.” In response to Prof. Fako’s offensive, the Assistant Minister for the newly established Ministry of Tertiary Education Research, Science and Technology, Honourable Fidelis Molao, is reported to have said UB should adapt to the country’s human resource needs or perish.

Honourable Molao is reported to have stated that UB, though a public institution, should, by now, be a sustainable institution which should operate with little or no financial support from government. In my view, Honourable Molao is right. UB, which was built through cattle donations from Batswana under the motho le motho kgomo initiative, and has enjoyed financial support from government since its establishment in 1982, cannot expect to continue relying on government for survival. It needs to enhance its sustainability and raise its endowment from the current paltry 334 million Pula to at least a billion Pula.

As Honourable Molao says, if UB’s curriculum is not responsive to the NHRDP in terms of the country’s human resource development needs government should look elsewhere; the most obvious route being privately owned tertiary institutions. No wonder according a report titled “Tertiary Education at a Glance” published by the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) earlier this year “…during the 2014/15 financial year, out of the 60 583 students enrolled in tertiary institutions, private tertiary institutions accounted for 42.6 percent of the students. A drastic growth experienced by almost all private institutions.”

For the many years that UB enjoyed monopoly of the tertiary education sector it became too comfortable and failed to continually adapt by developing ‘industry relevant’ and ‘fit for purpose’ courses and programmes. It failed to take a leaf from the Vision 2016 document in terms of the type of education our country requires for our graduates to compete globally.

UB, despite the intellectual endowment it has from its academics, failed to revisit its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats (SWOT) matrix in order to identify and remedy its weaknesses; identify and maximize the benefits presented by its opportunities and to identify and reposition itself in view of the threats facing it.

Botho University, formerly National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT) and Botho College, adapted to the country’s needs when it evolved from focusing only on Information Technology to offering a variety of other courses. It also changed its name, making itself relevant to Batswana. Even when government liberalized the education sector UB failed to reposition itself. Rather, it lay comfortable with the hope that government will continue pumping millions of Pula in its courses and programmes, many of which are irrelevant to Botswana’s current economic needs.

Instead of repositioning itself programmatically, UB embarked on a costly so-called rebranding exercise. It is common knowledge that the millions of Pula spent on the exercise went down the drain because after adopting a new logo and new colors, such were reversed when, following an internet based voting process, the old logo and corporate colors were reinstated.

The question is: what should have been UB’s priority, should it have been a superficial rebranding exercise or revitalization of its curriculum? In my view, the latter should have been the priority. Rebranding an academic institution in logos and colors without revitalizing its academic programmes is like painting a house with glossy colors without addressing its structural defects.

Instead of wasting time and funds in compiling a report on the consequences of liberalizing the education system, UB should devote its time and resources towards developing ‘industry relevant’ and ‘fit for purpose’ courses. It should also devise ways of broadening its income streams. The private tertiary institutions that Prof. Fako is casting aspersions on, claiming they are not worthy of being called universities are successful not because of their names, but because they offer courses which are attractive to today’s generation.

Consequently, these institutions generate funds which can sustain them beyond government sponsorship. These institutions are a few years old, yet many of them have developed both academically and infrastructurally to levels that are proportionally ahead of UB’s development. Not only that. They have a dynamic and innovative culture of learning. They do not keep courses for the sake of it. If a course ceases to be relevant they cancel it and replace it with one required by the labour market. Also, the course names are attractive to today’s generation.

These institutions have brought a global outlook to our curriculum by partnering with foreign universities and other institutions of higher learning, making our graduates competitive at the world level. These institutions do not keep lecturers who do not perform. Their lecturers are supported when conducting research unlike UB which does not promote research and academic fellowship. The maxim ‘publish or perish’ is no longer honored at UB. We have, at UB, PhD holders who have, as the only robust academic work they ever published, their PhD thesis.

UB failed to take advantage of the political and economic crisis which bedeviled many African countries, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. It failed to target students from such troubled countries as Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique with educational opportunities. UB could, for instance, have developed distance education and online courses for such students. This would have enabled UB to generate income from self-sponsoring students and sponsorships by the concerned governments, the United Nations (UN) and other donor organizations.

UB even failed to target the hundreds of Batswana students who, for one reason or the other, it could not admit. Some of these students ended up enrolling with foreign universities for full time, part time and distance education programmes. Money that could have been paid to UB was instead paid to foreign universities.

It is not as if UB was short of facilities to increase its intake. It has Centres of Continuing Education in Francis town and Maun which, in my view, have been underutilized. There is also Tonota College of Education (TCE) and Molepolole College of Education (MCE) which are affiliated to UB, but UB has failed to utilize them in order to broaden its brand equity and physical presence.

In fact, UB has not treated the colleges as its affiliates. Because of its conservative view of tertiary education in terms of which it undermines any tertiary institution which is not a university, it once required that students graduating from its affiliates with three year diplomas commence at first year when they proceeded to study for a degree with it.

It even required that students holding a Diploma in Law from UB itself start at first year when enrolling for a Bachelor’s Degree in Law with it. These counter-productive requirements discouraged many students from studying with UB and they looked elsewhere for further education.  In South Africa, the University of South Africa (UNISA) has taken advantage of its country’s geo-political positioning and developed full time, part time and distance education programmes targeting not only South African citizens, but students from all over the world. Consequently, UNISA is not reliant on government for subventions and grants.

Cuba, a very poor country which has suffered economic sanctions for decades, has established an economic niche by training medical doctors from all over the world. Even developed countries send their students to Cuba to study medicine, earning the country the much needed foreign exchange income. If UB had good leadership, government would not have spent billions of Pula in paying for Batswana students in foreign universities. What justification is there for government to have been sending students to study Law, for example, in such underdeveloped countries as Lesotho? Should n’t UB be having a world class faculty of Law attracting students from the continent or the region, at least?

Of all the past Vice Chancellors that UB has had, who among them has left a legacy of enhancing the academic curriculum? Who has enhanced the culture of research? Who has made meaningful attempts to diversify UB’s revenue base?

Alfred Masokola recently reminded us of the African proverb which says ‘when a hyena wants to eat its children; it first accuses them of smelling like goats’. This is what UB is trying to do except that the private tertiary institutions are not its children, but its equals. UB is accusing private tertiary institutions of claiming to be what they are not. This is an attempt to influence government to stop sponsoring students who enroll in such institutions so that they perish due to lack of finances for UB to prevail with its monopoly in tertiary education.

This cannot be. After many years of suffering under UB’s monopoly our children have finally found institutions which provide courses suitable for their needs. Such institutions as ABM University College, Gaborone Universal College of Law, Limkokwing University, Botho University and Baisago University are indispensable to our children’s future.     

These private tertiary institutions went through a robust accreditation process with the Tertiary Education Council (TEC), the predecessor to Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA). Given the integrity of our accrediting institutions, we have no reason to doubt the standard of their curriculum. One hopes that government has learnt a lesson from BCL mine’s closure. Despite pumping billions of Pula into its operations, it failed and has had to be liquidated because, like UB, it failed to diversify its revenue base. Government cannot afford to repeat the same mistake. UB should be weaned from breastfeeding before it is too late.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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