The State of Botswana Tertiary Education Capture: Part Three
In this column I wish to look at the position of the University of Botswana as the country’s premier institution. I argue in this column that the attacks levelled against UB are largely unfair, ill-advised and unnecessary. Instead of attacking UB, there must be a concerted effort to complement its course offerings and not an attempt to undermine its work. First, I must declare my interest since I am Associate Professor at the University of Botswana. I am however not writing to defend the UB because it is my place of work. I am writing this column to demonstrate its superiority and why it will remain a special place in the Botswana tertiary landscape.
Sir Seretse Khama, the first University of Botswana Chancellor argued in May 1970 that: “The University must be a committed institution, committed to the fulfilment of the ambitions and aspirations of the communities it was created to serve. One of these is rapid development, another is non-racialism, and the third is simply pride in ourselves and in our past, which in turn would lead to a greater degree of self-confidence, which is one of the very basic ingredients of true independent nationhood.” This laid an important vision of Botswana’s first university which was formally inaugurated on October 23, 1982 by His Excellency Sir Ketumile Masire, President of the Republic of Botswana. Contributions to build the university came from peasants and royalty alike. Each gave what they could: maize, goats, cattle etc – from each according to ability. That is how the maxim motho le motho kgomo gained currency in the heat of the financial campaign to build the campus.
For years the University of Botswana established itself as Botswana’s premium institution. For the formative years, it concerned itself with training undergraduates for the various positions in the public sector ensuring that Botswana’s growing economy was matched by a well-trained human resource. Even then, UB competed with private institutions. Most of these were better institutions outside Botswana in places such as the UK, USA, Australia, or such institutions offered courses which were not offered by UB. In later years UB competed for students with South African universities and Universities of Technology (former technikons). UB was not overly concerned by these institutions because they were in effect complementing UB mandate of educating Batswana.
With the proliferation of local institutions, there has risen a chorus of criticism of UB and what it does. The criticism isn’t new and has taken different shapes. Some of us remember when Limkokwing first opened its doors in Botswana, many celebrated the demise of the mighty UB. The celebrations didn’t last. The same happened with the coming of BIUST, though it isn’t a private tertiary institution. There is a need to see private institutions in a complementary role and not primarily in competition with UB. Actually, private institutions which do well are those that identify a gap in the education market and exploit it. For private institutions to exploit this gap, they don’t have to attack UB. For instance, UB has discontinued many certificate and diploma programs which many institutions can offer successfully. UB doesn’t offer a program in Musicology, Sound Engineering or Jazz Guitar. All of these are areas to be exploited.
Some of the attacks that are levelled against UB are ill-informed and show a lack of familiarity with UB itself. UB is far ahead of all of the private institutions combined – yes, UB is better that all of the private tertiary institutions in Botswana combined! Here is how.
- Quality infrastructure
One of the good qualities of a good tertiary institution is quality infrastructure. UB has the finest classrooms and lecture theatres – most of them air-conditioned and fitted with projectors and computers for a superior class experience for UB students. UB doesn’t just have a few of these – it has numerous large lecture theatres and classrooms which enable it to run numerous programs at the same time. The UB quality infrastructure multiple large refectories, an Olympic swimming pool, an indoor sports centre, student hostels, a clinic, a teaching hospital, a stadium, a shopping centre with a supermarket, a bookshop, a Post Office, restaurants and ATMs. UB also has offices for its lecturers and support staff. It is rare to find any two lecturers sharing an office. This is in contrast to some of the private tertiary institutions where lecturers huddle together in one room like secondary school teachers in a staff room. The grounds and space outside the classroom are also sufficient and not crammed allowing for intellectual engagement between students and staff. Students are able to sit and gather in various parts of the institution outside their lecture rooms to exchange ideas, discuss assignments and work in groups. The space outside a classroom is critical to learning just as the space inside. This is why it is possible to access wifi siting under a tree on UB grounds!
The UB library is one of the finest in sub-Saharan Africa with an unrivalled digital as well as printed collection. It contains over 600,000 books, over 18,000 pamphlets, over 140,000 full text journals and over 3,000 periodicals. It is an impressive intellectual space for research and discovery for students and staff which has implications on the quality of independent study and research. It can sit about 1,500 users. Finally UB has well-resourced computer labs for students to type their work and research online. UB has over 2,400 computers for staff and over 2,600 computers for students all linked to international educational databases.
UB has the best academic staff which rivals that of all Botswana private institutions combined! There can be no quality institutions without quality staff. Quality staff is to be measured by its training, its teaching as well as its output. UB doesn’t only employ some of the finest lecturers from around the world. It trains its staff in some of the finest institutions of the world. The minimum teaching qualification that a member of staff must have is a Master degree, with senior staff required to have a PhD. While lecturers are usually mistaken for teachers, all UB lecturers are more than teachers. They research and publish their work in local and international refereed journals. This is a UB requirement and not an option. UB has about a thousand academics. About 200 of these are Professors or Associate Professors and 300 of these are senior lecturers and the rest lecturers. UB doesn’t just have outstanding academics, it also an impressive team of support staff which is highly educated. UB has over 1500 support staff members working in its finance, institutional planning, public affairs and other university strategic areas.
Compare that with the number and qualifications of lecturers in some of these private institutions. Some of the lecturers in these institutions are first degree holders or individuals working towards their Masters. UB scholars also produce research which is measured for impact. It is referenced widely and used internationally. The more highly cited research papers a university publishes, the stronger its research output is considered. UB also has a clear progression structure which is lacking in many private institutions. It has professors who have been assessed by their peers in international universities of being worthy of such a label.
One way of determining if an institution is good is by considering the quality of students it attracts as well as the quality of students it graduates. For instance, Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews, Harvard, MIT, and Stanford attract some of the top students in the world and some of their graduates lead in various disciplines and industries around the world. This is in part because such institutions possess some of the best resources: staff, libraries and staff to student ratios. Contrary to recent claims in the media, UB attracts some of the finest minds who come to embark in robust programs such as Medicine, Law, Business, Computer Science and others. An alumni pool of the University of Botswana is a testament of its enduring excellence over the years. Consider individuals in politics, business, health, law, various government departments, CEOs and captains of various industries
The degree to which an institution attracts international students (and researchers) is also a mark of its international appeal since international reputation will always attract international students. UB attracts international students from across Africa and is involved in exchange programs with American, German and international universities from all over the world.
The research output of an institution is a perfect mark of its international standing. UB has the largest research output compared to all the private institutions combined. For instance in the academic year 2014/2015 UB recorded 1239 publications by its members of staff. 72% of these were refereed scholarly journal articles. Other publications included 32 books, 142 book chapters and 176 refereed conference proceedings. Good institutions are determined by the body of research that they produce. Such institutions do not only disseminate knowledge, they create it, aggregate it and make it known to the world. UB is a good institution!
Research at UB is also produced by graduate students (Masters and PhDs). In 2014/2015 UB had 1704 students pursuing Masters degrees and 96 students on various PhD programs.
I have made a claim of UB’s supremacy compared to all private institutions combined. I wait for the falsification of my claims. UB is not a Mickey Mouse institution. It is robust. It has a proud history and an incredible future if supported well. Even if independent standards, such as the one established by Times Higher Education here were used to weigh UB against private tertiary institutions such private institutions would not stand a chance against UB.