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Africa’s Challenges Can Be Resolved By Collaborative Research – Botswana Vc

Nigeria Student Forum / Educational News / Africa’s Challenges Can Be Resolved By Collaborative Research – Botswana Vc

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Fadeyi Oluwaseun
Ladoke Akintola University Ogbomosho
B.tech Marketing Management
200Level, Nigeria.

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The Vice Chancellor, University of Botswana, Professor David Norris, in this interview, said effective Research and Development programmes in universities and robust university-industry relations would enhance economic prosperity in the continent. He also said Nigerian students will study at reduced cost in his university.

What makes your university unique?

University of Botswana is the first and major university in Botswana. You may know that the Botswana in the 70s was one of the poorest countries in the world with very few people skilled to really run an economy. The university played a major role in human capital development in that country. That is why you find that almost 70% of the workforce in Botswana if not more, has been through the gates of the university.

The president of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi, is an alumnus of the university so also his vice, Slumber Tsogwane and many ministers. In that sense, the university is critical to the economic development of the country. The university currently has 12,000 students but with capacity for 20,000 students, so it can further enroll 8,000 students. Candidates from Nigeria can join.

Industrial companies and corporate organisations look to higher institutions for training of workforce and innovations. What is your rapport with the industry?

For a long time, there has been a gap between the universities all over the world and the industry, but our university is about to close the gap. Because, we resolved that our professors should not sit in their offices imagining problems; rather, they must relate with the industry to solve those problems. We must be relevant and if we don’t engage the industry, we shall lose reliance; we are really relevant to the country.

To that extent, your university must have been coordinating loads of Research and Development (R&D) schemas?

R&D is critical for us, especially for the fact that we are talking about knowledge economy. Transition from resource-based economy to knowledge-based economy hinges on R&D as well as innovation. Research here means that you create and disseminate knowledge without which you can never transit to knowledge-based economy. Importantly, the country has also put in place what we call the Botswana Innovation Hub where researchers can come up with ideas. The hub will house a wide range of initiatives in technology incubation, education, and scientific research. To encourage mentorship, the hub also makes space for the local offices of a number of international tech companies.

The university is also setting up its small innovation centre so that our staff and students can innovate and startup companies before graduation.

Innovation centres are effective to the development of the country. I sat on a board that considers, the Botswana Innovation Fund. There is a lot of interest in the creativity and the skills young people have. And for a long time, we did not provide an enabling environment for our youths. We realized that if we are going to be called a knowledge-economy, it is very imperative to have things like these.

International success depends largely on teamwork. Do you intend to enhance collaborative research and academic exchange with Nigerian higher institutions?

When the university started in 1982, majority of the staff where foreigners including many Nigerians; there were very few local professors. All the manpower development was because of the effort of the Nigerians. Now, we have got the resources and with the population size of Nigeria and the fact that there are many talented young people who do not have the opportunity to enter into university because of lack of opportunities and admission spaces, we can play a small role in offering these young people opportunities and in a way to thank Nigerians. The partnership is of mutual benefit. As I speak, we have very talented professors from Nigeria who mentoring our young professors in Botswana.

We have opportunities both at undergraduate and graduate sections. Even lecturers in universities or teacher colleges who may be holding master’s or BSc degrees, can come and do their postgraduate studies. Officials of the National Universities Commission (NUC) would visit for an on-the-spot assessment of the facilities.

We are going to offer scholarships in the sense that usually, everywhere you go, you find that international students pay double or even more than what locals pay. So we are saying that prospective Nigerian students will pay fees similar to what local students pay.

We are looking at partnerships on research with Nigerian universities and researchers because our challenges in Africa are somewhat the same and most of the time we tend to run to western countries for collaboration; that is good; that is globalisation, but do they really understand our challenges? So, if we strengthen south-south partnerships, I think, most our problems would be effectively resolved.

Student and staff exchanges are also very critical and go beyond a staff member from Nigeria coming to Botswana and lecture for some weeks; we are looking at course supervision and mentoring of our students, so you can have student studying in Botswana and having a course supervisor in Nigeria which we call dual programmes. You don’t look at the partnership from the cost implication, rather from the knowledge that students stand to get.

Many people will foresee a number of challenges from academic partnerships with Nigerian universities due to recurrent labour strikes. Do you experience same?

We rarely have strikes in Botswana; I am not saying the system is smooth and people are happy, but in terms of stability, I am saying with confidence that we are very stable. We have never had a time in which university was closed for more than two weeks for instance, and I don’t see us closing. The environment we provide for our students and staff is really satisfactory that is why we don’t experience what other people experience in our neighbouring countries.

Again, prospective students will worry about xenophobic attacks as is experienced in one of your neighbouring countries. How will you douse the tension?

That is very important. We are happy that what is happening in our neighbouring country did not spill over to our country. We have student riots in our neighbouring country but the government is trying to appease students and control the situation. We don’t have those things in Botswana. We have instances where students get their allowances a little late, due to deficiencies in some offices, but they don’t blow out into fully-fledged strikes.

Students gain confidence from participating in many activities in a higher institution. Apart from academic excellence, what other things would benefit foreign students in Botswana?

Apart from quality education, there is also quality student life; we provide the best social amenities to our students in terms of sporting facilities, counseling and health services for free. We have full-fledged clinic run by doctors on campus and indoor sports centre which is being turned into higher performance centre and this could be good for Nigeria which is known for producing professional athletes. For us in Africa, Nigeria is our pride when it comes to football and other sporting events. We have an Olympic-size swimming pool. We can also assure that as a university policy, international students are accommodated on campus.

We shall continue to publicize the university in Nigeria; we had career exhibition on Monday and Tuesday at the Botswanan Embassy in Abuja.

I watch Nollywood movies and there are many actors and actresses that I like. We can also enhance cultural cooperation with Nigerian students coming to Botswana. The university has a fantastic department of Media Studies with a TV station and a radio station that will be launched soon. It is just that in Botswana sometimes, to get a license for terrestrial radio is not easy but we are lucky, government has approved online radio station for the university.

Many graduates scramble for few prospective jobs nowadays. Do your graduates feel prepared for the workforce?

If there is strong relation with the industry, students will receive required training. We bring industry experts into our classrooms to teach and to be in our advisory boards so that they participate in the review of curriculum. Humanities and social science are also important in the promotion of science and engineering. We don’t want our graduates to be roaming the streets, that is why we set up a business clinic meant to infuse business and entrepreneurship courses into our curriculum, so that the graduates can create jobs.

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