As the country’s mineral reserves get depleted and the mining sector itself cease to be as profitable as it used to be in the past, recommendations have been made for the country to diversify its economy and move from a natural resource based economy to a knowledge-based economy. Unfortunately evidence on the ground shows that despite the sad reality that Botswana needs to move out fast, the country is not investing sufficiently in research and innovation. According to Botswana International University of Science & Technology (BIUST) Vice Chancellor Professor Otlogetswe Totolo, this is a worrisome trend which ought to be dealt with and rectified as soon as possible. “As a middle income economy, Botswana should not be under-performing. Botswana cannot afford to be just a natural resource-based economy, we need to jump and jump now,” Professor Totolo said. He seized the moment to throw shade at local institutions including his alma mater - the University of Botswana –, saying most institutions are currently towards teaching not research. He said research if ever done is often more based on the researcher ‘self-advancement and not the economy and some are focused on wrong areas that do not have long term ‘high value’ e.g. agriculture and manufacturing.
He said the country’s science and technology landscape is overly focused on adaptation of technologies, which restrict breakthrough ideas. He for example noted that Botswana has a poor patent record -five patents by 2016 as compared to 500 thousands per year in Japan. The journal articles published per year is also ranked among the lowest in the world. “It’s a disease that we need to get rid of,” Totolo said. According to Professor Totolo, BIUST is developing at a time when Botswana is in the midst of economic and social transition and transformation. The country according to Professor Totolo is ranked as an upper middle income economy by the World Bank and it is consistently rated by a number of global comparative international assessments as being among the top four African countries s across a range of parameters including in good governance, lack of corruption and others. Professor Totolo noted that the key underpinning of this record achievement is based on the country’s natural resource endowment which has helped guarantee its prosperity. “The warning signs are however clearly evident that this may not be the case in the future. Diamond revenues, at the level that Botswana has enjoyed up to now, are not going to be sustainable and alternative engines of growth need to be developed if Botswana is to compete and prosper in the future.”
He said the challenge to create this new Botswana is proving to be formidable and there is a growing consensus that it is the quality and performance of the nation’s education and skills development system coupled with a vibrant innovation system that will be the tool to unlock the nation’s potential and drive the transformation agenda. “Notwithstanding the progress since independence and the considerable amount of investment made by the government, Botswana’s skills are not world class and the research and innovation record is weak,” he said. Professor Totolo noted that despite this, scientific and technological developments are occurring faster than could ever be dreamed of, significantly altering the world of work. This, he said, means that Botswana’s successful transition to the next stage of development will depend almost entirely on the knowledge, skills and innovation capacity of its people. When unpacking the strategic plan, Professor Totolo said that the BIUST Act (2005) which subsequently established the University added yet another dimension by positioning it to play a key role not only in terms of national needs and requirements but also as an international institution.
According the Vice Chancellor, BIUST’s new institutional strategy represents the response to the changing national and higher education landscape and sets out the strategic priorities that the university will focus its efforts on between 2016/17 and 2022/23. “In sum the strategy sets the course for the university to achieve the ambition of becoming a premier research-based university of science and technology,” he said. As for academic quality and student reputation, Totolo stated that a key focus of the university’s endeavours will be on its core academic mandate of providing higher education and training and to advance and disseminate knowledge and skills through teaching learning and practical skills. “Students have a legitimate expectation that their qualifications have ‘currency’ and will be recognised and held in high esteem in Botswana and internationally,” he said.