To transform the economy into a knowledge-based one, simply means the gauntlet has been thrown to think-tanks in the area. Local scientists and researchers should raise the bar in producing knowledge and innovations that are world class. In this sphere all eyes are on Professor Otlogetswe Totolo, the Vice Chancellor of Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), to see to it that his institution is up to the task of producing competitive graduates capable of producing cutting edge innovation products to grow the economy. Prof Totolo fields questions about this quest
Relate your mandate to this new push by Government push of developing a knowledge-based economy?
TOTOLO: To develop high quality research and innovation that can be transformed into tangible applications and products and provide research services and facilities that can support the needs of industry and society.
To establish research groups and focal areas, clusters, platforms, and networks in priority areas as defined by the University Research and Innovation Strategy which are aligned to local, national, regional and international needs and demands. To deepen the integration of student research (both undergraduate and post graduate) into the academic curriculum and increase postgraduate research output; and to be the engine of development in Science, Engineering and Technology to drive the economic, social, cultural, educational and industrial transformation of the local and nation.
Discuss the innovations that have come from your researchers and students since the institution opened doors.
TOTOLO: There are quite a number of innovations. Patents applications for two (2) innovations have been lodged with PCT so far and the applications are still under review. (The two innovations are: A Farmyard Access Control System and Method; and An Electrical Switching System for a Building or Installation. Another innovation which originated from students is under development. There is also one innovation which is at this stage is producing desired range of products.
Are these innovations protected?
TOTOLO: Two applications for patents have been lodged so far. A key mandate of a research university is to perform research that has developmental impact so that the society realizes the benefits of the research it conducts. BIUST therefore filed two international patents with the Patent Cooperation Treaty.
The patents are: A Farmyard Access Control System and Method. This is an invention for an electronic farmyard access control system and method which includes automatic livestock counting and access control aspects. An Electrical Switching System For A Building Or Installation – this invention relates broadly to switching of electricity in buildings or installations
and more specifically to a system and method for providing both course building control of electricity and fine load/appliance level control of electricity within the building.
What is the annual budget that the institution reserves for research and innovation?
TOTOLO: BIUST Research Performance is as follows: Total Research Income in 2018/19 stands at P3, 853, 711.97; Total University Revenue is P489,752,772.00; The 2018/19 proportion of the University subvention operational budget allocated for research is BWP10, 000,000.00. The proportion to the current budget is 2.8%.
What is the university doing to ensure that Research, Technology and Innovation subjects are inculcated in young minds before reaching tertiary level?
TOTOLO: We undertake annual STEM Festival and demystifying science campaign countrywide, as well as various teacher training programmes. Community Engagements were undertaken at Serorome & Manaledi Primary Schools – Problem-based Learning (PBL) project and tutorial services at Lotsane Senior Secondary School. Demystifying Science outreach programmes were conducted at both primary and secondary schools. Thus far, 142,000 students have been exposed to this exciting programme countrywide. In capacity building we undertook PBL for 489 Mathematics and Science Teachers both primary and secondary. In Training & Development we capacitated 765 Information Communication Technology (ICT) Teachers in Central and Kweneng Districts, 42 Youth Development Fund
Beneficiaries, 36 Palapye Rovers Scouts trained in entrepreneurship, and 46 Youth Development Fund Beneficiaries (graduated 9th April 2019).
How much would you say is the return on investment to the Government on the funds disbursed to BIUST for innovation and research?
TOTOLO: It is still too early to quantify the return on investment; it takes several generations of students to observe this.
How many graduates has BIUST produced so far and what is the level of their employability?
TOTOLO: So far, we have had three graduation ceremonies producing 549 graduates. We have conducted a tracer study which indicated that 60 to 65 percent of BIUST graduate are employed within six months of
completion of their studies.
Are those employed in the fields they studied?
TOTOLO: They are employed in various parastatal and private sectors in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
How would you classify the growth pattern of the University – How much has the school grown since inception?
TOTOLO: From inception in 2012, we enrolled 256 students and in 2019 we have 1957 students. It has grown in research activities that include: Soap Project – using abundance of cow tallow produced by Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) as waste material to make soap; Coal-to-liquid – converting abundance coal into multiple stream of fuel and other by-products e.g. and asphalt; Monitoring land degradation in the Central District – A three-tier land
degradation index mapping, a project funded by USAID. Its primary objectives were to find a lasting solution to land degradation in the Central District. Stakeholders included the Palapye community, farmers, the government, parastatals and the private sector; Outstanding student performance – Samuel Ntshiwa won the CEDA/DBSA University Challenge 2018, getting prize money of P200, 000.00 for his fish farm project; Ms Ogaufi Whitney Setlhogile, Energy Engineering Graduate, won Total Start Upper Challenge 2019 with a prize of P200,000.00 - Solar Water Sanitation – reverse osmosis used to clean underground water; Thabo Malete and Zimele Gwebeu, 5th Year Mechatronics Engineering Students, won the MAKEATHON CHALLENGE sponsored by BIH; Ms Blessing Moloko, Mbakiso Balemi & Kabo Letshwago, 4th Year, Computer Science, won Hauwei Seeds for Future programme sponsored by Hauwei Technologies Botswana.
NB: With a pool of post-graduate students, BIUST is involved in research in areas such as water, energy, mining, agriculture, health, et cetera which, without doubt, are key to the economic development of our country.
Other projects and events you are involved with?
TOTOLO: We have hosted the Square Kilometre Array dishes for Astronomy; the SADC Satellite Receiver to enhance Botswana’s Geo-Information System through Monitoring for Environment and Security in Africa (MESA) project; Three (3) international conferences on Clean Energy, International Transport & Southern African Mathematical Science Association (SAMSA) were held in Palapye; Local, regional and international linkages & partnerships including our local Morupule Coal Mine; Engagement For Development
What new fields of study are you intending to introduce soon?
TOTOLO: Adopting Concept of Schools: E.g Planned Departments under various Schools. Chemical Engineering; Metallurgical Engineering; Material Science & Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Geological Engineering; Geological Sciences; Mining Engineering, Environmental Science; Natural Resource Management, Computer and Telecommunications Engineering; Electrical and Communications Engineering, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering; Mechanical and Energy Engineering; Mechatronics and Industrial instrumentation Engineeringetc
What main challenges are you faced with to fully fulfill your mandate?
TOTOLO: Insufficient Funding; Inadequate teaching facilities (classrooms, lecture theaters and laboratories); Inadequate research facilities (research laboratories and research equipment); Inadequate accommodation (housing for staff and residences for students); Lack of recreational facilities for students and staff; Lack of adequate academic support facilities (such as a modern library, IT infrastructure, and associated services); and Inadequate research support funding.