Botswana College of Agriculture (BCA) will cease to exist from this midnight (Sunday). In its place a new entity - Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUANR) – will emerge inheriting all that belonged to the College from the students and the staff to the dilapidated infrastructure. BCA Acting Principal, Dr Mataba Tapela, addressed staff on Friday about the looming transformation, making them aware that as they left the office on the day, it will be the last time they associated with the college. When they return on Monday they will be entering and working for a university. A few days before the transformation process, this reporter visited the school and came out disappointed about the lack of activity that demonstrated that a massive shift was underway.
We visited BCA in the course of this past week, to get a feel of how the soon to be university was faring and we must say the trending adage; ‘re mono hela’ commonly used to describe an unproductive/relaxed mode/situation is best suited to describe the situation, ‘BCA e mono hela. There was not even a single activity that indicated to visitors that the winds of change were upon the institution. At the entrance, security officers sat, humped into their chairs, the boom gate already up, clearly to avoid any disturbance from those coming in. The old Botswana College of Agriculture billboards still stood tall beside the entrance. From the unkempt landscaping to fading paints on walls nothing was moving, good old BCA was still unmoved. Forget the buzzling and vibrant environment common with institutions of higher learning; BCA is different.
Students move along corridors quietly and in no hurry, some sitting murmuring quietly doing their assignments, perhaps this how a science based university is after all. Feeling pressed, we visited the nearest ablution blocks, and though habitable, my male colleague had to rush out the find another clean block as in the block he had tried to use, several toilets were not in good condition and the block was in a state. In the college’s administrative block, an old dusty photo collage of the college’s 1995 graduation hang on the walls, an isolated trophy collection stand was at a corner. Because our intention was to pay the Acting Principal an unscheduled visit, we were frustrated to be told that he had gone to a meeting (he is a busy man after all) hence our trip was cut short not feeling like we had visited a soon to be university at all. Repeated calls to him have not been returned.
What stakeholders say
Mbiganyi Taka – Student Representative Council President
Taka has welcomed the move to transform BCA into a university. He said that will give him and other fellow students a competitive advantage when competing both locally and internationally. He however is not happy that the school management did not attend to all grievances raised by students. The college management for example resolved the food allowance issue by paying it directly to students’ accounts as requested but they have on the other hand failed to attend to maintenance issues. Students’ ablutions and conditions of the student’s accommodation are in a distasteful state. Taka, however, is optimistic that the transformation can still be a success. His only reservations lie with the current leadership, whom he said have proven over and over again that they are failing to run the institution efficiently.
Johnson Motshwarakgole - Trade Union leader
Motshwarakgole acknowledged that as the only trade union representing BCA employees they are satisfied with the role they were given in the transformation process. Above all, Motshwarakgole is happy that all workers will be absorbed into the new structure. He, however, is not happy that they had to drag BCA to court in order for them to implement the 35 percent salary increment awarded to the workers by both the Board of trustees and Directors eight months ago. The case is still before the courts. Just like they have a collective labour agreement with other institutions like the University of Botswana, he said they expect the same conditions as BCA transforms into a university.
Haskins Nkaigwa: Area MP – Gaborone North
Nkaigwa is not happy that he has been entirely side-lined in the whole process and only got to know about the transformation from parliament by virtue of being a member. According to the MP, he has not received any formal communication from the college as yet. He, however, said from the personal visits that he had made to the college, he knows for a fact that the college is not ready for transformation. The state of the college’s infrastructure, according to Nkaigwa, does not qualify it to be called a university. The laboratories which are at the core of research; an aspect which the university is expected to put focus on, he said, are in a bad state. The recent fracas; whereby lecturers withheld students’ results demanding a salary increment is, according to Nkaigwa, demonstrative that even administratively the college is not yet stable. Nkaigwa said he wonders how, if BCA is bemoaning lack of funds now, expect the situation turn around after the transformation. “Unless all they want to change is a name,” said Nkaigwa.
BCA has about 1 400 students with 103 academic staff members (64 with PhD and 36 with MSc) who are trained in different areas of agriculture and natural resources management. The transformation of BCA was announced late last year. The new university will operate as an independent entity as the College was initially an associate institute of the University of Botswana. It will have its own governing and operational structures such as the senate, chancellor and vice chancellor as well as academic and support staff. It would further have its own academic seal and qualifications. BUANR has the objectives to increase the diversity of academic programmes offered at the institution by training in new focus areas such as natural resources, rural development and agri-business; increase access to tertiary education and contribute to national human resource development and provide cost effective local training opportunities. Other objectives are to contribute towards government development initiatives on food security, poverty eradication, and rural development and also become an institution of choice for training and innovative research on agriculture and natural resources (technology development).