As the head honcho, Vice Chancellor Professor David Norris is in a hurry to restore the pride of the University of Botswana (UB) and vows that he will not allow anyone to derail his transformational agenda due to selfish interests. He fields questions from The Patriot on Sunday
Discuss the current status of the institution.
NORRIS: The University of Botswana has contributed immensely in human capital development in the country. It continues to do so but can still do more particularly in terms of being a catalyst for change. The University should use its power as an intellectual centre to shape the kind of Botswana that we want to live in. What we do as an institution should have development impact in society. The University is not doing as well as it can in being instrumental in forging relationships with all relevant stakeholders to collectively advance the society.
What forms the thrust of your road map to overcome the challenges at hand?
NORRIS: The major focus is improvement on our stakeholder (National Government, Local Government, Business, general public etc.) engagement. Our research activities for instance should be informed by the challenges faced by our stakeholders. This is one way in which we can play a meaningful role in the development of our country and the region.
In recent years the admission level has fallen with some courses closing completely. What is the institution doing to ensure that it continues to attract high numbers of students with competitive and quality programmes?
NORRIS: The University of Botswana offers quality education and training but indeed we have had a decline in our student numbers. One major reason has been the fact that we were not reaching out to our young people and informing them of the quality academic programmes that we offer at UB. We relaxed too much in this regard because for a very long time we were the only University in the country. We are developing new programmes that we are confident will be found attractive by our young people. We are also recognising that it is critical that we give students a welcoming and conducive environment for learning. We are providing an improved learning environment coupled with provision of social amenities that make our students experience a great stay at our institution. As an example we have the best sports facilities in the country. I must indicate that because of these endeavours, we significantly increased our intake of first year students this academic year.
How do you ensure that the high infrastructure investment that the institution has made does not turn into waste, particularly on the back of declining admissions?
NORRIS: We are growing our numbers as indicated above and we believe that in the next two or three years our facilities will be optimally utilised.
Are there any new programmes that the institution intends to introduce or has just launched?
NORRIS: We do have new programmes and these include: BSc Pharmacy, MA Entrepreneurship, BA Early Childhood, MA Public Policy (with two streams), MEd Educational Management, and MSc Environmental Science (with four streams). We are also looking into developing programmes in creative arts, sports science related programmes, biomedical engineering etc.
The other key concern has been that of ensuring that the institution becomes self-sustainable. What are you doing in this regard?
NORRIS: We are focusing on transforming our research findings into products and services that can be commercialised. Engagement with stakeholders as indicated below is another avenue to assist us become self-sustainable. We are developing short courses that target the public and professionals working in government and the private sector. We have great facilities such as the indoor sports centre, stadium and Olympic-size swimming pool which we plan to aggressively market to the general public so that we may generate third stream income.
Any plans to decentralise services to satellite offices or campuses in Maun and Francistown?
NORRIS: We already have satellite campuses in Maun and Francistown. These campuses offer life-long learning and professional development programmes. We are looking at expanding the programme offerings.
Tertiary institutions are facing accreditation challenges for their programmes by the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA). How has UB dealt with this issue?
NORRIS: We have met the registration requirements of BQA. The next step is programme accreditation and we are awaiting BQA to give the green light for submission of programmes. It is important to note that our programmes are accredited under the old dispensation. All Universities are yet to submit their programmes under the new BQA programme accreditation requirements.
Are you confident about the quality of instruction of your academic staff?
NORRIS: I am certainly comfortable with the quality of instruction of our academic staff. A report by the Council of Higher Education in South Africa shows that UB is also doing very well in terms of the number of academic staff with doctoral qualifications. We provide student-centred learning platforms. Importantly, we intend capacitating our staff on innovative teaching and learning methods which will stimulate critical thinking and problem solving skills of our students.
There are often concerns over lack of funding for Research, Innovation & Development? How is the university doing in this area?
NORRIS: This is one area where we can do more. We need to capacitate and encourage our academic staff to actively develop research proposals for funding by both local and international research funding agencies. I must, however, indicate that the University of Botswana produces the largest proportion of research output in the country. We are excited that the Government of Botswana is also considering establishing a national research fund. This will greatly support and increase our research activities.
In terms of international rankings of universities, UB still remains unrecognisable – how are you working upgrading its profile?
NORRIS: University rankings are based on research, teaching, employability and international outlook. Our strategic plan focuses on improving our research output; improving the quality of our teaching; ensuring we produce students that are ready for the work environment; and increasing our visibility in the international arena through research that is cited in high impact international journals, increase in international students’ enrolment and attracting internationally renowned scholars.
The skills-mismatch of graduates versus the market (business) has been singled out as a major contributor to the growing unemployment levels of graduates. What is your administration doing to ensure that it provides graduates that are relevant to what the market demands?
NORRIS: Engaging potential employers in development of curricula is critical. We co-develop new programmes and curricula with employers. We invite employers to serve in our departmental advisory boards. We are also engaging them to give guest lectures. We plan to appoint practitioners as adjunct academic staff.
Take your case – some have already pointed out that you are more suited to leading institutions in sciences and agricultural field since that is the area of your study. Your take?
NORRIS: That will be a very narrow and uninformed view. What is critical is whether one understands the higher education landscape and has leadership and management acumen. We have three science related faculties (The Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty of Science) but the previous Vice-Chancellors have been Historians, Social Scientists and Lawyers. A highly ranked University in Africa, Stellenbosch University had a Priest as a Vice-Chancellor. It was during the Priest’s tenure that the University significantly rose in rankings to be among the top 100 Universities in the world.
Are you getting necessary support from your leadership?
NORRIS: I am happy with the support I am getting from our parent Ministry and the University Council.
Any resistance to your management style or strategies and what are you doing to overcome such?
NORRIS: There will always be some resistance to new management style and strategies. People naturally are afraid of change. With change management and persuasion, we will overcome the resistance. Of course, we would not hesitate to part ways with those who are hell-bent on derailing progress just because of selfish interests. I am happy to say we wouldn’t have to reach this point as I believe all University staff wish to take the University forward.
What would you want to be remembered for in years to come as far as having been UB Vice Chancellor is concerned?
NORRIS: Having made the University relevant to the society.
This being a taxing job – how is your day’s schedule like?
NORRIS: Tough but exciting. I welcome challenges.
How do you relax? Hobbies?