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Quotas rattle private tertiary institutions

INNOCENT SELATLHWA
The UB and private institutions are fighting for resources
Even though government says the move will solve unemployment, the shock introduction of quotas for tertiary education sponsorship continues to reverberate, while the revolution by unemployed youths gathers pace. Many fingers are pointed at private tertiary institutions who are accused of bleeding taxpayer funds in irrelevant and poor quality courses. Mmegi Staff Writer, INNOCENT SELATLHWA engages Botswana Association of Private Tertiary Education Providers (BAPTEP) president, Roshen Kishun

Earlier this year, through the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) government introduced the concept of aligning the training to skills priority areas. Essentially, the efforts have been around ensuring that the billions of pula government pumps into sponsorship of tertiary students goes towards qualifications and skills that are required in the economy. 

The idea is to avoid ‘wasting’ scarce national resources, inflating the numbers of graduates in already surfeit sectors, to the detriment of sectors where hands are required.

The strategising culminated in the publication of quota allocations of study programmes, through which government specified the number of students per institution per course, it was willing to sponsor, starting this year.

 

Scrap the quota system

According to Kishun, the private sector providers are providing their public sector peers with a serious challenge in terms of the diversity and variety of programmes offerings in Botswana.  “This in the context of the revolutionary changes in the tertiary education landscape and the pull factor from the private sector to offer programmes aligned to what the industry needs. This response is in line with the HRDC Act that requires tertiary education to offer relevant programmes in line with its 12 Sectoral Committee recommendations,” he said.

The 12 Sectoral Committees identified the critical areas required to diversify the economy and were responsible for the prioritisation of areas for which sponsorship is to be provided.

According to Kishun, BAPTEP regards the HRDC guide as a positive move in that it is aimed at addressing the much talked about mismatch between graduate skills and industry needs.

He, however, believes there are serious challenges in the identification of the skills and alignment to programmes offered, by both private and public, when set against the limited funding the government offers. “There is a need to completely overhaul the quota system or scrap it, thus allowing potential students to go to their preferred place of study.  “BAPTEP’s concern and strong recommendation is that such a new direction should be done in consultation with HRDC, Botswana Qualification Authority and the funding arm of government.

“More importantly the new system should be introduced gradually in order to allow institutions, parents and parastatals to adjust without compromising standards and relevance.”

 

We weren’t consulted

Kishun says BAPTEP members knew that the HRDC was now providing guidance for the skills needed by the country. However, the private sector tertiary institutions were not directly consulted with clear timelines indicating that the system would be introduced this year.

He says the only intimation that the new approach to funding would be implemented in 2016 was provided at a meeting in March when both sectors were invited to discuss this year’s new student placement.

“We believe that the introduction of the new funding formula was done in a rushed manner with no proper consultation. Policies that have an impact on the lives of thousands of students, and the education sector as a whole, need to be introduced gradually and with full consultation,” he explains.

 

Quotas impact on BAPTEP

According to Kishun, over the years, and especially since 2007, the private sector has made huge investments in terms of infrastructure and human resources to provide quality teaching, learning and research.

“The investments, estimated in billions of pula, include the development of a diversity of programmes, state of the art buildings to house these programmes, equipment as well as human resource training and development in line with requirements of regulatory bodies.

“In this regard, any introduction of a new system that either reduces or stops sponsorship abruptly in programme offerings, has far reaching consequences on the ability of the private sector to sustain developments and expand,” he says.According to Kishun, institutions offer value for money to their customers and quality comes at a huge cost. He adds that currently, there are cases where some programmes have not been sponsored as these have not been identified as priority areas.

Kishun believes the decision not to sponsor some programmes may have been done without seriously considering the consequences both in the short and long term.

“In the short term it leaves institutions with huge unit costs

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due to small numbers and is likely to lead to some gradual reduction in staff and possibly closure of some programmes and even institutions.  “We believe that this has already happened at some institutions.”

In the long term, he says, there are consequences for the country as some skills training may be discontinued and not easily offered again.

 

We are not the problem

A lecturer at the University of Botswana told Mmegi Features recently that the government blundered by embracing private institutions under the belief that this would cut costs of building more public institutions.

BAPTEP argues that the view expressed by the lecturer is ill-informed and clearly demonstrates ignorance of what obtains in private institutions.  Kishun says it is worthwhile mentioning that private institutions account for 43% of all enrollment in tertiary institutions. He explains that this has allowed the country to achieve its Vision 2016 targets on tertiary enrollment rates.

“All private tertiary institutions have undergone or are undergoing accreditation of their approved programmes to ensure quality and relevance. Currently quality assurance policy, by the Botswana Qualifications Authority, is strictly applied only to private providers of higher education.  We believe that none of the public institutions have or are undergoing the same rigorous exercise.”

He argues that given this demand for quality, from the regulators and customers as well as level of compliance in private tertiary institutions, any argument to suggest that government ‘blundered’ in supporting private tertiary institutions can only come from an ill-advised source. He says at the same time, private institutions are not surprised by the remarks because ‘naturally’ the introduction of private tertiary institutions can only pose a threat to “unprepared academics and institutions” that are not ready to adapt to the changing environment. 

Kishun empasises that private tertiary institutions are not just in business but are also offering education and training services, often in partnership with government.

“It is also worth mentioning that apart from tuition fees, private institutions do not get any other support from government. A review of the unit cost of training at higher education level that was carried out by the then Tertiary Education Council (TEC) in 2008 revealed that it costs up to four times more to train at a public institution than it does at a private one.”

 

The unemployment revolution?

Kishun says although the decision to ensure graduates have skills aligned to the job market is positive, it needs to be undertaken with due care and diligence.  “While BAPTEP is fully aware of the work done by the HRDC Sectoral Committees, we understand that there is still much to be done to ensure that the proposals are shared with educational institutions and other key stakeholders. At this stage BAPTEP is not fully convinced that some of the HRDC Sectoral Committees have thoroughly undertaken skills’ needs as to dictate or determine what skills the economy will require five years from now.

“This is a process and it must be allowed to develop and mature.”

 

Why private institutions?

In 2007 government took a strategic decision to sponsor students into programmes provided by private tertiary education providers. This was in line with former President Festus Mogae’s State of the Nation Address in 2005 where he said government would sponsor students at local private institutions registered with the regulatory bodies.

The former President’s express wish was that the private education sector would help in Botswana’s commitment to increasing its gross enrollment ratio from seven percent in 2003-2004, among the age group of 18 to 24, to at least 17% by 2016.  His goal was to position Botswana on par with other leading middle-income countries around the world.

The government was looking for partners because the public sector was no longer in a position to provide all the tertiary education opportunities that would be needed in the coming years.

Mogae emphasised that in education, as in other sectors of the economy, the government was committed to the Public Private Partnership approach. The development of the local private tertiary education sector was viewed as being of great strategic importance for Botswana.



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