Direct competition for financial and human resources between the University of Botswana (UB) and the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) is haunting the former.
UB management has decried discrepancy in funding per student per institution. They said that the disparities were quite shocking in a meeting held at the institution with a five-person political team yesterday. The group convened at the Council Chambers at the UB administration centre.
Representing three political movements - the Botswana Democratic Party, Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) - were BDP secretary general Mpho Balopi, BMD and Gaborone Central Member of Parliament Phenyo Butale, BMD official Hilda Sibisibi, BCP secretary general Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang and his deputy Akanyang Magama.
Botswana National Front’s Kagiso Thutlwe, also Gaborone city mayor and his deputy Kagiso Tshekega, who appeared on the invitation list, were not present at the heated meeting.
The politicians, who toured the institution, heard from vice chancellor Professor Thabo Fako that allocations of government subventions to the two facilities were not proportional to student populations of both establishments.
Fako said the budgetary provision for UB, with a full time population of 15,000 students, not considering the 3,000 on part time studies and about 1,000 at BIUST was not mathematically proportional.
He told the entourage that an unhealthy competition prevailed between the two public institutions, chiefly due to lack of equitable resource appropriation.
Fako delivered an impassionate plea to the team to ensure that the existence of the Palapye-based science and technology institution did not annihilate the traditional institution, UB.
“The establishment of BIUST might have disturbed the stability of UB,” said Fako. “These are not contenders. As things are, it is as if they are running for an election. There is no election here,” he said.
Fako urged political leaders to ensure that policies, as well as establishment of new institutions, did not destroy UB.
“You can destroy what you have, anticipating something that you do not have, only to realise that you have nothing. We need to be careful not to destroy UB as it is the only university we really have,” he said.
According to Fako inadequate financing, coupled with stringent immigration laws have resulted in failure to truly globalise UB. He said they were unable to attract competitive and highly skilled staff from across borders due to budgetary constraints.
Furthermore, he said as divided as their political agendas were, legislators needed to unite their opposing views for the sake of the university’s success and that of humanity and the globe.
“Go and differ in your politics, but when it comes to the university you must be united,” he said.
In response to the multitude challenges facing the country’s oldest university, area MP, Phenyo Butale also underscored the need for sufficient funding since the education ministry was “facing enormous challenges despite getting the bulk of the national budget”.
Commenting on funding discrepancies, he said there must be common ground for funding. He said the brain drain that took place after the establishment of BIUST emanating from varying remuneration, and other differences that existed between the two public institutions had to be thoroughly addressed. “We should not have established some false dichotomy between BIUST and UB,” he said.
Gobotswang said that the relationship between the two institutions was to be a complementary one, but its metamorphosis into a competitive one was worrisome.
“These were supposed to be complementary institutions, but the relationship has turned out to be a competitive one,” Gobotswang said.
He also questioned the composition of the UB Council saying it was highly politicised.
“The criteria for appointing people to the council has to be clear and transparent, and it should not be seen as an extension of the ruling party,” he said.
For his part, Balopi noted that he was unaware of the numerous challenges facing the university.
He added that the ruling party’s commitment to encourage the UB still stood. “I am still shocked that this is what is happening here. I haven’t interacted with UB at this level before,” he said.
Balopi emphasised that issues of welfare and discipline were critical, and needed to be dealt with.
Emphasising the university’s woes, Deputy vice chancellor finance and administration, Dawid Katzke, said that maintenance of infrastructure was a challenge because the budget did not allow expenditure on the standard four percent of infrastructural value every year.
Channelling four percent of the value of a building annually is reported to be the universal yardstick for infrastructural maintenance.
Katzke explained that UB was allocated P1.5 billion for the 2014/15 academic cycle representing 82 percent of its budgetary needs, while for the period of 2013/2014 it was given P436.1 million, translating into 68 percent of the needed budget. “The 68 percent is not even enough for salaries,” said Katzke.
He added that reforms in the funding formula were essential. Insufficient funding has led to a situation where shortages of prescribed material, especially for science programmes has become the norm.
Authorities indicated that these students could only afford to purchase two books though the prescription was more than that.
Deputy vice chancellor student affairs, Professor Lydia Nyathi-Saleshando said the controversial bookstore issue that has been a major cause of tension between students and management was problematic in the phase of inadequate funding.
She said a landmark case on book prices in the UK has lead to the exuberant charges for books. Moreover, she said allegations that Books Botswana, the bookstore that supplies UB had an unhealthy monopoly that created skyrocketing book prices, was not true.
“The Competition Authority has found that Books Botswana monopoly to be a healthy one,” she said.
“Book allowances have to be at the level of BIUST.”
Nyathi-Saleshando indicated that a request to the student community to compile an alternative supply of books through a second hand system has not materialised because they (students) have not come up with a proposal yet.
Furthermore, the UB management said it was very difficult for tertiary education to enforce disciplinary procedure and hold students accountable, without going through the court route.
“As political leaders you need to ponder on the issue for tertiary institutions to bring back their powers from the courts,” Nyathi-Saleshando appealed.