New science university fully operational, and growing

The Botswana International University of Science and Technology, or BIUST, is now operating at its permanent home in the country’s central district, having moved from temporary premises near the capital Gaborone. It has bold ambitions, and is luring research students from around the world to drive a strong postgraduate and research agenda.

The project, promoted by former president Festus Mogae, has been launched to expand science, engineering and technology degree programmes within Botswana, boosting the quality of its labour force.

Originally scheduled to open in 2011, construction delays forced the university to open in 2012 at a temporary campus at Oodi College of Applied Arts and Technology, around 20 kilometres northeast of Gaborone.

But now the university is at its permanent home in Palapaye, 240 kilometres from Gaborone.

A research agenda

Professor Dennis Siginer, provost and deputy vice-chancellor of BIUST, said the institution had been established to help move Botswana from a resource-based economy – it has rich deposits of diamonds – to a more sustainable knowledge-based economy.

He said that if successful, the university would help diversify the Southern African country’s economy, making it less vulnerable to economic shocks.

Botswana suffered a deep recession following the global financial crisis of 2008 and the economy is only slowly recovering from the effects.

“We are not only here to educate the young, but we are going to use research as ways and means to help the industry of this country to be more efficient and compete,” said Siginer, explaining that the university wanted a 50:50 undergraduate and postgraduate enrolment ratio.

“We are not going to immediately achieve this [50:50 ratio] but within four to five years,” he told University World News.

“We are recruiting research students who have completed degrees at the top universities in the world,” Siginer said, adding that the university intended to attract back citizens of Botswana currently studying abroad.

The university’s development

The university is being built in two phases.

The first phase, which was solely funded by the government, has been completed and was handed over to university administrators in April 2013.

It consists of a student residence block, an administration block that has offices for academic and administrative staff, residential staff houses, a cafeteria, a multi-purpose hall, laboratories, a library and an auditorium as well as sports grounds.

Phase two, which will be funded and developed through a public-private partnership, entails a comprehensive residential campus designed to accommodate up to 6,000 students and staff that includes offices, classrooms, a student centre, recreation and sports facilities, a comprehensive library and facilities to support research and technology transfer.

Officials said these improvements would be delivered in stages, once budgets for specific items were secured by the government, working with private investors.

The university admitted its first batch of 267 students in 2012. Due to limited space at the Oodi College of Applied Arts and Technology, it only admitted students in two subject areas – engineering and technology, plus science.

This year’s enrolment is expected to be 1,500 with 300 being postgraduates, adding courses in management and entrepreneurship, plus ICT and communications. The university plans to add additional courses going forward.

“We have big plans, so we are taking big steps and strides to meet our plans. And we put our money where our mouth is,” Siginer said.

“The plan is for the university to double the number of students, hopefully next year and the year after,” he added, saying that it would stabilise by 2018 and have at least 7,000 students, both undergraduates and postgraduates.

This will have a significant impact on Palapye, a rural town with around 30,000 people.

Authorities at BIUST believe a third of the university college expenditure will go directly into the community, while making the town one of the most diverse in Botswana. “It will bring challenges but in a positive way,” said Siginer.

Although the majority of students are local, the university has also welcomed students from countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, South Africa, Namibia, India, Lesotho and Zimbabwe.