Botswana university leads the way with SDG4 plan

The University of Botswana is Africa’s first and only university with an implementation plan for Sustainable Development Goals number 4 (SDG4), according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Regional Office for Southern Africa (UNESCO ROSA).

“The University of Botswana has an SDG4 Committee which has ensured that SDG4 is embedded in their teaching programmes. Their model is a very good [example] of how universities can systematise SDGs in their research and learning programmes,” noted Carolyn Medel-Anonuevo, UNESCO ROSA head of education, who was speaking at a Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting of vice-chancellors held in Harare from 21 to 22 October.

The meeting, jointly organised by UNESCO and the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education, brought together about 20 SADC university vice-chancellors to talk about transforming higher and tertiary education institutions in the Agenda 2030 era.

In September 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda which identified 17 SDGs to end poverty and fight inequalities. Embedded in the Agenda is SDG4 – inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities. Goal 2 of the African Union Agenda 2063 also highlights the importance of quality education and calls for well-educated citizens and skills revolution underpinned by science, technology and innovation.

Botswana’s operational plan

It emerged at the Harare meeting that, while many of the SADC universities have teaching, research and learning programmes which incorporate SDGs, none except the University of Botswana has an SDG operational plan.

University of Botswana Vice-Chancellor Professor David Norris said his institution’s SDG4 Committee was established in 2016 and is responsible for spearheading and coordinating the university's participation in the implementation of SDGs.

It oversees the operationalisation of SDGs aligned to faculty strategic plans, maintains strong links with national SDG structures and facilitates inter-university cooperation to address implementation while providing periodic reports and analysis on progress and impact on SDGs' implementation.

“Embedding the SDGs in what we do and integrating and aligning our work with government programmes has made us relevant to society,” Norris told University World News.

According to Professor Herbert Robinson, director of knowledge, research and learning at the African Capacity Building Foundation, the world is off track in achieving SDG4, and there is grave danger that, if the education goal is not achieved, other global goals will be out of reach.

Robinson noted that SDG4 was central to addressing capacity challenges in tertiary and higher education institutions in Africa, a critical missing link for achieving other SDGs. “The SDGs therefore present a unique opportunity for higher education institutions to demonstrate their willingness and capability of playing an active and meaningful role in the development of their respective countries and in contributing towards global sustainable development,” he said.

In agreement, Martha Muguti, director of higher education programmes in Zimbabwe's Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology, said: “The success of the 2030 Agenda will be determined by the level of commitment to its implementation by higher education institutions working together intra-country, and inter-country to further advance their teaching, research and community service to meet emerging challenges.”

But as Robinson noted, capacity remains a challenge reflected in a gap in certain skills and differences in the quality of institutions, graduates’ experiences, research outputs and internationalisation levels. Research outputs, innovation and commercialisation of research outputs through university industry linkages are also limited.

Addis Ababa Convention

UNESCO Regional Director for Southern Africa Professor Hubert Gijzen said the discourse about how universities can help drive Agenda 2030 and 2063 must be dominated by relevance, quantity and quantity. He urged vice-chancellors to rally their countries to fast-track ratification the 2014 Addis Ababa Convention which stressed the development of higher education quality assurance systems that allow for recognition, collaboration and joint programmes.

Robinson said there was a need for African universities to address critical technical skills shortages and to strengthen links between universities, industry and labour. He also called for strategic partnerships and coordinated approaches for capacity development programmes to accelerate SDG attainment.

After two days of deliberations, the vice-chancellors resolved to work together to create an African universities hub for SDGs and to put in place infrastructure for collaboration on SDGs. Universities resolved to work with their governments and learn from the SDG4 Committee model set up by the University of Botswana.