Professor Otlogetswe Totolo, the Vice Chancellor of Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) takes you inside the institutions’ thriving innovation space where more market-ready products are being produced.
Kindly discuss BIUST’s mandate
TOTOLO: The Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) is a research-intensive University and the only specialised University in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). It aims to increase competitiveness, economic growth and sustainable development; the shortage of skilled scientists and technologists; increased movement of skilled people across national boundaries, to stimulate research, innovation, and technology transfer; society’s aspirations to improve health, wealth and well-being; increased demand for access to tertiary education; and a more competitive and innovative tertiary education sector. The mission of BIUST is to produce world class research and innovation in science, engineering and technology contributing to industry growth and development and advancement of a diversified knowledge-based economy.
The Strategic Plan is entitled a Catalyst for Innovation and Transformation to buttress the establishment of BIUST and it is centred on the University developing a strong academic value chain comprising three key elements: Teaching and Learning; Research and Innovation; and Engagement for Development.
New Mission: The mission is to produce world class research and innovation in Science, Engineering and Technology contributing to industry growth and development and advancement of a diversified knowledge-based economy.
New Vision: The vision is to be a premier research-based university of Science, Engineering and Technology internationally recognised for the quality and excellence of its teaching and learning by 2023.
What have been the institution’s most sterling achievements so far?
TOTOLO: The research projects undertaken by the University addresses some of the most complex and urgent issues facing Botswana and the world today. The research Strategy has identified the four board research areas, which include: Natural Resources Management, Climate & Society, Frontiers in Science, and Innovative Technological products & Services for Economic Development. Currently the following projects are being pursued through the Technology Park: Mayonnaise Production, Chloro-Alkali Production, Production of Electricity from Botswana Coal through Gasification Process, Anti-Microbial Toilet Seat mat, Solar Network Project for Jamataka Village, Electric-Smart Meter Project, Pyrolysis Plant project, BIUST Fleet Management System, Roof Tiles Manufacturing, andMobile Kitchen.
a. The University sits at the core of the national business discourse through research and development in collaboration with a variety of relevant key stakeholders. Through industry partnerships, the University has been able to undertake various projects aimed towards the intended goal of building a university of industries. For example, Debswana Mining Company, Botswana Oil Ltd, Special Economic Zone Authority, ATIKA University, Japan, iThemba Labs, National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, etc
BIUST has an obvious and vested interest in building these linkages and partnerships. For the University, they ensure relevance for its academic programme; opportunities for its students to obtain industry-ready skills and to promote the application of its research in a ‘real and live’ industry setting. BIUST has a total of 31 signed effective collaboration agreements with International Strategic partners. Some of the institutions that BIUST has signed Memorandums/Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with include, among others, the following: Joint Institute of Nuclear Research in Russia, University of Wisconsin; Central University of Technology, South Africa, and Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation.
b. Field-Weighted Citation Impact increased from 0.66 in 2017/18 to 0.8 in 2018/19 and latest 1.05 in 2019/20, which more than the set target of 0.9 in the past two years. During the 2019/2020, there was a significant increase in the university research publications; there were 320 publications with 1.05 citation impact. The citation impact is more than 0.8 obtained in 2018/2019 financial year. With international best practice for an emerging university of 0.67 research publications per academic staff number averaged over four consecutive years and sourced from citation indexes, the performance of BIUST over the period 2016/2017 – 2019/2020) is good.
As Head of the institution, what changes and achievements are you crediting yourself for?
TOTOLO: For a long time, the Government of Botswana has been spending a lot of money training students abroad to study STEM- related programmes. In addition, low investment in STEM has led to the low production of home-grown prototypes resulting in a few home- grown products and services.
a) Development and implementation of BIUST Strategic Plan 2016 to 2023;
b) Development and Implementation of the University Statutes;
c) Accreditation of BIUST by Botswana Qualification Authority;
d) Development of Entrepreneurship Strategy and a Research Strategy with the aim of fostering an enterprising culture, developing and maintaining the supporting infrastructure (human, physical, financial and social) needed to turn BIUST into a STEM and entrepreneurial university;
e) Development of the Academic Size and Shape Strategy to align BIUST programmes with the labour market demands;
f) Development of the Technology Park for purposes of turning research findings into tangible technological products and services;
g) Stakeholder engagement and operationalisation of strategic Memorandums or Memoranda of Agreements, which resulted in the increasing of research funding;
h) Improvement of the University research profile;
i) The Mechatronics Engineering Students are working on the Makeathon Project to develop an electric motor prototype which will propel Botswana into the 4th Industrial Revolution.
j) Construction of 594-roomed hostels within scope and budget.
k) Through the use of the pyrolysis plant, the Chemical Engineering Department has completed the Coal-to-Liquid Conversion project to turn coal into oil, tar, and soap products, using local materials.
l) Establishment of the Mining Centre;
What attracted you to BIUST, having been an academic and senior administrator in other institutions?
TOTOLO: I have spent 28 years at the University of Botswana (UB), and I have held a number of senior and executive positions at UB. As a specialised STEM University, BIUST is primarily tasked to be the catalyst for transformation and innovation, with the aim of producing technological tangible products and services as well as striving for job creation, import substitution, use of available raw materials and skills and knowledge transfer. Therefore, as a renowned Scientist, I deeply share BIUST’s values, mission and vision to have products and services in the market which are developed by BIUST researchers.
Recently the institution experienced its first student strike since formation. Discuss the management/student relations and how you are balancing them at time of conflicting interest?
TOTOLO: We have balanced them as follows: An amicable agreement/settlement on the issues has been reached; The relationship between management and the students remains cordial; the issues raised by the students during demonstration have been scoped, and an integrated project management approach has been put in place to address those issues in the short, medium and long term; management remains committed to open engagement with the students on a regular basis in order to address issues as the arise. We learnt to engage effectively and constructively to resolve any impasse before it spirals out-of-hand, and follow our internal grievance procedures.
What other major challenges has the institution faced over the years and how are you working on resolving such?
TOTOLO: In every business operation, there are challenges and our strategic plan has identified our SWOT analysis which will be addressed during the implementation of the strategic plan. Some of our challenges include accommodation for staff and students, inadequate teaching and research laboratories, very tight budget and the inability to attract some top-notch staff.
Discuss BIUST’s response to Covid-19; internally and nationally in addressing immediate social needs.
TOTOLO: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a crucial part of our values in BIUST; this was demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The University in collaboration with strategic partners developed a number of products aimed at assisting the Government of Botswana in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, as a means of expressing its commitment to our local stakeholders, wider society and the environment. BIUST is committed to being a good citizen, concerned for the community development and the environment. We will continually strive to improve our performance, ensuring that our activities contribute to the sustainable development of the communities in which we operate. As an international University, we are also fully aware of our local, national and international contribution and impact. Our CSR initiatives covered all initiatives and practices deemed to have a positive impact on the community and the environment, including those seen as a core in providing and promoting higher education, widening skills and raising skills levels.
a. Bar and Liquid Soap: Through collaboration with LEA, BIUST produced over 30 000 bar soaps, and 63 000 litres of liquid soap. Over 90% of these products were donated to communities;
b. Production of Sanitizers: Financial support was received from Morupule Coal Mine and De Beers;
c. Drone Sprayers: This was done in partnership with Botswana Defence Force;
d. Dashboard for visualisation of COVID-19 cases: Adopted by COVID-19 Presidential Task Force. This was developed in partnership with iThemba Laboratory and the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) ;
e. Donation of BWP1.0 million to the COVID-19 Relief Fund.
BIUST and its role in driving knowledge-based economy – your achievements in this space so far?
TOTOLO: Botswana is undergoing a period of profound transformation as a new destination of high income status that is being chartered for achievement by 2036 in accordance with the National Vision 2036. As the country positions itself to transition from a natural resource to a knowledge-based economy, BIUST is strategically setting itself to grab opportunities on offer and respond to the new and emerging demands of Botswana’s transformation agenda. This shall ensure that BIUST assumes the leadership role at the apex of the tertiary education system especially in the areas of research, engineering and innovation. In that way, BIUST will not only engage in research and innovation but commercialise its products and services in accordance with its international stature. As listed in Question No. 2 on Page 1.
What are your graduation figures since inception, defined by degree?
TOTOLO: So far, we have had four graduation ceremonies with an accumulative total of 940 graduates, as summaries below:
Where do graduates find employment?
TOTOLO: The graduate employability rate of the students who graduated during the 2018/19 financial year was at 66% against a target of 65%. The post-graduation outcomes of the Second Cohort of graduates one year after graduation shows that (46%) of graduates were employed, (18%) were pursuing further studies, (2%) were self-employed, and thirty-four percent (34%) were unemployed. BIUST graduates are either entrepreneurs or employed in different sector of the economy such mining, banking, ICT, construction, telecommunications, security, utility companies, etc.
How does the University play a leadership role in advanced education, not just for the country but also Africa?
TOTOLO: BIUST has been appointed a National Coordinator for the African very-long based i Interferometer Network (AVN) project of Square Kilometer Array (SKA), it is housing facilities that will be used to develop the capacity to operate and maintain an antenna for the telescope. BIUST is also hosting the SADC Satellite Receiver to enhance Botswana’s Geo-Information System through Monitoring for Environment and Security in Africa (MESA) project.BIUST has received external research funding from local, regional and international institutions, such as Simons Foundations, NEED Project, Innovate UK, Horizon 2020, Future Leaders, Global Challenges Research Fund, and Connect4 amongst others.
What is the future strategic direction for BIUST?
TOTOLO: The National Human Resource Development Plan (NHRDP) which is part of the implementation of the National Human Resource Development Strategy (2009-2022), outlines the national and sector Human Resource Development (HRD) planning approach. The National Human Resource Development Strategy sets a visionary and comprehensive policy framework for the development of our higher education system in Botswana by outlining principles and goals in teaching and learning, research, engagement, internationalisation, and governance. The NHRDP seeks to contribute towards addressing key national HRD challenges which include: high unemployment, skills mismatch, limited soft and entrepreneurship skills, underfunded research and innovation, and low enrolment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).The Plan responds to these key challenges through Strategic Goals that seek to:
a. Improve employability of graduates and inculcate entrepreneurship skills,
b. Support implementation of ETSSP to continue improving equitable access to quality education across HRD life cycle,
c. Ensure social upliftment and the development of the family, community, and the nation at large, and
d. Drive the implementation of NHRDP through sustainable resourcing, integrated HRD systems and enhanced institutional capacity to attain high performance organisation status.
The University’s Strategic Plan for the next three years will be informed by and aligned to these strategic goals and our mission to produce world class research and innovation in science, engineering and technology, contributing to industry growth and development and advancement of a diversified knowledge-based economy compacts with the Tertiary Education system in Botswana and the Vision 2036. The Strategic Plan will set out specifically how BIUST contributes to the achievement of these overarching system goals.
How difficult is it to stay abreast of advances in the specific sectors of science, engineering and technology, in order for your curricula to be relevant?
TOTOLO: Priority sectors of the new economy have been identified including, Mining and Resources; Transport and Communication, Manufacturing and Commercial Agriculture; Health; Information and Communication Technology; Research and Innovation; and Science and Technology. Human Resource Development Plans will be developed for each of these sectors with priority skills lists that tertiary education institutions will be required to offer in high quality academic programmes. This provides an excellent opportunity for BIUST to deliver on its mandate which explicitly requires it to focus on human resource development in Science, Engineering and Technology. BIUST will be introducing the concept of Schools and differentiated honorary degrees will be offered. For example, new programmes include Actuarial Science, Financial Mathematics, Aircraft Technology and Operations, Cyber Security and Digital Forensics, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Food Product Development and technology, Nutritional Epidemiology, Applied Pharmacology and Toxicology, etc.
We have Departmental Advisory Boards, who are selected from both government and private sector to assist us in curiccula development and evaluation, as well as advise on the labour market trends. We engaged Visiting Professors from other high learning institutions to stay ahead of trends.We have plans to hire Professors of Practices, who have a wealth of experience in specific areas to deliver specialised pedagogy.
Are you satisfied with the number of student throughput and what interventions have you put in place to continue attracting high quality high school leavers for your programmes?
TOTOLO: During the year 2019/20, the University enrolled 1984 students which represented 79% of the annual target student enrolment. This year’s percentage was an increase of 1% over the previous year’s performance (2018/19). Of the overall students enrolled, 83% were registered for Bachelors programmes; 13% Master’s degree programmes and while 4% are at Doctoral degree level. International students make up 5% of the overall enrolment, from 3% in the previous year quarter and against a target of 15%. It is anticipated that the Student Recruitment Strategy will enable the University to introduce targeted initiatives aimed at addressing the underachievement against the target.
Usually females are not eager to pursue science and engineering programmes – what are your admission ratios of boys versus girls and how are you encouraging the girl-children to adapt to the technical field and pursue careers in this space?
TOTOLO: We have deliberate plans to increase the intake of female students in the STEM field, we have introduced Girls Excelling in Mathematics and Science (GEMS) programmes targeting Form IV girls. We have also witnessed that the females are performing better than their male counterparts. During graduation ceremonies, more female always receive awards for Best Students. The table below illustrates the ratio of male to female.
What partnerships does the university have, and why are these important?
TOTOLO: From the onset BIUST was premised to develop strong and focused partnership programmes with various institutions locally, regionally and internationally, a move which will enable the University not just to excel in higher education and training but also in research creativity and innovation in STEM fields. To establish local, national and international partnerships that will strengthen the academic and institutional development and advancement.
Can you expand more on your mentorship and outreach programmes?
TOTOLO: Outreach and Engagement programmes take the University to the people and bring the people to the University. The following are some of the University achievements:
a. The University trained and graduated 67 Youth Development Fund Beneficiaries in entrepreneurship to support their business initiatives, 765 Primary and Secondary School Teachers in Introduction to Computing (COMP 101) and 50 Trainers-of-trainers across the country, 42 Palapye Rovers Scouts in entrepreneurship to support their business initiatives, 489 Mathematics and Science Teachers both primary and secondary in Inquiry Problem-Based Learning to teaching STEM subjects.
b. BIUST facilitates Design and Manufacturing Competition which involves design of engineering parts via CAD/CAM, manufacturing of engineering parts via machining- and injection moulding. It involves Teachers and Design and Technology Club members at Lotsane (Palapye), Swaneng (Serowe), Moeng and Madiba (Mahalapye) Senior Secondary Schools, as well as our students.
c. The University has been promoting STEM awareness. Some of the activities included science circuses which has reached 175,000 students through the country, annual STEM Festival, mentorship programme by BIUST students and associations.
d. We have piloted video-conferencing to facilitate webinar based STEM lessons to senior secondaries.
e. We also participate in the development of school curriculum to ensure quality syllabus and delivery. In addition, some of BIUST staff are members participated in national STEM communities.
a. Ph.D. University of London, U.K. 1995
b. M.Sc. University of Reading, U.K. 1990
c. PGDE University of Botswana 1988
d. B.Sc. University of Botswana 1987
New Presidents Program and Harvard Seminar for Presidential Leadership
61st Regular Session of the General Conference of the International Energy Agency (IAEA)
SKA Ministerial Forum and the Launch of the Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory
21st African Corporate Governance Conference
Sustainable Development Goals Centre for Africa Conference
American Fundraising Model Course
h. Management of Higher Education Institutes (Israel)
i. Certificate of participation in the International Workshop on “Institutional Management in Higher Education” organised in Kampala, Uganda from 10-14th December 2007.
j. Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Program November 12-17 2006, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government. Executive Education. USA
k. Financial Management of USAID Awards March 22-23, 2001. Johannesburg South Africa
l. Global Analysis Interpretation and Models, (GAIM) African Modelling Course held in Mombasa, Kenya March 3 – 13, 1997.
m. GIS Workshop – held at the University of Stellenbosch, RSA April 1 – 14, 1996.
n. SPANS-GIS Training Programme, Southampton, U.K. 1993.
o. GIS – held at the University of Botswana, Gaborone from March 13 – April 30 1991.
p. Introduction to University teaching and learning offered by Higher Education Development Unit of the University of Botswana 1989.
q. Remote Sensing Applied to the Studies of Soil Moisture, Evapotranspiration and Environment – held at the University of Botswana, Gaborone from January 23 – February 10 1989.
Positions held at the University of Botswana
a. Full Professor, Environmental Science 27th September 2011-
b. Associate Professor, Environmental. Science Jan 2005-Sep 2011
c. Senior Lecturer Environmental Science 1999-Jan 2005
d. Lecturer Environmental Science 1995-1998
e. Lecturer Environmental Science 1990-1992
f. SDF Environmental Science 1989
a. Vice-Chancellor, Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST).March 2016- to-date
Positions held at the University of Botswana
b. Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs) July 2013 – Feb 2016
c. Director, Centre for Scientific Research, Indigenous Knowledge and Innovation (CesrIKi) Jan 2009 – June 2013
d. Dean of Science Jan 2003 – December 2008
e. HOD, Environmental Science July 2002 – December 2002
1. Publications: Has published widely in reputable international publications such as Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, International Journal of Environmental Geology, Botswana Journal of Technology, International Journal of Environmental and Applied Science. Reviewed journal articles in the international journals.
2. Board Membership:
a. Council Member – National University of Lesotho
b. Deputy Chairman – Botswana UNESCO Chapter,
c. Founding Chairman – Botswana Institute for Technology, Research and Innovation (BITRI),
d. Chairman – Rural Industries Promotions Company (RIPCO),
e. Member -Botswana Technology Center (BOTEC),
f. Member – Environmental Heritage Foundation (EHF), and
g. Founding Member, Somarelang Tikogolo.
3. Inspirational Motto: Trust, Honesty, Sincerity, Quest for results in what I do.
4. Person who influenced me the most: My Mother, Victoria Totolo
5. Two Books to Recommend to students and leaders alike: a. What Makes a High Performance Organisation – Andre De Waal, and b. Time to Think – Nancy Kline
6. Hobbies: Reading, Farming, Music, Ballroom Dancing, Cooking
7. Best holiday spot: Chobe Safari
8. Your family: Married to Dr Angelina Totolo, Academic At UB, have two children – Tshepho and Refilwe.
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