It gives me great pleasure and utmost jubilation to be standing here this morning officiating at this historic moment at the University of Botswana.
Director of Ceremonies; As you may be aware, we politicians have very tight schedules that entail Ministerial duties, Parliamentary and constituency responsibilities, to state just a few. Be that as it may, when this invitation was extended to me, I had no other option but to reconfigure my schedule so as to accommodate this event for many reasons; some probably obvious for your conjecture. This is the institution that has made me who I am, but above all, the University of Botswana is the pinnacle of human capital development in Botswana, a product of the sweat of Batswana who put their resources together (under the mantra motho le motho kgomo) to build an institution that was going to advance their education and by extension, the development of our young and fragile nation by then. Consequently, as government, we have keen interest in what is happening at the University of Botswana for the sole reason that it is a public institution which is supposed to lead by example in the socio-economic and political development of this country. Above all, Director of Ceremonies; the University of Botswana is blessed to have high ranking academic professionals who have been trained from all corners of the globe and as such we expect professional efficiency of the institution more so that it has the best in academia as well as world class infrastructure.
Director of Ceremonies; Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentleman, the era of the Knowledge-Based Economy dictates and compels institutions of Higher Learning to rethink the way they do business such that they tailor most of their activities towards research that should yield sustainable solutions for the nation. Research, be it in the Global-North or Global-South, is supposed to provide solutions and direction to the socio-economic and political development of every state. It is within that scope of logic and understanding that my Ministry has taken a deliberate position to support any form of research and innovation which is likely to benefit the nation. Obviously, we are all aware of the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has crippled economies and tinkered with the national budget which has ultimately affected the operations of all ministries.
However, despite such an unfortunate state of affairs, my Ministry remains resolute and anchored on the philosophy that we should fund research. I cannot thank you enough, University of Botswana, for the peculiar and magnificent role that you continue to play in the fight against Covid-19 through both your sound and informed human resource, facilities as well as material resources. That is what Universities are for – they ought to provide direction in instances where the nation appears desperate in times of adversity. I therefore humbly thank you for your excellent and diligent contribution towards the fight against Covid-19. But I must challenge you, the Vice Chancellor, to continue ascertaining that the University of Botswana takes centre-stage in pursuing research and innovation that should provide solutions to all our socio-economic and political challenges. As indicated earlier on, you have the best academics and renowned professors and certainly failure should not be an option. My Ministry is prepared to render the necessary resources and support where possible not notwithstanding the economic challenges of our time.
Director of Ceremonies; I am alive to the fact that of late the University of Botswana launched a new strategy, Creating a Future for The Knowledge Generation 2020-2029 which repositions the University in terms of providing quality education, research, innovation and engagement for sustainable national development in the Knowledge-Based Economy. The strategy challenges the University of Botswana to take an instrumental role as a key player in higher education as well as addressing issues which are fundamental to the national agenda. I am impressed by the fact that the strategy is aligned with the National Vision pillar of Achieving Prosperity for All by transforming Botswana from an upper-middle income country to a high income country by 2036 (UB Strategy, 2020). Let us not delude ourselves that the Knowledge-Based Economy will happen by chance; rather it will need concerted efforts of government and relavant institutions of Higher Learning such as yourselves to produce the requisite Human Capital which shall fervently pursue sustainable national development. As correctly pointed out in your new strategy:
The University of Botswana has a vital part to play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. This will require the university to pioneer sustainable social, economic, environmental solutions to national, regional and global problems. The University will need to redefine its core strategies in order to incorporate sustainability into the curriculum, research, operations, and further to integrate the University with the sustainable development paths of the community of which it is part of and the society it serves (UB Strategy, 2020:12).
Let me therefore impress upon you, the Vice Chancellor, Prof. David Norris, to ascertain that the new university strategy is implemented holistically for it to achieve its intended purpose and objectives. It will be very unfortunate, if this new strategy, good as it looks – cannot be comprehensively implemented because in my view it is directly aligned to the nations development agenda. Therefore, I perceive this, in my own words; as a strategy of hope in our nation’s socio-economic and political development.
Director of Ceremonies; ladies and gentlemen, let me now shift gears and focus on my mandate for today. I am here, to witness and sanction a historic moment, where in the midst of our socio-economic challenges, the University of Botswana has found it fit to offer sixteen (16) Post-Graduate Scholarships for PhDs for both local and international students. Let me commend you for this innovative manifestation which is, no doubt, going to give the University an opportunity to attract the best students locally and across the globe. These students are going to contribute positively to Teaching and Research which ultimately will contribute tremendously to Human Capital development while at the same time improving the University’s rankings and competitiveness. Additionally, such an initiative is certainly going to contribute positively to the growth of Post-Graduate enrolments. Above all, with such scholarships, we are likely to see an improved throughput since students will not have any excuse of failing to complete their studies on time due to financial hurdles.
It also goes without saying, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman that with this scholarship, the research output of the University will improve since I am reliably informed that those who shall be awarded the scholarships will also be required to publish before they complete their studies. With these sixteen (16) scholarships, the University of Botswana has cemented Salem (2014)’s scholarly argument that universities are the source of strength in the knowledge-based economy for the twenty-first century since they are viewed as the major drivers of innovation and major agents of economic growth and must also spearhead the commercialization of knowledge. Such an initiative is commendable and you have now given me a tough task, Vice Chancellor, to go and look at my books in the Ministry and see how we can support your initiative in as far as advancing research and innovation are concerned. These scholarships by the University of Botswana are an indication of its quest for efficiency, effectiveness, productivity and value for money by striving to achieve more with less. I therefore hasten to urge the private sector through the public-private partnerships to also contribute to the national research agenda and output by contributing their own scholarships to sponsor research directly aligned with their operations and or business. Director of Ceremonies; distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman; allow me at this juncture to officially launch the University of Botswana’s PhD Scholarships. Congratulations!!