Botswana International University of Science and Technology: Putting Botswana On The Right Side Of The Digital Revolution

Key Points

  • Botswana’s Vision 2036 focuses on creating a more diversified, export-led economy to uplift the people of Botswana.
  • Botswana International University of Science and Technology was founded to help Botswana transform into an industrialised nation through research and development.
  • In addition to producing scientists and engineers, the university is engaged in commercial research projects in key industries such as mining and agribusiness.
  • Vice-Chancellor Professor Otlogetswe Totolo calls for stronger ties between universities and private industry, saying “Universities must step away from having an entitled attitude when dealing with industry.

 

Established to satisfy Botswana’s technical training and innovation gaps, the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) has grown in leaps and bounds since the first building blocks were laid in 2009. Young as it is, BIUST already plays a critical role in national development and in driving the evolution of research and engineering in Botswana. The institution embodies the founding President’s vision of seeing a united and progressive country. 

At the heart of the university’s identity is Botswana’s Vision 2036 Agenda, which focuses on moving from being an upper-middle-income economy to a high-income nation by 2036.

Botswana already punches above its weight when it comes to investing in research & development on the African continent. Now, BIUST Vice-Chancellor Professor Otlogetswe Totolo is calling for academics and industry leaders to embrace the fourth industrial revolution and work in partnership to put Botswana firmly on the right side of the digital revolution.

 

Botswana’s Vision 2036: Transformation Through Research & Development

In an interview with AfricaLive.net, Professor Otlogetswe Totolo explained the origins of BIUST and its mandate to drive innovation in the country, saying “This institution came to be because we used to have only one university, which is the University of Botswana. The University of Botswana has a very comprehensive set of programmes that include humanities and other academic disciplines. 

“Botswana needed a more specialised institution that could help with the country’s transformation process. The government took action and built the Botswana International University of Science & Technology in line with its development agenda.”

BIUST was established in 2009 to drive the national transformation process by building an institution focused on science and technology. 

Now, as African universities look to prepare for a technology-driven future, the institution is focused on embracing the opportunities brought by the fourth industrial revolution.

Prof. Totolo explains “We are the kind of institution where products and services must be derived from so that we can help our government make informed decisions. All this means we must be attentive to where the whole world is going. Universities must be at the forefront when it comes to advocating for change. 

“We must, therefore, be at the front when it comes to advising the government on how to handle the fourth industrial revolution. Our job is to be transformational agents in society because people depend on us to draw the agenda for the future through education. We can be involved in all kinds of projects, but our core business is changing what’s already out there. An institution like ours should be a place where skilled people can re-tool and boost their incomes from say a hundred dollars a day to two hundred. We must focus on solutions that can be applied immediately to our situation”.

The Covid-19 pandemic has acted as another reminder of the vulnerability of African countries that rely too heavily on one commodity such as oil. Botswana, with its wealth built upon the diamond industry, is one such economy where a lack of diversification creates vulnerability.

Professor Totolo spelt out the need to diversify the economy, saying “Ours is an economy that heavily relies on diamond sales to stay afloat. The current administration knows we need to diversify through new competencies. 

Our charter was, therefore, issued with the vision of transforming this country into a knowledge-based economy. You can only make such a leap with a specialised institution in place, to help train the locals accordingly. We exist to help Botswana transform into an industrialised nation through research and development. Our graduates should feel equipped enough to be able to go out there and create jobs for themselves and others”.

 

Research, Innovate, Incubate

Botswana’s vision of an export-led economy by 2036 will only be achieved if the country can add value to its raw materials in a way that will drive trade with the international community. 

BIUST’s focus on research and innovation comes with a commercial focus and a clear mission to engage with the private sector to produce the solutions required by African industries.

The university’s role is to research, innovate and incubate. Prof. Totolo explains “We are guided by a strategic plan that I drew soon after joining this institution in 2016. The plan aims at promoting academic excellence and student gratification, excellence in research, innovation and sustainable business models. 

Our mandate is to develop high-quality research and innovation that can be transformed into tangible applications and products. We provide research services and facilities that can support the needs of industry and society.”

 

BIUST Research and Commercial Projects

BIUST research projects focus on finding real-world solutions to problems facing Botswana and Southern Africa’s key industries.

 

Mining Sector: Pyrolysis Plant

“We have dedicated teams that do ‘industry intelligence’. Our teams focus on investigating the research needs of the industry and have come out victorious especially, in the mining field.” says Prof. Totolo.

To find a solution to challenges facing the mining industry, BIUST researchers collaborated with the industry in the creation of a pyrolysis plant. The plant produces crude oil from coal and byproducts such as diesel, petrol, and asphalt for road tarmacking.

Building ties with the mining industry is key to BIUST’s development strategy, and the Engineering Council of South Africa has certified the institution.

 

Agriculture Sector: Farm Control System

Researchers at BIUST have patented an innovation in the agriculture sector to tracks, controls, and counts animals.

Finding technology solutions to improve efficiency in the agribusiness sector is a key concern for the industry across the African continent.

This BIUST invention is an electronic farmyard access control system and method which includes automatic livestock counting and access control aspects.

 

Energy Efficiency: Off-Grid Secured Smart House

The world is changing into a cleaner and more sustainable energy system. Such changes demand countries be more conservative innovative by lowering electricity demand and find alternative means of electricity generation.

Existing smart home/building systems can provide monitoring, automation, and control of electrical appliances in a building, but these systems do not have an independent power supply, and they lack security and access control measures for the sockets and switches in the buildings.

Researchers at BIUST designed and implemented an Off-Grid Secured Smart House to address these challenges. 

The system is made up of two sub-systems; a secured smart home switching system and a solar energy harvesting system.

The results obtained from extensive testing of the implemented system shows an improvement in security and energy management in a building.

The system is an example of the “real world solutions” BIUST seeks to provide. African companies can benefit from independence from unreliable commercial power grids, and a renewable energy system which can reduce operating costs.

 

Industry Partnerships: “Universities must step away from having an entitled attitude when dealing with industry.”

The university’s research agenda and national development agenda can only be escalated further with strong industrial partnerships. Professor Totolo’s approach to dealing with industry is through value propositions that lead to lasting cooperation and integrated interests.

“Our job is to demonstrate our worth or end up becoming redundant. If we cannot provide the services that the sector requires because they doubt our delivery or standards, they will seek out other institutions of learning” the Vice-Chancellor says

“We must, therefore, understand our industries so that we can identify gaps that if filled, will make them more substantial profits. We have identified some issues in the mining industry and come up with solutions. Our research successes in the mining industry have helped us build great partnerships that further our agenda. 

Universities must step away from having an entitled attitude when dealing with industry and instead develop their value proposition.

If you become known for offering value, you will be sought after by local institutions as well as international outfits. If we embrace highly specialised competencies in civil works and telecommunications, our students will be highly soft after and our school will be placed on a pedestal.

Professor Totolo also recognises that with new technologies and rapid changes comes resistance. He warns that institutions that resist change will be hurt badly by the inertia.

“The future will be controlled by those who reinvent themselves. If we don’t acknowledge changes and embrace technology, our institutions will become ghost places. The future will treat institutions that choose to stay stagnant harshly. I subscribe to the idea of re-tooling and changing so that we can be on the right side of the digital revolution”.