Prof. Onkutlwile Othata

Associate Professor | Botswana University Faculty of Business

AfricaLive: What will be the role of the University of Botswana faculty of business in creating the next generation of skilled professionals that the country requires to prosper?

Prof Othata: Producing new generations of skilled professionals is a really big ask for us, especially in this day and age where professionals are required to be multi-skilled. Employers expect graduates to hit the ground running immediately. Our role is, therefore, not just to equip them with skills that pertain to their majors but to also prepare them to fit into society and become responsible citizens.

AfricaLive: The perception of being an institution of higher learning varies from the UK to the US. What does it mean to be an African institution of higher learning today in your opinion?

Prof Othata: In the past African institutions focussed on producing a trainable graduate, today there is a need to focus on more than just skills but also research. Africa’s position as a developing continent demands the development of new knowledge that will impact our societies. We must also aim to train our students to think proactively. They must think about problems that might come up in the future, and how they can be remedied.

AfricaLive: What are some of the strategic goals you wish to accomplish?

Prof Othata: One of our biggest goals is to prepare our students to always be on the front foot. You do this by ensuring that they have a diversity of skills that they can infuse into their majors and be better than others in their fields. We no longer live in a world where basic knowledge will make you competitive. In accounting, for instance, people used to get by on just basic accounting knowledge. These days you must have competencies on computerised systems and applications or get booted out. As a school, it is our responsibility to take cognisance of this and prepare our students accordingly.

AfricaLive: African jobs are under threat due to automation. If industries and institutions of higher learning don’t communicate properly, we could see the situation slip into a crisis. What is your institution doing to communicate more effectively with the industry?

Prof Othata: We are working to make inroads by ensuring members of various industries attend the investor-related activities we have on campus. We just had our bi-annual conference on business innovation and growth, and a lot of budding entrepreneurs as well as seasoned industry professionals were in attendance. We also allocate slots to event sponsors so that they can come in and communicate some of the challenges and gaps they are dealing with in their corporate settings. Events like these let us know how we can help the industry seal knowledge and skill gaps, while also allowing us to network with different industry players.

AfricaLive: What do you believe the future of research in Botswana should look like?

Prof Othata: Our future research should be anchored on where Botswana wants to be in the future. The direction we want to move to is not necessarily what is written in our national development plans. Our national goals and plans can’t be cast in stone because we have to take into consideration the changes that are occurring in society. Our future research shouldn’t be about what is already in existence and common. We must also think about emergent topics such as green energy and the effects of our carbon footprint. When it comes to technological advancement, we tend to only focus on the positives that will come out of it. Our research must also explore some of the negatives that come with technology such as cybercrime and possible online terrorism financing, and find ways to protect our people. Our future research must also not be fixated on automation; we must look at the quality of human capital we are producing as well. We must seek to know if we are producing ethical, dependable, and skilled human capital.

AfricaLive: Industries at times tend to point the finger at institutions of higher learning when crisis strikes. Often the argument is made that institutions of higher education don’t train graduates well enough. How do you think industries and institutions of higher learning can work together to ensure the production of competent, ethical, and morally grounded graduates?

Prof Othata: The blame game is redundant. Industries can lay the blame at our doorstep all day, however the question can also be asked where industry was when the graduates were being trained. If blame is going to be dished out, then industries must take some of it because every graduate is partly trained by schools and partly trained by industry.

It would serve our society better if we and industry jointly were to sit down and evaluate the training courses. If the training is deemed wanting, we can jointly agree on how to tweak it so that the industry ends up with highly skilled professionals. It is also important for us to realise that what we are training students on now could be outdated by the time they begin their careers. We must, therefore, keep an open line of communication with industry to tailor our courses to their needs.

AfricaLive: Over eighty per cent of start-ups in the SADC region fail within the first three years of operation. How can your faculty of business create an environment for entrepreneurs to grow in Botswana?

Prof Othata: One of our objectives is to focus on demand-driven courses for entrepreneurs. This is because a lot of our young people start businesses with profit in mind, and don’t have a clear idea of the problems they are trying to solve in society. Entrepreneurship should be about that contribution to society. As educators, we need to start imparting the mindset of solving problems other than just chasing a profit. The situation can also be significantly improved through research so that we can find out what other factors contribute to the failure of start-ups in our region.

AfricaLive: What is your institution doing at present or planning to do in the future to support budding entrepreneurs?

Prof Othata: We have introduced a post-graduate programme known as the Executive Masters in Entrepreneurship. The course breaks down the basics of entrepreneurship expertly and a student can only graduate once they have set up a viable business venture. Students that already have businesses must come up with workable ideas that can take their business to the next level before they can graduate. We have also rolled out a similar course at the undergraduate level that also seeks to incubate entrepreneurs. Both of these courses are receiving lots of positive reviews despite them being quite new.

AfricaLive: African Universities are currently better at forming partnerships with their European and American counterparts than they are at forming partnerships with other African Universities. How can you play a role in fostering a culture of intra-African partnerships?

Prof Othata: European and American Universities have a lot of resources at their disposal, which explains why African Universities lean that way. We also have to remember that most of our veteran and past scholars were trained in those institutions, so our ties with them are deep. Things are changing slowly though. We are seeing a lot of scholars come out of our local institutions, and a growing number of intra-African partnerships being formed. We are already in partnership with Universities in South Africa and Zimbabwe. I believe that we can use the Association of African Business Schools (AABS) as a launchpad to forming more intra-African partnerships.

AfricaLive: How confident are you about the future of Botswana and Africa as a whole, when it comes to embracing the new era of technology and innovation?

Prof Othata: I believe that new technologies will be very well received in Botswana and Africa as a whole. We have a lot of knowledgeable, industrious, and inquisitive youth. Our biggest challenge as a continent though is our politics. Our political leaders don’t present themselves as people who care about futuristic ideas or topics. There is hope, though, because our youth are beginning to question our political leaders. The more we empower the youth, the more our politics will start to embrace the futurism our youth want.

AfricaLive: What will success look like to you in five years?

Prof Othata: In five years, I will love to be able to point at a successful company or a big-time CEO and say that they are products of our Executive Entrepreneurship Course. I would also love to point out a service, product, or even a piece of legislation born as a result of our research.