AfricaLive: What does it mean to you to be an African higher education institution in this day and age?
Professor Otlogetswe Totolo: It means an institute that is in touch with the community serves. It also means an institution that understands where the government of the day is trying to take the nation so that we adhere to specific policies.
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.
AfricaLive: Your institution has developed very rapidly throughout the years. What is your role in creating the next generation of skilled professionals Botswana needs to prosper?
Professor Otlogetswe Totolo: 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 and differentiated institution that could help with the country’s transformation process. The government took action and built the Botswana International University of Science & Technology (BIUST), in line with its development agenda.
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. Our presence is strong because the practice of sending students to neighboring South Africa for training is becoming a thing of the past. This year, we have graduated more than two hundred students in the Science, Engineering and Technology field. We expect that they will go on to start enterprises and do big things to help our industries.
AfricaLive: The school has been involved in many projects since you took over the leadership mantle. What strategic goals have you identified that will drive the institution and the economy forward?
Professor Otlogetswe Totolo: 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. Four key pillars of growth lead our strategic plan. The first one is to incorporate entrepreneurship in all programmes so that students develop that mindset early. The second pillar is building strong partnerships. We must link up with other institutions, both local and abroad so that we can learn from each other and also collaborate. Partners must be carefully selected so that we only deal with the ones that add value to us. BIUST also has a robust branding agenda that seeks to promote this school as a top institution in the region. Having a well-known brand attracts not only students and quality teaching staff but also quality partners. The final pillar is operational excellence which encourages efficiency, ensures accountability and seals loopholes.
AfricaLive: We live in an age where automation threatens some jobs; this calls for conversations on how this can be handled. How will you drive this conversation with industry?
Professor Otlogetswe Totolo: Institutions of higher learning must remind themselves that industries are profit-making entities. 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. 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 sought after and our school will be placed on a pedestal.
AfricaLive: What are some of your flagship projects that align with your vision of working with the industry?
Professor Otlogetswe Totolo: We have dedicated teams that do ‘industry intelligence’ if you will. Our teams focus on investigating the research needs of the industry and have come out victorious especially, in the mining field.
BIUST is proud to have produced qualified people in the mining industry that are marketable all over the world. Our procedures are internationally approved and accredited, which makes us a giant in that field. Recognition has also come from closer to home after we got certified by the Engineering Council of South Africa. One of our most productive projects is our pyrolysis plant. The plant produces crude oil from coal and byproducts such as diesel, petrol, and asphalt for road tarmacking. On the agricultural front, we have developed a farm control system that tracks, controls, and counts animals. We also have a real estate product known as the BIUST Smart House, which controls the use of electricity in a home.
AfricaLive: In this era of advanced automation, what would you say is the future of African education?
Professor Otlogetswe Totolo: 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.