Commodification of Knowledge in Developing Economy: The Case of the University of Botswana

Article excerpt

Introduction

The growing interest in the commercial viability of knowledge amongst academic knowledge producers is of particular significance to universities because they routinely engage in the enterprising and production of knowledge in the form of research and graduate output. Universities also seem to be strengthening their position in protecting their knowledge outputs through patenting and copyrighting. These developments are inevitably making Higher Education (HE) very important especially for Knowledge Based Economies (KBE). Because research and development is costly in the African context universities are better equipped and endowed with befitting human resource to generate knowledge for the benefit of the economy. However since universities are mandated repository and creators of knowledge, it is expected that they fully participate in the generation of knowledge. The problem however is that the resources afforded state funded universities are not sufficient to make universities in developing economies to compete globally in the provision of HE.

Commodification of knowledge seems to have provided an avenue for state funded universities to generate third stream income. In exploring this phenomenon this discussion will seek to understand its meaning as well as the challenges and tensions that come with it. It will therefore use the UB as a test case for discussing the issues of commodification of knowledge.

Background

The University of Botswana (UB) enjoys strong funding support from Botswana government and only generates 23% of its total revenue, which is mainly from student tuition fees paid through government sponsorships of students. UB has through its strategic plan aligned its operations with the country's long term plan (Vision 2016) in order to fulfil its mandate as well as accommodate the needs of its major stake holder. In a small state such as Botswana university education tends to be an integral part of HE and a source of an educated work force. UB having served the nation's manpower development plans is faced with new demands of an industry diversifying economy. The National Human Resource Development (NHRD) strategy underway is yet to show the areas of need in skills and knowledge requirements of the economy. The emergence of a new generation of entrepreneurially driven private universities in Botswana has contributed towards the changing landscape of university education provision. These have offered degrees that are more appealing to school leavers and some have turned down offers from the UB to take up training with them. The UB has to therefore compete for candidates. The up coming new Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) is a Private Public Partnership which competes with UB for public funding from the Botswana government. Botswana's university education is state funded and inevitably commodification of knowledge becomes a state business by default.

Botswana subscribes to knowledge for development and through its long term plan (Vision 2016) has pledged to build an educated and informed nation by year 2016. Botswana has been spending on average up to 8.5% of its GDP towards education. A significant share of this expenditure has been directed to the university education in the form of tuition fees for students, university development projects and recurrent expenditure of the only public university UB. Other key institutions such as colleges of education, nursing institutions and College of agriculture are affiliated to the UB thereby making UB play a leadership role in the provision of HE. The graduates and research continue to be key outputs of the UB but lately the institution has faced challenges because some of its graduates have not been able to secure employment in the government and industry. This has forced UB to reflect on its operation and push for transformation. UB's research output has been very low because this activity has among other issues received only 2% of the institutional budget. …