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Spend more on research

Publishing Date : 16 October, 2017


Botswana’s GERD or Gross domestic spending on research and development has dropped from 0.43 to 0.26 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the years. The low GERD is a significant factor that is contributing to the country’s slow diversification of the economy.

The Vice Chancellor of the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), Professor Otlogetswe Totolo has advised that investment in research and development is a critical factor in driving diversification. Botswana has a very small S&T HR base which is estimated at about 2160 employees; while the Research and Development personnel as percentage of employment is below optimal at about 2.7 researchers for every 1000 people employed.

Gross domestic spending on R&D is defined as the total expenditure (current and capital) on R&D carried out by all resident companies, research institutes, university and government laboratories, etc., in a country. It includes R&D funded from abroad, but excludes domestic funds for R&D performed outside the domestic economy. This indicator is measured in million USD and as percentage of GDP.

According to Professor Totolo countries that have been successful at turning their economies from resource based to knowledge based invested significantly in research and development. “If we are to see results in the diversification area we must look at the research output, if there is nothing coming out, we will struggle to move significantly,” observed Professor Totolo.

Botswana per capita output in terms of research is at 0.4 percent which is very low when compared to that of Stellenbosch University at 1.2 percent. Professor Totolo said research is meant to influence industry. Botswana’s GERD or gross expenditure on Research and Development as a percentage of GDP is very low. Furthermore some research has focused on wrong areas that do not have long term high value such as agriculture and manufacturing, shared Professor Totolo. It is also evident that local universities are biased towards teaching as compared to research.

Totolo shared that “consensus is emerging among policy makers and economists that at least half, if not more, of the economic growth in countries is directly attributable to science and technology.” The BIUST VC said in a globalizing, knowledge driven world with increasing importance of service industries and technological competitiveness, this contribution can only become higher.  


He cited countries such as Malaysia and South Korea which use about 5 percent of their Gross Domestic Product on research and development. Professor Totolo opined that Botswana has a big opportunity to shift its gears because of her participation in the Square Kilometre Array project.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area. The scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering and research & development towards building and delivering a unique instrument, with the detailed design and preparation now well under way. As one of the largest scientific endeavours in history, the SKA will bring together a wealth of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers to bring the project to fruition.

Professor Totolo, whose institution, BIUST has been chosen to spearhead the project on behalf of Botswana Government noted that Botswana could take advantage of being a partner in the SKA project and buy telescopes which could be used to harvest information and sell it to those who need it. “By so doing we will be moving from the natural resource based economy to a knowledge based economy,” he said. He emphasized the need to train more Batswana scientists so that the country could rip the benefits of being a host country to the SKA.

SKA Phase 2 will start mid-2020s and will see over 2000 dishes installed across 3500km of Southern Africa. National super-computing centres will also be set up in partner countries. Professor Totolo said as BIUST they are ready to accept the opportunities and challenges that will be presented to it so as to make a key contribution towards economic development, competitiveness and quality of life of the country, as well as making its mark regionally and globally.



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