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Building started last month (April) on Botswana's long-delayed specialist science and technology university. It is hoped the university will stop the 'brain drain' of students going to other countries to study.

Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), a public-private partnership, is under construction in the city of Palapye, 270 kilometres north of the capital, Gaborone.

The university will focus on engineering, mining, geology and basic sciences. John Cooke, the first and only geography lecturer at the University of Botswana when it opened in the early 1970s, has been appointed founding dean of the new university's science faculty.

BIUST's vice-chancellor Kweku Bentil, a civil engineer, told SciDev.Net that the first stage of the university includes laboratories and on-campus residences for 256 students and 70 staff. Registration for first-year students from across Africa is due to start in March 2011. Later plans include a research park.

"The government of Botswana spends millions of dollars each year to support approximately 7,000 Botswana students at universities in other countries, from undergraduates to PhD students. BIUST can help reduce the number of such students and the cost of their training," Bentil told SciDev.Net.

The university was initially expected to cost US$1.5 billion to build. Bentil says this figure is now out of date as the university opening has been delayed twice, once in 2007 (see Two-year delay for Botswana's science university) and also this year. He could not provide an updated cost.

Securing the 2,500 hectare site for the university required far lengthier consultations than expected as existing homes, agricultural land and burial places necessitated compensating and relocating local communities, says Bentil.

The university grew out of recommendations in a critical 2005 UN Development Programme (UNDP) report that called for increased funding for university-level scientific research in Botswana.

The report said despite having one of the strongest economies in the developing world and a high-tech information and communications infrastructure, Botswana was "neither involved in science and technology innovation nor its diffusion at any significant level" (see Botswana 'not using its potential for strong science').

Following the UNDP report, Botswana's parliament approved plans for the science university in January 2006.

Link to 2005 UNDP report [2MB]

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