Botswana is experiencing a chronic lack of available places in tertiary education after the government terminated its non-military national service in April.
Two cohorts of school-leavers are now competing against each other to gain entrance to further study.
The number seeking places has grown to nearly 20,000, including students who have studied outside Botswana and completed O levels by distance learning or through private schools. This "double output" has put pressure on the university, other tertiary institutions and the ministry of education, which provides bursaries.
The University of Botswana has been able to increase its intake, but on first-year science courses (preparatory courses for medical school, engineering and other programmes) they could increase the number of places only from 600 to 700. It is reported that 17,000 students applied. Colleges of education, with places for 300 students, received 7,000 applications.
A new minister of education Ponatshajo Kedikilwe has responded to the crisis by promising that 3,000 additional places would be found overseas for candidates not admitted to the university. Unfortunately, many of these candidates will not qualify for institutions that demand more than O levels.
The increase in enrolments without additional staff and new and larger classrooms will have a serious impact. At the start of the 2000-01 academic year, the university was already experiencing overcrowding and inadequate facilities. Tutorials have up to 100 students and the situation is expected to deteriorate.
The National Youth Council has called on the university to start running classes at weekends and to hire part-time instructors. The council has also asked for the government to initiate a new voluntary service scheme for those who have been unable to continue their studies.