NWU starts school-based training for future engineers
A shortage of technical, engineering and technology skills is threatening the future economic growth of South Africa. Due to the urgency of this situation, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, has challenged universities to double graduates in these sectors.
In answer to this, the North West University (NWU) will train future engineers from 2013 while they are still at school.
In order to make this happen, the Faculty of Engineering on the Potchefstroom Campus of the NWU is establishing a science, engineering, technology and health (SETH) academy at the Ferdinand Postma High School in Potchefstroom.
The strategy is an initiative of the Faculty of Engineering, in collaboration with other NWU faculties, namely the Faculties Health Sciences; Agriculture, Science and Technology; Natural Sciences; and Education. The North-West Department of Basic Education is also a valuable partner to the project.
According to Ms Elza Hattingh, Manager: Recruitment, selection and student affairs at the Faculty of Engineering, increasing the intake of students is not enough to solve the problem.
“We realise that the issue we are facing is twofold,” she says. “Yes, we need more graduates, but we will not get the intake of students that we need if we do not do something about the extremely low number of school-leavers with adequate scores and relevant skills they need to enrol for the more difficult professional academic programmes.”
The scale of the problem is evident if one looks at the number of learners who have passed through the education system. Only 23% of the 1,6 million learners who started grade one in 1995, obtained a matric. Only about 2000, or 0,11% of these students, will qualify as engineers.
“This shocking attrition rate is a waste human potential and is one of the reasons why there is such a shortage of engineers. The same is true for nurses, scientists, SET teachers, and other professionals in the SETH fields,” says Elza. “Faced with those figures, we realised that we need something that will ensure that better engineers are trained in a shorter time.”
Universities have tried putting money into remedial programmes at university level, or to increase the length of a degree course by adding a foundation year. But NWU believes this is too little, too late.
The NWU expects that the SETH-Academy will contribute to the following strategic objectives:
• To increase the output of engineering graduates by at least 30%;
• To increase cohort throughput from 65% to 80% with 60% completing in four years; and
• To increase the number of graduates from previously disadvantaged groups and to increase the percentage of female graduates to 30%;
A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between the Department of Education and the NWU and the programme will start in 2013 with an intake of Grade eight learners.
Each year another grade will be added, so that in five years, the school will be offering SETH classes on all levels. The learners will follow the normal school curriculum, but will also be given extra classes in SETH subjects. In the afternoons they will take part in an enrichment programme at the university, where they will implement the theory they have learned in a practical manner.
The collaboration from industry is an important part of the programme and will ensure that the learners are mentored.
“We hope that many of these learners will enrol at the NWU, but we predict that when these learners finish matric, they will be prepared for any university in the world,” Elza says.
The private sector is cordially invited to contact the NWU for more information, or if they want to be involved in this interesting initiative.