MechChem Africa

In the current ‘#FeesMustFall’ climate we've decided to open up a discussion around issues related to higher education in South Africa. Here is an opinion piece by Wolf Bernhardt, honorary senior lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who has been a member of SAIChE for over 20 years. Please note that this is the opinion of the author and not necessarily of the Institution.

Wolf BernhardtObtaining a degree, which is presumed to be a requirement for becoming a professional, is a very expensive process. In terms of return on investment, the graduates entering the professional world need to contribute value commensurate with the salary they earn.

Many senior executives who approve the recruiting of new graduates, express disappointment in the value these new graduates bring to their organisations. After years of mentoring and contribution of significant resources, the graduate frequently moves on to ‘greener pastures’.

Educators keep asking what kind of skills their students need to acquire to be valuable in the working world. Worldwide there has been a restructuring of engineering curricula around ‘graduate attributes’ in terms of measurable criteria students must meet to be awarded their degrees.

Just some of the graduate attributes – also called exit level outcomes – articulated in the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) document E-02-PE are as follows:

• Problem solving.
• Application of scientific and engineering knowledge.
• Engineering design.
• Investigations, experiments and data analysis.
• Engineering methods, skills and tools – including Information Technology.
• Professional and technical communication.

For the educator, the challenge is to set assignments that are sufficiently challenging and can only be successfully executed by students who have a clear understanding of the problem and who exercise the attributes that professionals use every day. Having said this, it is acknowledged that it is virtually impossible to simulate a work environment with all its distractions and demands at a university. Industrial work experience while the students are studying would help in the development process.

The double-page spread of SAIChE IChemE news also includes a report on the national AGM and the Gauteng Branch AGM, which was held directly after the former, at the same venue.

Click to download and read pdf.

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