The metallurgical engineering degree programme offered by the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Department of Materials Science and Metallurgical Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology (EBIT), has been ranked the best of its kind in South Africa for 2020 by the Minerals Education Trust Fund (METF). This is the second consecutive year that the department has achieved this feat after being ranked number one in 2019 as well.
The METF, which was established in 1999, supports tertiary education institutions that provide the minerals and mining industry with a pipeline of talent. It seeks to ensure that academic departments of this nature remain sustainable by providing funding which is used primarily to augment the salaries of academics with expertise in geology, metallurgical and chemical engineering.
The Head of Department, Professor Roelf Mostert, was elated about what his team had achieved under the trying circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing national lockdown.
“I am obviously delighted by this ranking result,” Prof Mostert said. “Each year the METF goes through a rigorous process to collect data on all of the six participating national metallurgical programmes and concludes the process with a presentation and interview with the full metallurgical sub-committee being present. To be awarded the number one spot for the second year in a row is indeed a great honour.”
Professor Sunil Maharaj, Dean of UP’s EBIT Faculty, said the fourth industrial revolution and move toward Society 5.0 “demand innovation and change to stay relevant in an ever-changing future. EBIT graduates are being trained in skills for jobs that don't yet exist. We are proud of this achievement by the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgical Engineering, as this is a testimony to the Department's ability to reinvent itself to stay relevant. Achievements like this confirms EBIT's role as a global competitor.”
UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe commended the Department for the sterling work it had done over the past few years, and highlighted how it had also gone against the grain in the way it had embraced transformation.
‘Developing some of the country’s best engineers’
“It is no secret that the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics remain relatively untransformed,” he said. “The World Economic Forum, in its Global Gender Gap Report 2020, estimates that only around 14% of the country’s engineers are women. It is encouraging to see that not only is UP’s Department of Materials Science and Metallurgical Engineering developing some of the country’s best engineers, but it is also advancing the nation’s transformation agenda. Prof Mostert can be proud of what the department has achieved in the past few years.”
Prof Mostert echoed Prof Kupe’s sentiments and highlighted that over the past decade the department had been intentional about ensuring that the demographic profile of the undergraduate student body reflected the demographics of the country.
“Over the past decade we have made inroads in attracting students of all ethnic groups and genders. At the start of the decade, 69% of our undergraduate students were black, and this figure had gradually increased to 86.4 % in 2020. The percentage of students in our undergraduate student complement who were women was 52.3% in 2020. Our department’s demographics therefore reflect the national demographics well,” Prof Mostert explained.
Prof Mostert also explained what set his department apart from similar departments in some of the country’s other tertiary education institutions. “Our department has a long and proud history of more than 60 years where we have developed engineers that are well acquainted with all five of the existing metallurgical sub-disciplines,” he said. “When the department was formed it was one of the first in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment, and Information Technology, and it is still a leader in its field today. We maintain very close relationships with industrial partners in all of the metallurgical fields; conducting applied research and design even at an undergraduate level, and this ensures that our students leave university as well-rounded and experienced individuals to take up their role as leaders in society.”
Going into 2020, there were a few goals that were set by staff members in the department that they felt would help them consolidate their ranking. Despite there being a national lockdown last year, the department was able to achieve some of its goals by the end of the year.
“During the preceding years, the department embarked on a project to adapt the undergraduate curriculum to the ever-changing requirements facing our graduates,” Prof Mostert said. “The new curriculum would be implemented in 2020 and this would require the development of new academic material and overcoming a number of challenges regarding transitory measures. Another major goal was to promote the field of materials science and metallurgical engineering and what it entails in the context of the fourth industrial revolution, to learners at school level. Achieving both these goals in the context of the national state of lockdown proved to be very challenging, but it is satisfying looking back at our achievements in 2020 and realising that we have achieved success in both of these goals.”