The Department of Mining Engineering plays a significant role in mining teaching, learning and research at the University of Pretoria (UP), and engages in cross-disciplinary work with departments across various faculties at the University. This is facilitated by the Department’s Mining Resilience Research Centre (MRRC), which forms part of its long-term strategy to become a world leader in mining research for practical implementation and to expand UP’s mining footprint.
The Department’s overarching goal is to enable the mining industry to transition from being reactive and compliant to becoming resilient in issues related to safety, health, environmental sustainability, social responsibility and community management through well-structured and committed postgraduate education and research. It also endeavours to be recognised internationally as a leading, globally relevant department of mining engineering by improving its representation on top international ranking systems. This forms part of its 2025 action plan, in which it aims to have 30 full-time postgraduate students active in research in the Department at any time. It is already well on its way to achieving this goal, as – in 2019 – it increased its postgraduate student numbers to the highest number ever: 51. This is made up of 36 honours, eight master’s and seven PhD students registered in the Department.
It is one of only two departments in South Africa to educate professional graduate mining engineers. It has significant undergraduate student numbers and its graduates are well accepted in the market. Its racial and gender profiles are fully representative of the South African landscape.
The Department has established a sound foundation for the future development of its teaching, research and community service. It is actively involved in the community, with staff participating in the activities of professional societies, as well as through expert consultation and community projects within the Faculty.
It follows a balanced scorecard management system approach in terms of its responsibilities related to internal business processes, finances, learning and growth, and accountability to customers and clients.
World-class teaching and research facilities have been developed through the generous financial support of its industry partners. This support has also contributed to the development of a robust continuing education programme. The presentation of short courses in conjunction with Enterprises University of Pretoria forms an important part of the Department’s funding strategy.
The Department’s prime resource is its teaching staff, which has more than 100 years of combined industry experience. The active participation of industry experts as part-time lecturers forms an important part of its teaching strategy, and the involvement of guest lecturers keeps its staff and students up to date with the latest industry needs.
The Department’s teaching and research is supported by three industry chairs. The Harmony Chair in Rock Engineering and Numerical Modelling focuses on directed research into specific rock engineering problems and the associated solutions. The AEL Intelligent Blasting Chair in Innovative Rock-breaking Technology focuses on developing postgraduate students in this field. The Murray & Roberts Chair in Industry Leadership 4.0 focuses on providing specialised skills and capacity building that are essential to the implementation of optimised systems related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) through defined leadership strategies. The MRRC will be the main driver for inter-faculty and inter-departmental research pertaining to mining. It will also be collaborating with the Department of Science and Innovation’s Mandela Mining Precinct with regard to specific research in mechanised mining systems. This research is set to become the Department’s key focus area.
From a teaching and learning perspective, the Department has performed a recurriculisation exercise to align its activities with the challenges that are faced in the next generation of mining. Through its Murray & Roberts Mining Engineering Leadership Academy (M&R MELA), it provides students with non-technical skills that promote creative and innovative thinking to solve industry problems. Through this programme, it is grooming students for the workplace of the 21st century.
The development of its students as future managers and technical specialists remains a priority and the development of life skills and responsible leadership through participation in student activities is continuously encouraged. As a result, graduates from the Department are employed in a wide range of companies both locally and internationally. According to the latest available statistics, approximately 95% of the Department’s graduates from 2018 and 2019 are currently employed in various fields in the minerals sector, as well as in consultancies and financial institutions.
Another initiative that has been launched in the Department, in association with the Department of Information Science, is its interactive immersive technology (IIT) drive in teaching and learning, which will add another dimension to the Department’s strategy of delivering quality education.
Student support and wellbeing is an important priority of the Department. It subscribes to a value-driven framework, in which the principle of heartfelt leadership features prominently. The values it entrenches in its students are those of respect, care, honesty, integrity and trust. In accordance with these values, it has established a Student Wellbeing Committee, which offers emotional and other support to students.
The Department boasts with several alumni who have reached the highest ranks of business, not just in the mining industry. This provides testimony to the success and credibility of a qualification from the Department of Mining Engineering, which I aim to sustain going forward.
Professor Ronny Webber-Youngman
Head of the Department: Mining Engineering