The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Department of Materials Science and Metallurgical Engineering has been ranked number one in South Africa by the Minerals Education Trust Fund (METF) for 2019.
The METF was established by the minerals and mining industry in South Africa, with a view to bolstering universities’ activities in this sector. South African mining and minerals companies contribute annually to the fund, to enhance the sustainability of specific departments at universities.
According to Professor Roelf Mostert, Head of UP’s Department of Materials Science and Metallurgical Engineering, in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, the METF interacts with universities via sub-committees, one of which is the Metallurgy Subcommittee. “The committees comprise of representatives from industry which support academics in the mining, minerals and metallurgical fields, as these universities provide them with geologists, metallurgical and mining engineers.”
The Fund indicates that it aims “to support, promote and advance the interest of minerals education in South Africa” by providing the beneficiaries with funds that are used primarily to supplement academic salaries in the disciplines of Mining, Metallurgical/Chemical Engineering and Geology.
According to Prof Mostert, once a year the Metallurgical Subcommittee assesses the performance of six universities. Universities are provided with a template for reporting on criteria that includes the departmental profile, student numbers and demographics, undergraduate pass rates, academic and non-academic staff, Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) registration status, academic modules and programmes and industry interaction and strategic plans.
Prof Mostert said the ranking process “entails the submission of data by universities, visits to facilities and laboratories by METF members, and the provision of feedback by universities in the form of a presentation with question-and-answer sessions. Periodically, the METF sends individuals to the Departments to audit the data provided.”
He said the METF Metallurgical Subcommittee consists of active metallurgical engineers from all over the country, and the ranking is highly credible. “Our department is the most established of its kind in the country at 61 years old. We pride ourselves on offering a fully integrated programme which covers the full metallurgical value chain, from minerals beneficiation to metals extraction and up to metals processing and performance.”
Metallurgical engineers who graduate from UP’s department can make a meaningful contribution to any branch of metallurgy in the minerals to metals industrial cycle in South Africa and even abroad. “With South Africa’s rich endowment of minerals, Metallurgical Engineering is an engineering discipline which contributes strongly to national goals and economic drivers,” he said.
Prof Mostert said that the demography of the Department’s undergraduate cohort is inclusive. “In 2019, 82% of undergraduate students on UP’s programme were black, while the percentage of females was at 42%. In 2011, the percentage of black students was 69 %, meaning good growth in inclusivity has been realised in this time.”
He said feedback from industry “is that our graduates are highly sought after. For the past two years, for example, students from our Department obtained the first prize for metallurgical students at the annual SA Institute of Mining and Metallurgy Student Colloquium. Students from all over southern Africa entered. This is also evident in the financial support our students receive. In 2019, 77% of our undergraduate students received financial support from corporates or other organisations.”
Students graduating from the department find that the graduate programme is recognised throughout South Africa, and also in countries that are signatories to the Washington Accord. “The quality of our programme was verified by ECSA in 2017. We received an unqualified accreditation which is valid up to 2022,” Prof Mostert said.
UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe congratulated the department on this accolade. “The ranking is prestigious, and I thank staff for their hard work. UP has the biggest faculty of engineering in South Africa, and produces 28% of all engineers in the country. The quality and relevance of our programmes is a strategic imperative. Quality will never be compromised.”