The Dean of the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment & Information Technology (EBIT), Professor Sunil Maharaj, has been appointed the new Chair-Elect of the Global Engineering Deans Council (GEDC), making him the first Dean in Africa to occupy this position.
Prof Maharaj will work as Chair-Elect during 2021 alongside the current Chair, Dean Sirin Tekinay of the American University of Sharjah, and will assume the chairship in November 2021. In this leadership role he will work closely with leaders throughout the world until the end of 2023 and will work closely with the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies, which links global organisations, professors, students, corporate entities, UN agencies and other multilateral global organisations.
Prof Maharaj says he feels humbled to be entrusted with this position by the members from across the globe who voted for him. “I was on the GEDC Executive Committee for the past two years, which afforded my colleagues time to get to know me, perhaps helping them to vote for me with confidence.”
The appointment follows the disappointment of having to move the 2020 GEDC world conference – which was set to be co-hosted by UP in Cape Town – to an online format. “In 2020, for the first time the GEDC and World Engineering Education Conference was to be held in an African country, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was recently hosted online, and I chaired the conference,” Prof Maharaj said.
The 2020 GEDC conference theme was centred around “Disruptive Engineering Education amidst Global Challenges”. The conference also engaged on how to increase the diversity of people working in engineering. “Getting more women, and especially black women, into the field is still a challenge. This is a challenge across the globe, not only in South Africa, and there is a big opportunity for women interested in engineering. The cause could be that engineering is perceived as a career designed for men. We – across the globe – need to do more to showcase that this field is for everyone, and develop role models for women who will be instigators for change. And we need to actively reach out to recruit and welcome women. Industries need to play their part as well.”
He further notes that there is no need for concern regarding the state of engineering at universities in the developing world. However, there is a need to innovate, by constantly promoting “disruptive engineering”. “We need to always innovate to stay relevant, and South Africa has done well thus far. It is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa which is part of international accreditation bodies, including being a signatory to the Washington Accord. We are part of the global space, and we are a global player.”
The GEDC’s vision is to enhance the capabilities of engineering deans to transform schools in support of societies in a global economy. Its mission is to serve as a global network of engineering deans, and to leverage their collective strengths for the advancement of engineering education and research. The Council’s network includes over 500 leaders and stakeholders representing over 40 countries from all continents.
“We are all excited to work with Prof Maharaj, being fully aware of his deep commitment to strengthen not only the role of his own university but also that of other African universities,” said Dr Hans Hoyer, Executive Secretary of GEDC. “Given his successful record of engaging with the global community, this will link many Deans and universities within our network of six continents.”
Prof Sirin Tekinay, the outgoing GEDC Chair, said, “I am looking forward to a year of working with Prof Maharaj in this capacity, and continuing to support him as the immediate past chair beyond 2021. With the chair’s office moving to South Africa, the GEDC will benefit from a whole new perspective that will improve the globalisation of the organisation. Prof Maharaj will be the ninth chair of GEDC, and it will be the second time the chair’s office is moving to the southern hemisphere in the history of GEDC."
Prof Maharaj says he hopes to facilitate the strengthening of international networks in the organisation, with the focus on innovative engineering education and research collaboration through engagement with industry, students organisations, local governments and global funding agencies.