The decision to establish two new engineering degree programmes at the University of Zululand (UNIZULU) will greatly contribute to the success of the country’s efforts to prioritise infrastructure development as the driving force for economic recovery.
Mr Cyril Gamede, the Chief Executive Officer of the Construction Industry Development Board, says the two new programmes will bolster the output of engineering graduates in the country and provide opportunities for young people who want to make a career in the engineering and construction sectors.
“This is the culmination of a planning process that started nearly a decade ago,” says Mr Gamede who served as Chairperson of the UNIZULU Council from 2015 to 2017. “We recognised the need to graduate more engineers in South Africa in order to meet the needs of our developing economy. A concept was born to develop engineering programmes from historically black universities with UNIZULU as a test case. The new engineering programmes in historically disadvantaged universities will produce young professionals that can lead the country’s future investment in construction and infrastructure.”
UNIZULU Vice Chancellor, Professor Xoliswa Mtose says that the University will however require large scale investment in the development of the physical and laboratory infrastructure in the next ten years, to ensure that the offering of engineering programmes is a success.
“Developing such infrastructure requires the adoption of an integrated district infrastructure development model which creates interdependencies and strong collaboration between UNIZULU, the Department of Higher Education and Training, the Department of Science and Technology, uMhlathuze Municipality, the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, the Department of Works and Infrastructure, and private industries in Richards Bay.”
From 2021 UNIZULU will offer Bachelor degree programmes in Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at its Richards Bay Campus. The closing date for applications is 21 January 2021 and prospective students will require an NSC qualification with Maths and Physics at level 5 and English at level 4.
“The construction sector is pivotal to the implementation of the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Programme announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa,” Mr Gamede says. “Infrastructure investment projects to a value of more than R360bn have been approved covering initiatives in the fields of transport, water and sanitation, energy and human settlements.
“These projects will drive economic activity and job creation in South Africa over the next decade. We, therefore, have to ensure that we produce a sufficient number of highly-skilled professionals who can lead these projects and deliver successfully on the expectations,” says Mr Gamede.
UNIZULU has steadily built its reputation as a centre of higher learning but this will be the first time that it offers graduate programmes in engineering. The process was conceptualised and led by Mr Gamede during his term at the helm of the UNIZULU Council. The external team consisted of Mr TC Madikane and Prof Downing from UCT. An internal team of dedicated staff under the leadership of the Vice Chancellor Mtose made this project a success under very challenging conditions.
The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Nzimande, gave full support to this programme and provided future infrastructure funding for the faculty. Mr Gamede’s dream as the then Chairperson was to also see a faculty of medicine at UNIZULU. That will be a dream deferred.
“There are countless young South Africans, especially in rural areas, who have the talent and ambition to follow careers in the construction and engineering sector but who are being denied because of limited opportunities. This initiative will provide opportunities for young people in the nearby areas to realise their professional dreams without travelling long distances to unfamiliar environments. This will also hopefully reduce the stress in students and hopefully improve the pass rate.
“These new programmes will now expand opportunities at a vibrant academic institution and our entire country will soon reap the benefits,” says Mr Gamede, who is the outgoing President of the Engineering Council of South Africa after two terms of four years each.
According to Professor Mtose, large scale investment in the development of the physical and laboratory infrastructure will ensure that land is allocated to develop the physical infrastructure. Such infrastructure will include roads, bulk services, and the science and technology laboratory for the University.
The infrastructure will also be used by local and provincial government agencies, the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone, and local firms to generate research and development, and innovation solutions for economic development of the region.