A boost for engineering skills

Musa M Mkalipi

huawei5-text 15 engineering students from TUT have been awarded hefty bursaries from Huawei Technologies.

huawei3-text The bursaries will enable students to improve their skills in the ICT sector.
(Images: Musa Mkalipi)

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Engineering students at Tshwane University of Technology have received a helping hand to complete their studies through a bursary scheme set up by the Chinese multinational telecommunications company, Huawei, which has set aside R480 000 (US$48 400) for 15 bursaries.

The recipients are all studying at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in the department of engineering. Through the Huawei bursaries, it is expected that the students will be able to improve their skills in the information and communications technology sector. They will allow the students to focus all their attention on completing their studies, as they will not have to worry about financial constraints. The bursaries will include money for tuition and accommodation.

Sipho Themba, a lecturer in the Faculty of Engineering at TUT, said that the majority of the students majored in electrical engineering “because locally they are not exposed to opportunities in the [telecoms] sector”.

Many students did not choose telecommunications as a major and David Wang, Huawei’s eastern and southern Africa region public and communications affairs director, explained: “After several attempts to recruit students from the institution for internships, we realised that there were very few pupils who chose telecoms as a major and we saw this as an opportunity to intervene.”

Presenting the bursary cheque to the university, Wang added: “to bridge this gap, we are today signing an agreement between our company at the Tshwane University of Technology to provide the students with a platform to acquire financial assistance to encourage students in the department of electrical engineering to consider the rapidly growing industry of telecommunications.”

Norman Saul Baloyi, a second year electrical engineering student, responded: “I am very happy and thankful to have the bursary opportunity that Huawei has given us as some of us really need this.”

The bursaries fall under Huawei’s Global Telecom Seed for the Future Program, which is aimed at growing expertise in the telecommunications industry, as well as at improving innovation. The programme has come to South Africa amid efforts to promote local talent and to enhance creativity. It has been implemented in 14 countries and has set up 16 training centres around the world. It has given bursaries to students from 50 universities.

A partnership between the university and Huawei has existed for 13 years. “One of the challenges we have in our country is developing the next generation of academics and people who are entrepreneurial. That is why I am very glad that today we are meeting for the students as they are the heart of everything we do,” said Professor Nthabiseng Ogude, the university’s vice-chancellor.

She pointed out that 48 percent of students at TUT depended on financial aid. “If we do not get into these types of partnerships for education we cannot achieve very much.”

Tertiary drop outs

According to South African higher education facts and figures, a paper published by the International Education Association of South Africa (Ieasa), public funding of higher education has increased in recent years. Money has been invested in refurbishing buildings and constructing new facilities. Ieasa is a non-profit organisation, established as a result of the need for universities and universities of technology in South Africa to respond to international educational trends.

There are 11 traditional universities in South Africa that offer degrees. These universities are research based. There are also six universities of technology that offer diplomas.

Students’ drop-out rate, however, is 40%, according to the Human Sciences Research Council, which published a paper on the issue. It posited that the high drop-out rate was a threat to the nation’s future. Only 15 percent of tertiary students continue to study and achieve their qualifications. Financial difficulties are among the reasons for students failing to complete their studies.

To bridge this gap, various bursary schemes and learnership programmes have been set up. The Department of Basic Education, for example, runs its Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme, offering full-cost bursaries to teaching students. The purpose is to promote teaching at public schools. Launched in 2007, it is a multi-year fund available to enable eligible students to complete a full teaching qualification in an area of national priority.

Recipients are required to teach at a public school for the same number of years that they received a bursary. There are approximately 3 500 new bursaries available for 2014.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) also provides financial assistance to academically deserving and financially needy students to study at a tertiary institution. It provides both bursaries and loans, funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training, as well as other government departments. NSFAS also administers funds for some universities, as well as for Nedbank.

The repayment of student loans by past beneficiaries is a crucial element of the scheme’s funding model. NSFAS also manages and processes bursaries for companies or organisations that hold funds to assist students financially.

Improving higher education and training

South Africa invests roughly 20% of its total state expenditure on education, making it the highest proportion of the budget used on education in the world. This year, in his budget speech in parliament on 27 February, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced that R200-billion ($20.2-billion) would be set aside for education.

However the World Economic Forum Global Competiveness report indicates that the education system in South Africa is inadequate compared to the rest of the Africa. The report weighs the competitiveness of 144 countries and gives insight on their success and efficiency. In its Global Competitiveness Report 2012-13 report, the country’s ranks 84th in higher education and training, and a lowly 132nd in primary education. In its Country Profile Highlights for the period, it states: “Efforts must also be made to increase the university enrollment rate in order to better develop [South Africa’s] innovation potential.”

Improving higher education and training

Experts in the field of skills training and human resources have distilled ways in which education has been improved in the modern world, and how it can be further enhanced, to better the future of academics.

● Mobile technology: with cellphones and tablets, students are able to get information freely and easily.

● Improved access to internet: internet prices have gone down and an immense amount of information is now available to students. This has also made it possible for students to afford distance learning online.

● Free educational software and resources: to prolong and improve performance and learning, appropriate technologies should be available to students. By offering students resources such as computers they can become technologically skilled and can access information easily.

● Business, banking and financial skills: these are needed to support the expansion of the economy. To promote financial literacy, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange holds an annual National Youth Financial Literacy Day aimed at giving young people more insight into how to handle their finances to improve their financial stability.

● Lifelong learning and comprehensive universities: through non-stop updating of skills, individuals will remain competitive once they have entered the job market.