Delegates of a joint symposium marking the end of a two-year programme aimed at enhancing the standard of engineering education in southern Africa, left Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, on August 30, 2018 with high hopes of having achieved what they set out to do when the programme kicked off in October 2016.
Among the dignitaries who attended the two-day symposium was the Zimbabwe Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Professor Amon Murirwa who delivered a keynote address. Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Professor David Sebudubudu, led a high-powered delegation from Botswana comprising the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology, Professor Benjamin Bolaane and representatives from University of Botswana spoke institutions.
The representatives were Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Botswana International University of Science and Technology, National University of Science and Technology (Namibia), University of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) and National University of Lesotho.
The project known as the Enhancing Engineering Education Programme (EEEP) was sponsored by the British Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) to the tune of 140 000 Pounds (P1 964 807) for two years.
Professor Sebudubudu said at the core of the project was a desire to improve the standard of engineering education at the University of Botswana and regionally through the achievement of four specific objectives.
The objectives were to forge successful partnerships between industry and academic institutions nationally and regionally through knowledge sharing; securing industry attachment for teaching staff to facilitate skills acquisition; establishing and strengthening departmental advisory boards to impact industry relevant degrees, and engaging industry professionals in providing guest lecturers, seminars, professional development workshops and inspiring students through practical insights into the workplace.
Professor Sebudubudu said the project could only achieve its objectives through a very close partnership with industry and government as well as working with similar institutions in the SADC region. Highlighting the mandate of the University of Botswana, Professor Sebudubudu enumerated a number of achievements of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology in working with communities across the country and helping them with professional expertise.
He said the Faculty has helped a women’s group in Gabane to process Morula colloid for confectionary while the design team helped brand the products and packaged them for better market access. In addition, the Faculty worked with communities in Mokolodi installing a solar power generation station, besides designing and building a heavy-duty oil expressing machine (oil press) for community groups and small businesses across the country.
On the other hand, Professor Murirwa challenged engineers in Africa that instead of importing ideas, they should be more innovative in coming up with researches that were tailor-made to solve problems in the continent. “You are always saying according to, what did you do yourself?” asked the Minister.
Professor Murirwa further lamented that in numerous universities across Africa the emphasis was on learning languages especially English more than concepts due to an education system that made language more prime than ideas. Further, he spoke against universities and industry remaining compartments, saying the two must work hand in hand to bridge the gap between them.
Meanwhile, among the common problems associated with engineering education in southern Africa that the Royal Academy of Engineers representative, Dr Keith Carter, identified, were lack of engineering skills and industry involvement. It was against this background that the EEEP was set in motion to bridge the gap, he said.