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HEQF_ An Electrical Engineering Perspective

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					HEQF: An Electrical Engineering Provider Perspective
Eric L Dixie
IPET Workshop on HEQF and new Engineering Technology Education Qualifications 1 April 2008

When my colleague and former boss, Professor Nico Beute, asked me to give this presentation, I asked him who I would be representing. Would I be speaking as a member of the Standards Generating Group responsible for generating the qualification standards for technicians and technologists? Or would I be speaking as the Coordinator of the Electrical Engineering Forum which is a voluntary association of the electrical engineering staff at former technikons? Or would I be speaking as the Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Cape Town campus of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology? Nico said that I should speak in all three capacities. Nevertheless I felt it best to speak as a Head of Department at the coal face – and believe me, it’s hot down there!! Let me share with you some of the challenges we face:

Challenges of Engineering Education
Shortage of Skills I don’t need to tell you of the shortages of engineering skills in this country. Our job as providers is to produce well qualified technicians, technologists and engineers to meet the needs of the country. Shortage of Staff However the shortage of engineering skills means that the providers are struggling to obtain suitably qualified lecturers. We are competing for staff with industry and with other educational institutions. We need well qualified academics to provide the qualified technicians, technologists and engineers that industry needs. But they are not available. We advertise lecturing posts, but there are very few applicants. It is not surprising. Universities require their lecturers to have high qualifications – at least a Master’s degree in the discipline as well as an educational qualification, but the universities cannot offer competitive salary packages. There are not many highly qualified people who have such a passion for education that they are prepared to forego the lucrative benefits of a career in industry. Trying to meet the government’s equity targets exacerbates the problem. Having appointed a lecturer, or maybe having trained and mentored our own students, they are likely to be head-hunted by other educational institutions or industry. We recently lost a 49 year old white male to Eskom. His package is more than double what we offered him. His speciality is Electrical Protection. We have had to stop offering one of the most important specialisations within Power Engineering because we have not been able to replace him thus far.

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Most of the academics in my department are specialists with no back-up lecturers. If an academic leaves for whatever reason it is likely that a whole area of specialisation will be closed down. There aren’t enough well-qualified academics available for every institution to offer the same specialist qualifications. A student is not better than the teacher, but the student who has been fully trained will be like the teacher. Jesus Christ. Luke 6:40 (NCV) If we don’t have suitably qualified lecturers, we can’t produce the people/product that industry needs. Shortage of Funding We are competing for funding with other academic institutions and with other departments within our own institutions. Engineering education is expensive. Specialist programmes need specialist equipment and software. Most of this comes from overseas. I am sure you are all grappling with the effect that the falling Rand has had on this year’s budget. There is pressure on academic departments to generate their own funds – so called 3rd stream income. But overloaded academics cannot cope with the existing demands on their time. Student Challenges The CHE’s Higher Education Monitor No 6 of October 2007, which based its research on the 2000 and 2001 cohorts of first year students, highlighted a number of challenges: Shortage of Suitable Students Only 5% of the 1.6 million learners who entered Grade 1 in 1995 obtained a Senior Certificate endorsement (the statutory requirement for degree study) in 2006. The report does not state how many of these did well in Mathematics and Science, the key engineering subjects. Institutions offering engineering education compete for relatively few students. Underprepared Students The report quoted a Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study in 2003. South Africa came last in grade 8 Science and Mathematics out of 50 countries including five other African countries). It also quoted findings showing that the standard for Senior Certificate English Higher Grade 2nd language has dropped. English is used as a vehicle for learning at most tertiary institutions. Poor Throughput Only 5% of Engineering students graduated in the minimum 3 years of study for the National Diploma. Only 15% had graduated after 5 years. High Drop-Out Rate If 15% graduated after 5 years, what happened to the rest? Another 12% were still registered. Assuming all of those students did eventually graduate, it still means that 73% dropped out. Most of these dropped out within the first year. One of the main conclusions of the report was that the situation at school level is not going to improve in the short term and that therefore the higher education sector will have to take on the responsibility of accepting and training underprepared students and ensuring that the majority graduate without compromising qualification standards. How do we address the above challenges? At least part of the solution lies in …
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Cooperative Education
   Cooperation between the Department of Education and the Department of Labour. Cooperation between Academic Institutions and Industry Cooperation between Provider Institutions.  Offering different levels of engineering qualifications  Offering similar qualifications, but in different niche areas

In every case we need real cooperation between equal partners with each partner informing the others regarding required outcomes. Cooperation between the Department of Education and the Department of Labour The Department of Education needs to take responsibility for the quality assurance of Stage 1 Engineering qualifications. The Department of Labour needs to take responsibility for the quality assurance of Stage 2 Engineering qualifications. Cooperation between Academic Institutions and Industry Academic institutions and Industry need to decide which competencies are better learnt in an academic environment and which in the workplace, and design their qualifications and assessments accordingly. Advisory boards need to meet regularly to monitor what is being taught in the academic institutions and what is being taught in industry and to identify and deal with deficiencies in academic and work integrated learning. Cooperation between Provider Institutions Historically provider institutions have competed with each other for students, staff and funding. We can no longer afford to do so. As described above, this country is experiencing shortages in all three of these areas. Unhealthy competition resulted in the problems of parallel qualifications that we face today. Initially traditional universities would not recognise technikon qualifications. They treated technikon graduates as if they only had a matric. The technikons were forced to provide postgraduate qualifications for the benefit of their students. In so doing, they began to move away from their core business of providing engineering technicians for the country. They also began to compete with traditional universities for research funding. One of the lessons of apartheid is that parallel development leads to inequalities and perceived wrongs. For decades technikons tried to prove that their degrees and postgraduate qualifications were as good as, or better than those of traditional universities. Many highly competent engineers were hurt and/or offended because ECSA decided that only a university degree was good enough for professional registration as an engineer. Let’s not make that mistake again. We need a network of educational institutions working together for the good of higher education in this country. The HEQF provides a coherent set of complementary qualifications. The providers of higher education that offer those qualifications need to offer equally coherent paths of articulation from one qualification to the next.

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Cooperation between Provider Institutions offering different levels of engineering qualifications Few academic institutions have the human resources let alone other resources to offer all the engineering qualifications. While the higher education sector may be forced to accept underprepared students, it does not make sense that one institution will provide programmes leading all the way from remedial education to doctorates. Like industrial companies, academic institutions need to decide on their own niche area, and obtain the personnel and other resources needed to obtain their vision and goals. In the pursuit of those goals they need to differentiate between core business, to which they devote their own resources, and supporting business which is outsourced to supporting specialist companies. Academic institutions will have to outsource to other institutions qualifications that fall outside their niche areas. Some years ago it was suggested that the country needed 1 engineer for every 10 technicians for every 100 artisans. Therefore many more institutions will be required to offer the NQF Level 5 Certificates than will be required to offer the NQF Level 8 Professional degrees. With proper cooperation, institutions offering the lower level qualifications will feed their more academically inclined graduates into the institutions offering the higher level qualifications. They will be acting as an academic filter for them. Academic drift at my own institution means that we are not geared for remedial education as can be seen from this extract from an e-mail sent to me by a frustrated lecturer last week: I regret saying that I have never seen such a useless outfit before. There is only 5 weeks left and in my professional opinion, 90% of this class WILL fail. No ambition, no personal commitment, no zest, no zeal, no inclination for research,..... I don't have time to spoon-feed this class. They are not close to being ready for third year, or second year for that matter. I expect that FET Colleges will eventually offer the NQF Level 5 Higher Certificate and the NQF Level 6 Advanced Certificate. It will be difficult for an institution to claim to be a university unless it offers degrees. Some UoT’s will offer NQF Level 6 Advanced Certificates (and/or Diplomas) along with Degrees. They will collaborate with FET Colleges to filter students with the Higher Certificate, and will themselves serve as a filter to other institutions offering higher qualifications. Other UoT’s will offer Degrees, Honours Degrees, Masters and Doctorate qualifications using other institutions that offer NQF Level 6 qualifications as filters. Cooperation between Provider Institutions offering similar qualifications in different niche areas There are not sufficient resources in the country for similar specialist qualifications at different institutions. Institutions need to collaborate with each other in deciding which institution will offer which specialisation. Institutions will then attract students, staff and funding based on their specialist niche areas rather than on their geographical locations.

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Benefits of Cooperation between Providers Staff Higher qualifications are required for academics at a university than for academics at a college. At my own institution, when we were created to produce technicians, a 3-year post matric qualification in the particular field was considered to be adequate for lecturing staff. In addition staff were encouraged to obtain a one-year tertiary teaching diploma. That academic level is still adequate for teaching technicians, but over the years my institution has progressed to offering B Tech, M Tech and D Tech programmes. As a university, the minimum qualification for a lecturer is now a Master’s degree in the particular field, and the lecturer is expected to obtain a tertiary teaching qualification as soon as possible after being appointed. Universities require their faculty to have postgraduate qualifications because that affects the status and reputation of the university. At the FET colleges, because they are not offering degrees, they can appoint people with Bachelor’s degrees as lecturers. They are able to draw on a wider pool of prospective lecturers. If the universities allow the FET colleges to teach NQF Level 5 and 6 courses for them, the universities won’t have to use their own academics to teach low level courses. With respect to high level courses, by developing specialist niche areas, universities should not have to compete with each other for specialist lecturers. Funding Instead of institutions competing for funding both at the undergraduate level and at the research level, it will be in everyone’s interest that the institutions offering undergraduate qualifications receive sufficient funding to give their students the firm foundation that they will need for post graduate studies. The bulk of the academic subsidy should go to these institutions. Those institutions offering post graduate qualifications would have access to all the research funding in their niche areas. Underprepared Students Besides being underprepared academically, many students have only a vague idea of what engineering is about in the first place. Instead of having to commit themselves to a 360 or 480 credit engineering programme, and then find out that engineering is not for them, they can enrol for the 120 credit Higher Certificate. That Certificate will give them the foundation and insight they need to continue with higher engineering qualifications, or to choose another career. Encouraging students to obtain a Higher Certificate in Engineering at institutions that are geared for remedial education will be much less resource intensive than having a particular institution offer foundational provision, bridging and/or other programmes for underprepared students as well as offering the standard learning programmes in the discipline. Student Throughput and Drop-Out Instead of students being committed to a 480 credit qualification such as the Professional Bachelor’s Degree, they can commit themselves to a sequence of manageable 120 or 240 credit qualifications. Successful students may proceed to higher qualifications while those who are unsuccessful will be able to exit with the qualifications they have already obtained along the way.

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This will make a huge difference to the overall throughput of students and reduce the drop-out rate. It will emphasize success rather than failure for those who do not progress all the way to a Level 8 qualification. Proven success at the lower levels will give a strong foundation for further study at the upper levels. Sponsors will be able to identify successful students and give them bursaries for further study, knowing that they are likely to succeed. Students who first obtain a Higher Certificate, then an Advanced Certificate, then a Degree will actually have obtained 480 credits at Levels 5, 6 and 7 as opposed to those who enter the degree programme directly from school who will have obtained 360 credits. They should therefore have a broader and stronger foundation. In any case, many students will need to spend longer in the tertiary sector. Education is a journey with certain fixed destinations (competencies/standards/qualifications) along the way. Imagine that obtaining a degree in a certain field is like travelling from Cape Town to Johannesburg in 4 different cars. The learner leaves Cape Town in a car labelled PreSchool and travels a certain distance along the road. She then transfers to a car labelled Primary and continues on her journey. After some time she transfers to a car labelled Secondary and makes further progress. Finally she transfers to a car labelled Tertiary to travel the remaining distance to Johannesburg. How long she needs to spend travelling in car Tertiary to reach the fixed destination of Johannesburg depends on how far she travelled in the other three cars. Implication of Providers not offering the Full Range of Qualifications If a student wants to articulate or transfer from one institution to another it will have to be on the basis of a completed qualification. Qualifications are expressed in terms of their outcomes (what the graduate must be able to do). The learning programme which specifies what content is taught and when it is taught in order to enable students to achieve those outcomes will vary from institution to institution. It is part of the how – which is unique to an institution.

Conclusion
We need a network of educational providers and industry cooperating together to provide pathways for students to progress as far as they like in their particular field for their own benefit and for the benefit of the country. We need  Complementary not Competing Qualifications  Cooperation not Competition amongst institutions of Higher Learning  Collaboration between stakeholders, not Isolation from each other

We need Cooperative Education!

References
NCV. The Everyday Bible: New Century Version. 2005. Nashville, TN.: Thomas Nelson, Inc. Higher Education Monitor No 6: A case for improving teaching and learning in South African higher education. Ian Scott, Nan Yeld and Jane Hendry. October 2007. Council on Higher Education.

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Appendix

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Additional Thoughts (not included in the original presentation) I stated in the talk that institutions, in collaboration with each other, will have to develop their own niche areas and areas of specialisation. Colleges for Advanced Technical Education (which were renamed Technikons) were specifically created to develop technicians. That was their niche area. When the traditional universities refused to recognise their qualifications, the technikons developed their own rival higher qualifications, but in so doing, they lost their focus. Today many of these institutions do attempt to provide programmes leading all the way from remedial education to doctorates. In the meantime, since technikons were created, the role of the engineering technologist has been recognised. I think that in future institutions will specialise in a particular product. For example: Institution Type FET Colleges Universities of Technology Traditional Universities Product Technicians Technologists Engineers Minimum Stage 1 Qualification NQF 6 Advanced Certificate NQF 7 Degree NQF 8 Degree

However, they should do this in collaboration with each other. If my institution decides to concentrate on producing technologists, I would not want to accept students with a Level 4 Senior Certificate. I would want to accept students who already have a Level 6 Advanced Certificate. I would have partnered with the institutions offering those qualifications. We would have agreed on which outcomes would be credited at my institution. I would not want to duplicate outcomes that have already been achieved and content that has already been learnt because that would be a waste of my scarce resources. I agree with the “fitness for purpose” argument that states that a qualification designed to produce a good technician would not necessarily match a qualification designed to produce a good technologist. That possibility is covered by the regulation that states that no more than half the credits of one qualification can be carried over to another. Nevertheless there must be some commonality in the outcomes and content of programmes designed to produce technicians, technologists and engineers. For example, Ohm’s Law is the same for all. Once outcomes and content have been achieved in one qualification, they should be credited to another qualification that requires the same outcomes and content, otherwise resources are being wasted. If the present HEQF regulations will not allow my institution to accept students at NQF Level 6, recognise 120 credits from their previous qualifications and offer them another 240 credits to complete their degree unless we also accept students at NQF Level 4 and offer all 360 credits of that degree, those regulations should be changed.

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