The University of Natal has embarked on a determined drive to attract pupils of excellence to counter the countrywide shortage of engineers.
Professor Lance Roberts, the Dean of the Engineering faculty and acting deputy Vice-Chancellor, said the faculty's budgets had been 're-prioritised' to release more funds for student aid, bursaries and scholarships. Entrance acceptance, scholarships and financial aid were now being confirmed on school performance with 'firm offers' being made before matric results are known.
Professor Roberts said the extra funds would enable more students to qualify for student aid, ie those in households earning less than R90 000 a year. In an attempt to accommodate those who fall into the 'middle income trap' - those whose families earn more than the cut-off but cannot afford university fees - more money is to be allocated for bursaries and scholarships.
Pupils who want to become engineers are guaranteed acceptance at Natal University's Durban or Pietermaritzburg campuses on the basis of excellence in their school performance prior to writing their matric exams. If the pupil meets the requirements for student aid this, too, will be guaranteed in advance of their matric finals.
"While a pupil will still need to meet faculty criteria in terms of the points system, these will be on the basis of their school performance through Grade 11 to their matric trials. Once we have made a firm offer, all they have to do is pass their matric," said Professor Roberts. Many such 'firm offers' were made for this year, he added.
The Faculty has also invested heavily in its computer facilities and says it works constantly to ensure computer equipment meets the exacting demands of these disciplines. Last year 250 new Pentium 3s were installed, creating an enviable computer-to-student ratio of 1 to 5. Agreements have been negotiated to guarantee ongoing upgrading to accept new software and four-yearly replacement of obsolete equipment.
First-year intakes into the five schools have remained fairly constant at around 400 during the past five years. In 2000 there were 1550 under and post-grads studying Civil, Mechanical, Electrical and Electronic, Chemical and Agricultural Engineering, as well as Land Surveying and Construction Management.
Professor Roberts said Natal University engineering graduates were in great demand and were 'virtually guaranteed employment'. "Industry respects and trusts Natal University graduates and actively seeks them out," he said.
Natal University's degrees are, in addition, internationally recognised with reciprocal agreements in the engineering fields in place through the 'Washington Accord' with Canada, the United States, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.
For further information, contact Kathy Waddington, University of Natal Durban, (031) 260 2957.