The School of Mining Engineering at the University of Witwatersrand is recognised as one of the largest mining engineering programmes in the world.
The School of Mining Engineering has one of the most successful growth rates of any of the engineering school/departments, consistently having an increase of students to its courses.
The School of Mining Engineering, which was one of the founding schools of the University of the Witwatersrand, can trace its origins back to the Kimberley School of Mines. Throughout its existence the reputation of the Department has been based on the quality of our graduates, many of whom have risen to hold senior positions in the South African Mining Industry and have made significant contributions to its growth and technological development.
While our primary function remains the education of undergraduates to the highest international standards, many of our other activities involving postgraduate students, research and consultancy work are not well publicised and this home-page is designed to correct the situation. By introducing our staff, their research interests and publications, together with the facilities available in the School, it is hoped to generate greater awareness of our capabilities. Arising from that knowledge we hope to strengthen existing collaborative relationships with industry and to initiate new areas of co-operation.
The challenges faced by the School as we cross the threshold into the new South Africa are indeed formidable, but we remain committed to our task of providing the Mining Industry with managers, innovators and leaders of the highest caliber, while at the same time making our own, unique contribution to developing the technology of tomorrow.
Mining is an excellent subject to study at university and as a course is more focused towards industry than other engineering subjects. This is of considerable benefit to students who have the chance to make valuable contacts in the industry before they graduate.
Today, Wits Mining hosts an ECSA-accredited first degree, internationally recognised higher degrees in Mining Engineering covering several specialist fields of study, several certificate programmes and the Centre of Sustainability in Mining and Industry (CSMI). Any plan for the future should build on this success and be aimed at current and anticipated industry problems. However, that does not mean that the status quo should remain as is. In fact, if we want advancement and improvement, certain aspects will have to change - for example, improving quality, ensuring better student throughput and steering research output so that we can grow the School for the benefit of the Faculty, University, mining industry and our Country. The slogan for the new plan for Wits Mining is, therefore, appropriately phrased as Wits Mining: Distinctly Exceptional.
Mining and the need for mining engineering graduates
The image of mining is tarnished by the problems associated with its impact on worker health and safety, on the environment, and on the communities in mining areas. These issues do not mean that there should be no mining at all – in fact, the opposite is true. Mining provides the mineral and energy resources that are essential for society since without extracting such resources, no further development is possible and society itself will become unsustainable. Society’s need for mineral resources must be balanced with the mining industry’s one-off responsibility to mine for such resources and to make the best possible use of these minerals. Mining engineering allows valuable natural resources to be extracted by empathetic design and a cautious awareness of the economic, health and safety, environmental and community consequences that may only become visible long after mine start-up. In order to reach this competence, mining engineering education requires some understanding of other branches of engineering such as civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical and process engineering, in addition to aspects of geology, surveying and economics. Such knowledge builds on the fundamental mining subjects of rock engineering, mining methods, mine ventilation and mine management. Mining engineers are involved along the entire value chain in the following capacities:
Preparing and taking responsibility for mine feasibility studies during exploration; Designing and project management of new mines; Managing complex mining operations by applying technical knowledge and people management techniques; Ensuring protection of worker health and safety and contributing to community well-being; Processing, refining and marketing energy, mineral and metal products; and Addressing environmental pollution, waste management and mine closure issues.
The challenges that mining poses to society are greater than ever before. However, technology has provided the opportunity for the design and management of high-tech mines that are not only safer, but also more productive and environmentally and socially responsible, while still being economically successful. Wits Mining graduates are up to these challenges and the School of Mining Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand is known and respected internationally for the quality of its programmes and graduates.
The School’s vision is to solve the mining industry’s professional development needs through academic relevance and excellence. Its mission is to supply enough and quality mining engineering graduates in order to meet manpower needs in Industry, Government and Academia.
Our state-of-the-art programmes must continue to deliver problem-solvers at all levels, that is, technical expertise, mine management and applied research, in short, more graduate engineers capable of doing the job after a mentorship and development programme; and postgraduates with the ability to do the applied research for industry to take great strides forward. The Wits Mining graduates of the future will have the trademark of being engineers conscious of the environment and prepared to improve the communities in the areas they operate. The benefits to industry for having access to Wits Mining include a constant stream of quality graduates and regular step changes in problem areas as a result of its research output.
What is it that we have that works so well for us?
We have tradition and a deep appreciation for the value of the contributions made by generations of academic staff and students. The origins of Wits University lie in the South African (Kimberley) School of Mines established in 1896. The School was relocated to Johannesburg as the Transvaal Technical Institute in 1904 and renamed the South African School of Mines and Technology in 1910. It changed its name four times before becoming the University of the Witwatersrand in 1922. To date, more than 1500 mining engineering undergraduates have been educated at Wits Mining, many of whom have held or are currently holding senior appointments in the mining industry and its peripheries.
The list of our achievements starts with mentioning the contribution by Professor Phillips, the current Chair of Mining Engineering, who has continued building on the solid foundation laid by his predecessors. Under his leadership, the School has established itself at the heart of the South African mining industry with academic programmes that set the norm in South Africa. For fear of missing some, it will be unfair to list the School’s graduates who had distinguished careers - there are simply too many. However, a few staff and alumni of the School achieved great eminence, namely: GA Watermeyer (Professor of Mining and Surveying) for his text book on Witwatersrand Mining Practice; FG (Pinkie) Hill (recipient of two honorary doctorates) for his contributions to research and management techniques); CB Jeppe (Professor of Mining) for his text book on Gold Mining in South Africa; DG Krige (Professor of Mineral Economics and recipient of several honorary doctorates) for his research and contribution towards geostatistics; and A Budavari (Professor of Rock Engineering) for his contribution towards the teaching of rock mechanics.
At present, it is a major strength to have 17 full-time professional academic staff, four of whom are Full Professors. These are Professors of Mining Engineering, Mineral Reserves and Resources Estimation, Rock Engineering and Mine Surveying. An academic staff of 17 may sound small compared to other University Schools, but when put into perspective with other mining Schools in Africa and internationally, it is very large in comparison. A typical Mining School has between five and fifteen full-time staff and certainly not four Full Professors! Size matters when it comes to high-level academic staff and offering specialist higher degrees.
In Africa, Wits Mining is the only mining school with a significant postgraduate activity and draws many of its students from countries throughout the continent. This diverse influx has allowed the School to form strong links with other institutions and to provide assistance with staff development programmes and curriculum development at such institutions as the Tarkwa School of Mines (Ghana), the University of Zambia, the University of Zimbabwe, the University of Namibia and the University of Botswana. Within the University, the School has strong ties with the School of Geosciences and the other Schools in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment. At the postgraduate/research level, the School has contacts throughout the University and these have been strengthened by the formation of the Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry (CSMI). The School is also involved as a partner in the Centre for Mechanised Mining Systems (CMMS) in the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering.
A further benefit is the support we receive from an industry, whose heart is certainly in its right place when it comes to education. The School of Mining Engineering has played an important role, over many years, as the pivotal link between the University and the South African Mining Industry. This link was clearly illustrated in the recent campaign to raise funds for the extension of the Chamber of Mines Engineering Building, when the mining industry contributed more than 75% of the funds that were raised. The Mining Education Trust Fund (METF) provides for salary subvention of 12 staff, while the Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA) fully funds four development positions in the School. Such support makes it possible for the School to have access to dedicated staff, whose efficiency is demonstrated in the calculated student to staff ratios. The ratio at Wits is 24:1, which is also the ratio at the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment (FEBE). However, the student to staff ratio at Wits Mining is 39:1, which is nearly double that of other Schools in the University. These figures lead to only one conclusion, namely that we are working harder than most!
To summarise, an accurate description of Wits Mining is a School having the edge through Size, Substance and Style:
We have Size – We are the largest School of Mining Engineering in the English-speaking world with a Student body in excess of 700 students, 40% at postgraduate level. Our student body is already transformed, with 35% being female;
We have Substance – Our accredited world-class programmes are relevant for South Africa, Africa and the World, with defined fields of study in mining, which fields include SHEC through the CSMI; and We have Style – The multi-disciplinary postgraduate programme with its strong links to the rest of Wits is unrivalled in Africa and the long history of having strong industry support provides the opportunity for sustained research output.
What must we do to move from Great to Exceptional?
Wits Mining is, first of all, proudly Witsie. Tapping into a brand such as Wits requires the support of and contribution to the University Plan, which is currently under review in preparation for 2022, when the university will celebrate its centennial as a university. The School’s prominence internationally assists with the University’s endeavours to move up in the ranking of the best universities in the world. The School has just completed its Employment Equity Report, is undergoing its Quinquennial Review process and is in the process of developing an Occupational Health and Safety Plan. The School has recently produced a risk register for the first time and is in the process of working through the 10 identified risks to determine action plans, responsible persons and the time frames for dealing with or at least mitigating the risks. The risk register, which is a very useful tool to guide the School Executive in our decisions, identified three extreme risks, namely:
Incorrect match between student numbers and resources; Over-reliance on industry support; and Inadequate infrastructure.
Of the three extreme risks listed above, only infrastructure was perceived to be unsatisfactory. This is a risk mainly because infrastructure and the maintenance thereof are out of the School's control. However, a great step forward in the management of this risk was made in June 2010 with the occupation of the recently-completed fourth quadrant of the Chamber of Mines building and the budget to equip the new mine design laboratory as a state-of-the-art facility and upgrade research laboratories made possible by a generous donation from Gold Fields to the School.
Other important risks that require management are:
Loss of academic staff; Loss of ECSA accreditation; Loss of industry support; and Loss of WUMEA (the School’s alumni body) support.
In managing the risks identified, matters of strategic interest that are currently receiving attention are to:
Fill current vacancies and then retain staff in the School and appoint more staff; Maintain laboratories and equipment; Strengthen our relationships with industry, professional bodies, institutes and associations; Encourage WUMEA to become actively involved with the activities of the School and vice versa; Reform the postgraduate programme and encourage professors to lead cutting edge research.
Strategic goals and strategies
The new Head of School took up office in January 2010 and this section illustrates what the School is becoming under the new leadership. Our Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Loyiso Nongxa listed "Invest in the future" as the first of 10 points to solve the education challenges of the future (A view from the Edge, Wits Leader 2010 (Vol 4)). For us, it means to invest in the knowledge and development of generations of mining engineers to come. Actioning our slogan Wits Mining - Distinctly Exceptional requires the setting of three goals supported by implementation strategies and measuring indicators to measure progress over time. The three strategic goals are as follows:
Goal 1 – To be student-centred; Goal 2 – To be academically relevant; and Goal 3 – To deliver excellence.
The three goals focus on achievements that will steer the School From Great to Exceptional. The major strategic initiatives are summarised below.
Goal 1 – Student-centredness
Despite a combination of staff shortages, high staff turnover and inadequate infrastructure for a long time, we have a committed academic staff who offer courses of exceptional quality. To be student-centred, there must be enough staff. The School is also committed to the Wits vision of transformation in the context of maintaining academic standards. The total student population increased 120% from 1999, while the number of staff increased by only 44%; and If it were not for MQA Funding, academic staff growth would have been only 25%. The School has the goal of all staff Moving from Great to Exceptional: 1. Reduce student to staff ratios; 2. Retain one final year student as a grant-funded associate lecturer; 3. Increase the percentage of fully-sponsored students in the School; 4. Manage student and staff populations towards acceptable demographic ratios; 5. Review undergraduate, postgraduate and certificate programmes for relevance on a five-yearly basis; 6. Build strong partnerships (internal and external); 7. Retain ECSA accreditation of the undergraduate programme; 8. Improve student throughput in all programmes; 9. Improve research output through research degrees and publications; and 10. Increase the number of NRF-Rated staff.
positions being filled with competent and enthusiastic personnel. However, it is recognised that the University is in direct competition with both the local industry, which has to meet strict equity targets, and with other mining schools. The effects of these factors were seen in 2009 when industry had to meet female employee targets. Four of the five female academic staff were attracted away from Wits with salaries of three times of what the University offers. The next industry target for HDSA employee percentages is in 2014. In order to manage this risk, we will need to retain subventions, at least, at present levels and to ensure high staff morale.
Nurturing the academic growth of staff is an important prerequisite to attract and to retain academic staff. To ensure a critical mass of Staff, market-based salaries and start-up packages to attract and retain our most valuable assets are essential. The partnerships with the MQA, METF, professional bodies and institutes are particularly important for success in this area. Academic staff cannot operate on their own and having access to good support staff and technician support is also imperative for success.
Management of finances is another important prerequisite for student-centredness. A successful school needs financial stability and prudent management of resources, which include finances and budget management. The School’s finances are complex with many different accounts. A restructure of the School’s Foundation and Project accounts will be required for better management thereof.
Strategies to ensure student-centredness
Fill vacancies as a top priority whenever these arise; Ensure that the engineering skills shortage does not cause a drain on our staff tally; Produce enough mining engineering graduates for industry and to develop more academic staff; Strengthen METF and MQA funding relationships; Promote acceptable working conditions and staff development opportunities;
Convince industry that it is cheaper to 'park' personnel at Wits rather than to retrench them at great expense; Develop a strategy to attract staff when industry is retrenching; Develop a retention strategy to address high staff-turnover during industry boom times; Use the School’s Workload Model to ensure equitable loading and to allow for staff to have adequate time for personal development; Accelerate academic growth by staff participating in professional activities, conferences, symposia and national debates; Establish a Trust Fund as a means to supplement salaries in the event of loss of METF/MQA support. Aim for at least one year of reserves for that purpose; Remove frustrations regarding the difficulty of managing finances in the School; Ensure up-to-date finances available at School EXEC meetings and appoint a member of the School Exec to be responsible for reporting finances; Facilitate financial assistance and bursary support for students; and Solicit donations from alumni and target donor companies for better student support and provision of School-arranged bursaries.
Student-centredness: Measures of performance
1. Reduce student to staff ratios;
2. Retain one final year student as a grant-funded associate lecturer; and
3. Increase the percentage of fully-sponsored students in the School.
2010 Highlights to date: Appointment of 5 academic staff and 4 support staff; Gold Fields donation to offer associate lecturership to one final year student as from 2011; and London Metal Exchange donation to sponsor all costs for 10 first year students.
Goal 2 – Programme relevance
Relevant programmes must keep track of the changing micro and macro environment which the School finds itself in. These environments not only affect our student and staff demographics, but also our programmes. Our academic offerings must be regularly evaluated for relevance and should gaps be identified, these gaps must be addressed appropriately and responsibly. The School has very close ties with the South African mining industry, the Department of Mineral Resources, the Minerals Education Trust Fund (METF) and the Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA), as well as international donors such as the London Metal Exchange. These organisations make a significant contribution to the work of the School, for instance, by providing bursaries and vacation work to our students, generous subvention of salaries and significant periodic donations. This support is heavily dependent on maintaining close ties with these bodies and keeping them informed on the activities of the School.
The School’s strong relationship with the two Centres and rest of the FEBE is a particular strength. The CSMI is fast establishing a global presence under the leadership of Professor Hermanus. It is assuming a leading role in the area of OHS and Sustainable Development in Southern Africa. The strategic partnership with CMMS allows for opportunities in the dynamic areas of mine mechanization, earth movement and ventilation engineering. The value of these two centres is pre-eminent in our ability to offer relevant postgraduate subjects; in addition, the downsizing of private and government mining research capacity presents exciting opportunities to Centres and the School.
A debate on the possible establishment of a National School of Mines surfaces periodically. A National School of Mines could assist with the pooling and sharing of staff, budgets, and with producing more skills. A single School of Mines could also assist students by switching courses instead of dropping out of University. If this issue is raised, the School must serve the interest of Wits our Staff and our alumni. This issue is not a priority for the School because we are comfortable with the existing situation, which allows for healthy cooperation and needed competition.
Strategies to ensure programme relevance
Programme relevance: Measures of performance
1. Manage student and staff populations towards acceptable demographic ratios;
2. Review undergraduate, postgraduate and certificate programmes for relevance on a five-yearly basis; and
3. Build strong partnerships (internal and external).
Goal 3 – Academic excellence
This aspect is our core business and it is in delivery that the three s’s (Size, Substance and Style) get true meaning. To be exceptional starts with optimising the student body, tackling the throughput problem and encouraging research activity. Wits Mining is widely regarded as one of the top Mining Schools internationally. We are also investigating how to implement the concept of “Wits graduateness” in our academic offerings. As a starting point, we believe that the environment a student finds him or herself in takes on the role of an additional lecturer. The environmental surroundings will speak for what is right or wrong, and what should be done to improve the situation. The School will continue to bring the ‘environment’ to our students through workshop training at and away from campus, practical camps to complement theory, mine tours and other excursions. These practical aspects give meaning to concepts like Wits graduateness and academic excellence.
2010 Highlights to date: Development and implementation of School Employment Equity Plan; Workshops to review postgraduate programme for increased output of MSc and PhD graduates; Integration of School research agenda with that of the CSMI, CMMS and other Schools in the Faculty and Wits; and Continued support from SAIMM, MQA, METF and the Mining Industry.
Demand for places in both the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes continues to grow. It has resulted in student numbers growing to levels that far exceed our resources in staff and space. The optimal class size is not necessarily small, but larger classes require more resources, which we do not have. Optimising student numbers indirectly implies that the number of academic staff must also be optimised. A total student body of 600, considering the average Wits student to staff ratio of 1:24, results in an academic staff complement of 25. Since the School only had 14 academic staff at the end of 2009, staffing requires urgent attention.
We must return to the School’s previous graduation rate (60% of intake) and then aim for the Faculty target of 75% throughput rate. This target could be achieved by filling existing staff vacancies and requesting more academic staff; student support through ADC and additional tutoring; improving the selection process of students and further involvement of SMES in mentorship of first-year students. Lecturers with initiatives that lead to increased throughput without affecting the quality of our degree should also share their successes with other staff.
The School’s primary goal is the production of graduates to serve the needs of the South African (and African) mining industry and hence the regional economy. The high-level skills shortage is already critical and is expected to be exacerbated in the next decade by international poaching of well-educated and experienced mining professionals. During the past five years, undergraduate teaching to the highest standards has been under pressure due to rapidly increasing student numbers, high staff turnover and unfilled vacancies. However, in 2007 an ECSA accreditation team visited the School and gave full accreditation for the maximum five-year period. An obvious goal for the School is to retain the same level of accreditation in 2012.
The postgraduate programme requires review because, despite the growth in student numbers, there is a steady drop in higher degrees conferred over the past number of years. The intent is to restructure these postgraduate offerings by reducing the number of individual courses and by grouping them more rigidly into
specialisations, so that GDE subjects lead naturally to focused M.Sc.(50:50) research outputs rather than coursework Masters degrees. If students enjoy undertaking research and show appropriate promise more Masters’ students may continue to do Ph.D. studies. Since a high percentage of mining postgraduates are part-time students, with many employed in the mining industry, it is recognised that this will be a difficult task. One of the benefits of the review of the postgraduate programme is that it will identify research focus areas through relevant fields of study. One way to secure income for relevant research areas is to introduce revenue-generating certificate programmes, which could also supply feedstock to the postgraduate programme. We should also actively solicit postgraduate students from the high-achievers in the undergraduate student body.
Strategies to ensure academic excellence
Undertake a review of the undergraduate curriculum to ensure its continuing relevance and to identify new issues that need to be incorporated into a modern mining engineering degree in preparation for the 2012 ECSA visit; Create room for the CSMI to develop and lecture courses in Sustainable Development and Occupational Health and Safety fields of study as part of the School’s postgraduate programme; Cap undergraduate student numbers at 450, which will require limiting the first-year intake to 150 quality students; Cap postgraduate student numbers at 250 with at least 50% registered for research degrees; Increase the proportion of students converting from GDE to M.Sc. and from M.Sc. to Ph.D. Supervisors should insist that research students produce one ISI-accredited journal article/or conference paper; Restructure postgraduate programme by reducing the number of individual courses and by grouping them more rigidly into specialisations, so that GDE subjects lead naturally to focused M.Sc.(50:50) research outputs rather than coursework Masters’ degrees;
Set a target of one ISI-accredited journal article and one conference paper per year for Senior Lecturers and above. All other lecturers should be registered for higher (research) degrees; and Submit at least one NRF application each year.
Academic excellence: Measures of performance
1. Retain ECSA accreditation of the undergraduate programme;
2. Improve student throughput in all programmes;
3. Improve research output through research degrees and publications; and
4. Increase the number of NRF-Rated staff.
2010 Highlights to date:
This paper is the roadmap of the School of Mining Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand for its slogan Wits Mining - Distinctly Exceptional. For delivering to our slogan we must build on our edge consisting of the three s’s, namely Size, Substance and Style. The plan contains strategies with ten targets by which the School will be measured over the next five years. Like any plan for the future, there are several risks and uncertainties that need to be managed in the process. The main thrust of the plan is to achieve a situation where the School can supply the market with more graduates, but taking in fewer students. This course is dependent on having access to more and better resources. The plan also wants to achieve a significantly better research output for the School because, to quote Pinky Hill … “to discourage research is to preach a gospel of surrender..." (Lang, J. Probing the Frontiers: The Story of Pinky Hill. Jonathan Ball Publishers, Johannesburg, 1990).
A special thank you to our industry partners and alumni for your continued support
For more information about Mining Engineering at the University of Witwatersrand please contact:
Professor F T Cawood
School of Mining Engineering
University of the Witwatersrand
Private Bag 3 WITS 2050 South Africa
Tel: 27 11 717-7403
Fax: 27 11 339-8295