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Overview

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. 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.

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