Having investigated the best possible means of aiding students, industry body Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) has established a bursary fund, with a first intake of about 20 students expected for the 2018 academic year.
Cesa CEO Chris Campbell explains that, previously, many Cesa member companies provided bursaries as part of their corporate social responsibility programmes. However, this new fund aims to consolidate the efforts of member companies by establishing a Cesa-run fund for qualifying engineering students.
He notes that the Cesa bursary programme will mimic and be administered by the Thuthuka Bursary Fund on behalf of Cesa, and will be called the Cesa Thuthuka Bursary Fund.
The Thuthuka Bursary Fund, which is offered by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica), has been chosen because Cesa has found that the Thuthuka process has been the “most effective in terms of aiding students”.
Most bursaries cater only for one aspect of a student’s study career, usually fees, but the success of the Thuthuka fund has demonstrated that students have a greater chance of success if the bursary model is all-encompassing, providing sufficient funding for fees, food, equipment, textbooks and board, as well as a modest stipend, Campbell explains.
As such, the bursary programme, which will be funded by Cesa member companies, is intended to provide comprehensive support for qualifying students for the entirety of their degree. “If engineering is a four-year programme, you should have funding for all four years,” states Campbell.
He comments that the uptake of the bursary programme has been slower than he had hoped, as it is new, but adds that “people don’t always buy into new concepts immediately”. Further, he expects that acceptance of this initiative by member companies and students will increase exponentially in years to come.
Campbell comments that the level of commitment expected for this programme may also have impacted on broader acceptance, as the comprehensive nature of the fund has “tended to make companies cautious”.
Broader View on Education
“To say that the primary and secondary education system is ‘flawed’ is an understatement – it’s rather a travesty that flies in the face of our Constitution,” states Campbell.
He cites Section 29 of the Constitution, specifically Subsection 2c, which “categorically states that education needs to be pitched to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices . . . I think if you consult many people, they would argue that the current system has actually been regressive”.
Further, he points to Subsection 3c, which states that the education system must maintain standards that are not inferior to standards at comparable public education institutions.
“The World Economic Forum puts South Africa 24 out of 25 countries surveyed in terms of our standard of education.” Moreover, he notes that countries such as Mozambique, Burundi, Lesotho, which have far fewer resources than South Africa, are ranked higher.
“There isn’t enough being done by government to address poor teacher training, especially in mathematics and science,” says Campbell. He adds that, unless society establishes a solid foundation for learners in mathematics and science, those learners “don’t have a hope of passing technical and vocational courses, let alone attaining an engineering diploma or degree”.
He adds that there is a shortage of skilled teachers in maths and science at foundation phases and this has to be addressed if the country is to progress.
“If we consider the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the application of artificial intelligence, can you imagine what the impact will be in terms of our production-based types of employment opportunities, given that even accountants and lawyers can be replaced with robots. “As a country, we are at risk of even our graduates being displaced.”
As such, he suggests that the entire education system, but especially the basic education system, be reviewed and enhanced, with a specific emphasis on mathematics.
“People should gravitate towards maths; it’s about the thought process it inculcates, problem solving and logic. Most people don’t need to know complex formulas, but they do need to think logically and be able to solve problems.”