Tshwane University of Technology offers progressive curriculum up to doctoral degrees

The past few years have seen the rise of the student. #FeesMustFall raised awareness of the issues students were facing with regards to educational institutions and the ministry of higher education. Behind the scenes, the introduction of the Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework (HEQSF) in the higher education sector requires all public and private higher education institutions (HEIs), including Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) to develop new curriculum for all their qualifications to ensure that alignment with the HEQSF is gradually being implemented.

This means that public HEIs are required to submit programme applications to the department of higher education and training (DHET) for: a new academic qualification in a new field of study; for a new academic qualification in an approved field of study; for a new major field of study in an approved academic qualification; and for name changes/amendments to existing academic qualifications. These programme submissions regarding the curriculum of institutions influence the direction they are going in.

In 2013 the government promulgated a new higher education framework that changed the nature of qualifications previously designated for technikons and universities. “Technikons” became universities of technology, and were no longer restricted to offering diplomas; they now offer a larger range of qualifications, including degree programmes. Any accredited institution may now offer any qualification mix, including degrees and vocational training, according to their capability to meet framework standards.

Students in universities of technology are required to complete a stipulated number of hours of practical experience before obtaining a qualification through a course credit system

Professor Stanley Mukhola, who is the deputy vice-chancellor in charge of teaching, learning and technology, explains that the process includes the phasing out of the old Nated programmes and name changes to qualifications programmes on offer. This is to help graduates remain relevant in the job market: as of 2019, no institution will be allowed to offer any programmes outside of the Council of Higher Education (CHE) accredited programmes. There was a trend in the cities where some licensed institution were (and still are) offering bogus qualifications. These qualifications, which are not accredited with the CHE, are useless in the South African job market — thus discernment is advised when choosing higher education institutions and qualifications.

It is vital for students and parents to acquaint themselves with the trajectory that the preferred institution of study has designated itself to take. Institutions of higher learning add programmes based upon the advice they receive, research into what industries require and to strategically position themselves and their graduates in the job market. Should a university wish to offer programmes in a new field of study, it needs to obtain ministerial approval to do so. The department of academic planning, monitoring and evaluation will assess the business plan and make recommendations to the minister based on their evaluation. It is only after ministerial approval for the programme/s in the new field/s of study is obtained that a university can submit an application for a new academic qualification to the DHET, for consideration by the Programme and Qualification Mix (PQM) clearance committee.

Because the job market is subject to the forces of supply and demand, there are many concerns regarding degree qualifications losing their value. TUT and other such institutions regulate their qualifications to comprise in-demand skills, mostly in engineering and ICT. Enrolments in the humanities are restricted so as not to flood the market and perpetuate unemployment. Thirty-five percent of students must enrol in the sciences and technologies fields, as required by government regulation, and based upon professions that require such skills. There is a big demand for qualifications in the education field, and this programme is encouraged among the humanities applicants.

All qualifications, from diplomas all the way up to doctorate level, have been reviewed and designed with the help of industry through advisory committees. These committees meet at least once a year to ensure the continued relevance of the content offered. There is a strong emphasis in all institutes to offer vocational qualifications that prepare students for the world of work. Students in universities of technology are required to complete a stipulated number of hours of practical experience before obtaining a qualification through a course credit system. This qualifies them as mid-level workers, with the option to further their studies and upgrade their qualifications with ease, while also addressing the pressing issue of skilling.

Placing a high emphasis on the academic qualifications of the academic staff helps institutions such as TUT prepare for the introduction of the new PQM. Lecturers need to be disciplined specialists as well as specialist teachers who fully understand the contexts in which they are working.

Lecturing as a form of teaching is a specialised activity, and requires that the lecturer have access to a broad and deep range of knowledge. This includes accommodating the learning needs of a diverse range of students. “Lecturers need to be taught how to teach,” says Mukhola. “It is not enough to be familiar with the content; lecturers need to be empowered to learn how to effectively teach and apply the content … Competent learning (and teaching) is always a mix of the theoretical and the practical.”

The revision of qualifications is aimed at empowering students and ensuring that what they study remains relevant in the fast-approaching Fourth Industrial Revolution. As industries converge and the world becomes increasingly globalised, institutions of higher education have a duty to position themselves in this dynamic world environment and predict the world of work in the future. They must focus on problem-solving through skilling and knowledge, through current qualifications and courses and those to be introduced in 2019. TUT is at the forefront of this revolution. 

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