The year 2013 is ablaze, and Civilution is proliferating like a consuming fire. It is time for engineers and engineering to redeem their esteem, prestige and respect; to take back what rightly belongs to us – excellence, ethical business practice, sustainability, and making a difference. Like you, my first passion was to improve the quality of life for my family, my community and the people of a nation. I became an engineer because I believed in my heart that I could make this difference. Somewhere along the road, this noble orientation lost momentum.
Have you identified your role in Civilution? Is it business as usual, or have you noticed that South Africa is currently fertile ground to germinate a legacy?
To a related topic – I have discussed servitude on several occasions. Hindu philosophy identifies three orders of servitude – the first order being monetary contribution; the second giving of your time, very often in the form of voluntary service; but the supreme manifestation of servitude is the third order, and that is to teach.
In light of this, I honour our university lecturers for their commitment and sacrificial service to research and education. Considering their mandate to produce world-class civil engineers and achieve the goals of transformation for the industry, while also having to cope with the results of poor maths and science education, our university lecturers’ efforts need to be lauded.
In a radio interview on Radio 2000 after the 2012 matric results had been published, the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, was asked how a pass mark of 30% would affect learners’ entry into and performance at university. Her defence was along the lines that universities have been requested to adjust their methods and systems to accommodate the learners. The right Honourable Minister obviously needs a dose of Civilution.
So, while our lecturers contend also with the desires of our politicians, they are still required to produce revolutionary research, investigate new technologies, write papers of international standard, register and maintain their professional engineering status, teach a full day, mark scripts, supervise post-graduate students and source funding to supplement the operations of their departments. I have been privy to what our lecturers earn; for the work output required, the range of emolument is appalling.
Our lecturers furthermore seem to experience challenges regarding professional registration, as the registration process apparently does not accommodate their accomplishments in academia. From my engagement with our academic membership, I have found that our lecturers respect the registration process, and are keen to register, but are restricted due to their ‘constrained’ work experience.
Considering that lecturers have to prepare students for a life of competent engineering practice (and competence is reflected in professional registration), it is my view that it should be compulsory for our lecturers to register. Two possible options could be explored to solve this problem – one, academics could be encouraged to find project management, design and construction experience while they are teaching; and two, the Engineering Council could be requested to consider tailoring registration criteria to accommodate academics.
Another challenge that our colleagues have is the lack of bursaries for their students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. With regard to postgraduate studies – our universities cannot be leaders in developing appropriate and leading-edge technologies without funding for Masters and Doctoral students. I call upon directors from our foremost infrastructure engineering parastatal and private sector organisations to invest in postgraduate studies for the long-term benefit of our country.
Like you, I have fond memories of my alma mater, and of the lecturers who launched me into a career that is second to none.
To my lecturers, and now colleagues, on the White Water Ridge, in Hillman Building – you rock.