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Where in Africa one can get a European-level education

Университет Йоханнесбурга
Фото © Университет Йоханнесбурга

The Republic of South Africa still cannot recover from the ramifications of the 2008 economic crisis. The country has lost a million jobs created over the previous four years, while South Africa’s GDP shrank from 296.87 billion dollars to 294.9 billion dollars in 2011-2016. The main blow fell upon the mining industry.

However, today a mining engineer is one of the best-paid professions in the Republic of South Africa. Professionals are trained at several universities: the University of Witwatersrand, the University of Pretoria, the University of Cape Town, and the University of Johannesburg.

South Africa stands apart from other African countries: its GDP amounts to USD 349.4 billion, which is about five to six countries’ economies of the continent combined. The Republic of South Africa is actually the only truly economically developed state in Africa.

The job market here is very specific; however, specialists in demand are almost the same as in the European Union, Australia, Canada or the USA. The salaries are also quite comparable. That is why the higher education institutions of South Africa are an example for other African countries; they accept young people from all over the south of the continent: Botswana, Congo, Mozambique and other states.

The University of Johannesburg in South Africa will soon become the main university of the International Competence Centre for Mining Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO established in St. Petersburg, and already having offices in Germany, Austria, Finland, and Belarus. It is planned that the Center will assist in raising the level of professional training of graduates of the South African state.

ЮНЕСКО
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How many students are studying at the University of Johannesburg now and in what specialities?

Now, more than 50 thousand students are studying at the university; that includes mining and surveying. These two specialities train those who will be further associated with the mining sector. However, these are only two departments. At the Faculty of Engineering and Anthropogenic Environment, students can master other specialties: mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, metallurgy and others. Some students from the departments of metallurgy or engineering can also go to work in mining in the future.

How much are your graduates in demand? Where do they most often get jobs after graduation?

Usually, they work directly in the fields. At our university, a lot of attention is paid to practical skills, because we train production specialists. The specialists who work in mines and this may also be management personnel. Mostly, our graduates work here, in South Africa. But not all of them; some come to us to study from other states, mainly from African countries, e.g., the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Botswana. Students from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, even the USA also come to us. We have a good international composition here.

Хендрик Гроблер
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What is more popular in South Africa: humanitarian or technical education?

I guess that we have a slightly different understanding of humanitarian education than the generally accepted one. In fact, students only begin to study engineering after 18 months since the time of their admission. Prior to this, they study basic sciences, mathematics, but also the humanities. Now we have come to the conclusion that engineering education is too narrowly specialized, so we began to pay more attention to the development of social competencies. Students study philosophy, history, African literature; they get acquainted with our traditions, features of the local mentality. Students are told what decolonization is, that we are going our own way in Africa, but do not forget, as it was used before, how the economies of our countries were created. Courses of this kind are compulsory, including for students studying engineering.

Nevertheless, technical education is quite essential; it is appreciated and popularized both by our government and by the universities themselves, especially engineering education. There is also great pressure to increase the number of women studying engineering and working in this field. For example, now about 30-40% of students receiving mining education are girls. And they do an excellent job with their studies, which we are very happy about.

What is the average salary of mining professionals in South Africa?

This is rather a tricky question. But if you convert the amount into euros, it turns out that a qualified engineer can receive about 70 thousand euros per year (5,740,000 rubles - ed. notes). For South Africa, this is a perfect salary. Engineers in general are paid well in South Africa, especially those employed in the mining sector, one of the best-paid industries in our country.

How many foreigners study at your university?

Altogether, about 10 thousand students study at the Faculty of Engineering and the Anthropogenic Environment, of which about 1,500 are foreign students, mainly from other African countries, e.g., Angola, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia and others.

Университет Йоханнесбурга
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What are the entry requirements?

The most important thing is knowledge of English. Few people know it in South Africa; for the majority of the country’s inhabitants the English language is non-native but the second language (in South Africa they speak Afrikaans, one of the 11 official languages ​​of the Republic ed. noted). The same is true for me. However, training in higher education institutions is carried out only in English and therefore knowledge of the language is vital. If we are talking about top-rated high-ranking institutions, then knowledge of mathematics and, depending on the speciality, natural sciences is also essential for admission.

What is the cost of training?

It’s about 2,500 - 3,000 euros per year. Of course, we are talking about the cost of the training. And about the same amount should be allocated for food, accommodation, and other urgent needs. Nobody compensates these costs. Students pay for everything on their own.

What is mining and engineering education at Johannesburg University like? What is the share of lectures, practical exercises?

Studies take place on the premises of the university, usually five days a week, Monday through Friday. About five to six hours per day are lectures, and about two hours are devoted to laboratory research and practical work. Then, during the summer vacations, students usually go on internships, or it may be some kind of seasonal summer work.

Is practical training at local enterprises implied?

Yes, most of our students do internships. Some even come to study while working at local companies. The company sends them to us, offsetting the cost of training. However, due to the overall decline in the mining industry in Africa, it might happen that students would not find the opportunity to apply for an internship in a company. Nevertheless, we actively recommend that all students get at least some work experience before graduating from the university, let it even be a short-term summer practical training. In general, most students find a permanent job within a year after receiving their degree.

In South Africa, we believe that practical training is an important part of education. And our educational system is aimed at students doing practical work.

How would you rate the competency of your students and postgraduate students?

Engineering specialties and, in particular, mining, are regulated by the Engineering Council of South Africa. Our country is a signatory to both the Washington and Bologna agreements. Thus, upon graduation, our students have no need to confirm their qualifications.

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In your opinion, is the level of competence of graduates in line with European and global standards?

I should think so; we signed the Bologna agreement. I don’t know how much it correlates with Russian standards, but I am quite sure that it matches German and British standards. As most of the higher education traditions in South Africa are rooted in the British higher education system, British standards are particularly well-matched.

How would you assess the pace of mining in South Africa?

At the moment, the industry is in decline. We always relied primarily on gold. Gold mining has traditionally been the spine of the mining industry in South Africa. And it is still one of the primary raw materials we extract. However, gold reserves are depleted. Depths are increasing and mining is becoming more and more complex. With platinum, the situation is slightly better. There are other minerals that we mine: iron, manganese. However, the situation is thorny nowadays. This is one of the reasons why students have difficulty in finding jobs or businesses where they take practical training. And the economy of the whole country, in its turn, depends on the state of affairs in the mining industry, which makes us look for alternative ways: to extract raw materials to achieve the goals of decarbonization and to invest in the development of alternative energy. We are already working on this, but we lack sufficient investment.

What is the trend towards the use of environmental energy sources in South Africa?

South Africa is an arid region. Therefore, hydropower is not our option. But we have a lot of sun and winds are quite frequent here. As a result, solar and wind energy are of great interest to us, and wind and solar power plants are already under construction. Some of the mines even operate on the energy that they themselves produce, i.e., solar or wind power. Of course, this is not enough, and much more needs to be accomplished. Concerning the platinum industry, there are prerequisites for using platinum in the production of batteries, for storing energy. Of course, it is necessary to continue moving in this direction if we want to develop green energy.

A BRICS youth summit is scheduled for this July in St. Petersburg; Johannesburg University is one of its participants. How would you rate the significance of this event?

This is a significant event for us, as is cooperation with other universities in general. We are very happy to be part of this process, and we hope that this cooperation will be a success. All the more so that we have common features. We are all developing countries, and we face similar challenges, including in the area of ​​resource extraction. And, of course, South Africa has a lot to learn from China or Russia. We also have some accumulated knowledge and experience that we can share with the rest of the world. This exchange is valuable to us, and we look forward to the start of the summit.

What do you think about the possibility of becoming a reference university in South Africa for the International Competence Centre for Mining Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO?

It will be a great honor for us. We hope that the discussion of this issue will continue, and the idea itself will be further developed.