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Understanding The New Engineering Qualifications

Posted By Prof. Brandon Collier-Reed, Tuesday, 02 July 2019

In 2013, the Higher Education Qualification Framework was published that completely changed the higher education qualifications landscape in South Africa. The well-known NATED-151 curriculated NDip and the BTech will be completely phased out by all institutions by 2020 and are no longer part of the possible mix of qualifications.

The “old-style” qualifications being offered by Universities of Technology have been (or are in the process of being) replaced by an “integrated national framework for learning achievement” that includes, in the case of engineering, the introduction of the Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEng Tech); Diploma in Engineering (Dip Eng), the Diploma in Engineering Technology (Dip Eng Tech) and the Advanced Diploma among a number of others. Meeting international standards he Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) has developed qualification standards for these new qualifications that are outcome-based (like the existing BEng programmes) and that meet the requirements of the International Engineering Alliance – a necessary requirement to be a signatory to the Sydney and Dublin accords. These accords (focused on Technologists and Technicians respectively) are international agreements between bodies responsible for accrediting engineering academic programmes and confirm that graduates of these programmes have met the necessary educational requirements to be registered as professional engineering practitioners.

Lack of understanding
My engagement with a cross-section of engineering professionals in recent ECSA workshops suggests that there is a lack of understanding about what this change is actually going to mean in practice. It is important to recognize that the “old” BTech and the “new” BEng Tech are two completely different types of qualifications – with different types of graduates. It is not possible to envision the level of competence of a BEng Tech graduate by drawing on one’s experience of BTech graduates. The BEng Tech is a structured, outcomes-based qualification with International Engineering Alliance-aligned graduate attributes and completed over three years; the BTech is a content-focused qualification.

In practice, the BTech often followed a NDip, together being completed in four years. The BTech and BEng Tech are therefore not equivalent qualifications simply repackaged and rebranded. For one thing, the entry requirements for the BEng Tech at National Qualification Framework (NQF) Level 5 are typically higher than those for the old NDip, also at NQF Level 5.

In brief, the graduates of the two sets of programmes are very different. A fundamental difference between the old NDip and the new Diploma qualifications relates to the duration of the workplace-based learning (i.e. in-service training). In years gone by, graduates of Universities of Technology could be assumed to have been exposed to a minimum level of practical workplace-based experience. This requirement is now significantly reduced in the new Diploma in Engineering and largely absent in the new Diploma in Engineering Technology qualifications and the graduates of these qualifications typically graduate with far less practical workplace-based experience.

The Universities of Technology indicate that the intention is to have different work-integrated learning modalities scaffolded into the curriculum of these new Diploma qualifications, but time will tell how well this is enacted.

The consequence of this transformation in the qualification landscape is that companies that employ graduates with a BEng Tech must be aware that they can no longer assume that these graduates will have the same level of workplace-based experience that could be assumed of the BTech graduate and will need to be inducted into engineering practice through carefully managed training programmes – much like the current Engineer in Training model that is used for BEng graduates. With the first of the “new” graduates already in the market, employers will need to reconsider just what they require from a potential applicant to demonstrate that they have met the requirements for the job.

Prof. Brandon Collier-Reed
Pr. Eng FSAIMechE

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