Exploring industry's contribution to curriculum design of Civil Engineering programmes at Universities of Technology : a case study of Durban University of Technology
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Promulgation of the Higher Education Qualifications Framework (HEQF) tasks the Council for Higher Education (CHE), South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and standards generating bodies (Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA)) with guiding institutions through the implementation of the new framework. Implementation is through a phased approach spanning a five-year period beginning in January 2011 and with anticipated culmination in December 2014. As the Higher Education Framework Handbook (CHE 2011:2) states: ‘all existing institutions, public and private, offering existing and previously accredited higher education programmes will be impacted upon by this process in some manner or form, whether it be through a minor name change or a complete renewal of the programme content.’ Consequently, universities of technology (UoT’s) have embarked on a curriculum renewal process and the Civil Engineering Department of Durban University of Technology (DUT) is no different. It is within this context of participation and multiple contributory environments of different role-players that this study was founded. This research explored the Civil Engineering industry’s involvement in the curriculum renewal at DUT with the intention of understanding its contribution and influence in the renewal process and particularly in terms of curriculum design. The scope of the study was restricted to DUT Civil Engineering Department and their graduates, with subjects selected from a convenience sample of DUT Civil Engineering Department’s database of employers that have in the past and presently employ DUT graduates and/ or Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) students. The sample constituted organisations from the contracting, consulting and para-statal fields of employment. A questionnaire was designed containing both open-ended questions and rating scales that explored and probed the Civil Engineering industry level of involvement in the curriculum and curriculum renewal activities at DUT. In addition, interviews were conducted with seasoned Civil Engineering staff that have interacted with industry at various levels to gain their view of industry’s involvement with design of the Civil Engineering curriculum. Data from both questionnaires and interviewees overwhelmingly suggested that industry is not directly involved with the curriculum renewal currently underway at DUT, some respondents only gathered that such an activity was taking place through the medium of the questionnaire. This suggests that the resultant curriculum will be void of much industry engagement and influence. The nature of engagement that does occur is largely through the utilisation of DUT graduates or WIL students. Engagement occurs most commonly when curriculum issues are raised by staff at interviews of employers during WIL, suggesting that the nature of association with DUT is limited to employment of students or graduates. It is inferred that industry has very little direct input into the curriculum. DUT Advisory Board is considerably under-utilised for its intended purpose of engaging industry on curriculum issues, and its existence is unfamiliar to industry at large. As much as the Advisory Board is the most appropriate avenue to discuss curriculum issues, it has limitations in that its function is not entirely realised. The data generated also resoundingly suggests that industry is fully supportive of an inclusive participation process. Data further suggest that industry genuinely wants to be involved in curriculum discussions, and decisions for reasons ranging from participating to create more relevant course content, to contributing to creation of graduates with more appropriate employability attributes. Participants from industry further intimated that their role remains for on-site experiential learning: they provide the working knowledge to complement the academic knowledge provided by DUT. They also consider themselves to be providers of other facets that contribute to a holistic graduate, and assume further roles such as those of mentors and supervisors. The likely outcomes of their influence would be rapid engagement of graduates within the Civil Engineering field. A symbiotic relationship therefore becomes apparent between DUT and industry, where with more input into the curriculum by industry; a more work- orientated graduate is produced to better serve the needs of industry. The following recommendations emerge from the findings of this study: Since most of industry’s engagement occurs during WIL interviews, it would be prudent if a generic curriculum- based questionnaire is devised. This should be filled in by employers during student WIL visitations by staff in addition to the existing questionnaire. In doing so DUT would be proactive in literally ‘taking curriculum issues to them’. The DUT Civil Engineering Department should target those companies that have an interest in making a concerted effort by enlisting them onto the Advisory Board. From an institutional perspective DUT should be more proactive and advertise the existence of such an entity, created solely for curriculum discussions with the public, and particularly with industry. Assessments, course content and the project component of the programme generated considerable comments from industry that the Civil Engineering Department could take into consideration during the curriculum renewal process.