Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Engineering Education at South Africa's Technikons

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Engineering Education at South Africa's Technikons

Article excerpt

This article describes engineering education at the technikons of post-apartheid South Africa. The history of technikons is explained; and comparisons are drawn between technical colleges, technikons, and universities in the context of contemporary South African tertiary education. Some challenges facing technikons are discussed, including the need to adapt to the country's rapidly and radically changing educational environment; technikons' recent mandate to award undergraduate and graduate degrees, with the attendant concentrations on research; and the need for technikon educators to seek higher qualifications.

Education in South Africa is stratified into three layers: primary school (the first seven years), followed by secondary school (the next five years), and tertiary or postsecondary education (Rissik, 1994). Secondary school culminates in a matriculation or senior certificate, which is typically earned at age 18. This so-called "matric" degree is symbolically represented by the letter "M" in the vernacular. Admission to postmatric tertiary education offered by universities, technikons, and colleges is contingent upon earning the senior certificate.

The main players in South African tertiary education are the public sector universities, technikons, teacher training colleges, and technical colleges. About 350,000 students are enrolled in South Africa's 21 public universities and another 150,000 in its technikons (Editors, Inc., 1996). Enrollments at teacher training colleges and technical colleges are approximately 98,000 and 52,000, respectively (National Commission on Higher Education [NCHE], 1996). Tertiary-level engineering education is offered at 9 universities and 13 technikons (Human Sciences Resource Council [HSRC], 1996).


Some technikons have technical colleges as their roots. For example, the University of Natal broke away from Natal Technical College in 1929. Therefore, before describing technikons and their role in engineering education, technical colleges will be described first.

Technical colleges in South Africa play a dual secondary/tertiary role by providing their graduates with the knowledge and skills they need to enter specific trades or occupations (HSRC,1996). They award national technical (or "N") certificates such as the "N3," which is regarded as equal to the matric degree, provided that languages are also included in the student's coursework; and the "N4," which is the equivalent of the matric plus eight months or two-thirds of a year of study ("M + 2/3"), provided it is earned in addition to a qualification equal to the senior certificate.

A growing shortage of skilled, high-level personnel to meet the needs of commerce and industry led to the adoption of the Advanced Technical Education Act of 1967. As a result, the technical colleges of the Cape, Natal, Pretoria, and Witswatersrand were designated colleges of advanced technical education (CATEs). To these were later added new colleges at Vanderbijlpark and Port Elizabeth, so that by 1969 there were six CATEs enrolling over 23,000 students. Others soon followed, including M. L. Sultan College for Advanced Technical Education in 1969. As these colleges evolved, their CATE designation was changed to "technikon" as a result of the Advanced Technical Education Amendment Act of 1979 (Committee of Technikon Principals, n.d.; M. L. Sultan Technikon, 1996). Technikon is derived from the Greek language by joining the root word "techni" (which refers to ingenuity, dexterity, or skill) and the suffix "kon." It was formulated by Allan Pittendrigh (1988), a former principal of both M. L. Sultan Technikon and Technikon Natal who, as chairman of the Committee of Technikon Principals, spearheaded both the name change and the move by technikons into postdiploma studies and higher qualifications.

A number of new technikons were established after the passage of the Advanced Technical Education Amendment Act, including Technikon Mangosuthu, founded in 1979 and named after Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (Gastrow, 1995); Technikon Northern Transvaal (founded in 1981), Peninsula Technikon (founded in 1982), Border Technikon (founded in 1987), and Transkei (now Eastern Cape) Technikon (founded in 1991). …

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