Universities Face Decline In Engineering Graduates

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In an era driven by technological advancements and the pursuit of innovative solutions, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees hold immense significance. However, South African universities have recorded a decline in the number of engineering graduates.


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Of the 208,299 students who entered university for the first time during the 2023 academic year, 69,000 enrolments were within scarce skills areas. Some of these enrollments were recorded in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) qualifications.

STEM degrees are viewed as important drivers of innovation that will address global challenges, foster economic growth, and equip graduates with essential skills needed for the future.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande was recently quizzed about the output of science graduates from the country’s 26 public universities. The minister was further asked to elaborate on how much is being invested in science, innovation and technology-related degrees in the upcoming academic year.

Nzimande revealed that there has been a decline in the number of engineering graduates. The department relied on neutral data from students that fall within the public university sector.

The minister said Universities reported 13,714 engineering graduates in 2019. This declined to 12,652 engineering graduates in 2020 and 12,605 engineering graduates in 2021.

They explained that reasons for the decline in engineering graduates could be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns which prevented students from accessing laboratories.

During the pandemic, campuses around the country were shut down. Learning took place online, which may have negatively impacted engineering students who required the use of laboratories and special equipment for their studies.

Minister Nzimande explained that grant subsidies transferred to the universities for STEM qualifications amount to approximately R12,5 billion for the 2023 academic year.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) spending is done by giving a fixed amount of money (block grant subsidy) to universities.

The amount of money allocated to STEM qualifications is determined by the number of teaching activities related to those qualifications and the desired number of students.


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