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17 April 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs
Science ambassadors
Friends Tekano Mbonani and Chaka Mofokeng are pursuing graduate degrees in respectively Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS) and Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape. The two got together and decided to reach out to the high school, Leseding Technical Secondary School, where they came from.

It was a full house as more than 120 learners packed the hall at the Leseding Technical Secondary School in the Free State, where two young Astronomy researchers had come home to tell their younger peers about their studies and career prospects across South Africa.

Chaka Mofokeng and Tekano Mbonani are both former learners at the high school. Currently pursuing graduate degrees – for Mbonani in Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS), and for Mofokeng in Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape – the two friends got together and decided to reach out to the high school where they came from.

The event took place in January before schoolwork, tests, and exam preparations are occupying learners’ minds, inviting them to think about the big picture – the future, and how to be part of it. This is timely, because in July last year, the MeerKAT radio telescope was inaugurated in the Karoo. The MeerKAT is the first step to the international SKA telescope project, but it is already one of the best radio telescopes in the world and has placed South Africa firmly on the world map of radio astronomy and engineering.

Building a bridge
“This project enables us to build a bridge between secondary and tertiary institutions. Currently focused on senior secondary students, we aim to promote science through outreach events and activities. Using science and technology-based activities and events, such as stargazing at an observatory or exploring the universe in a planetarium, we want to attract these future secondary graduates. We also provide mentorship, hoping to help them improve their academic performance in matric,” said Mbonani.

For a whole morning, they spoke about their journeys, about science, about the skills that scientists acquire during their studies and all the opportunities such studies open up in an era where the 4th Industrial Revolution is predicted to reduce the number of jobs in many traditional professions. They addressed their peers in both English and Sesotho.

Astronomy in South Africa contributes to critical-skills development. Investing in the MeerKAT, for example, meant that over a thousand bursaries were made available through the SKA South Africa Human Capacity Development programme. Young scientists like Mofokeng and Mbonani have the opportunity to be part of MeerKAT science projects through their studies, using machine learning and other skills that are high in demand in today’s world. This was one of the messages they brought home.

Gaining new skills

“As an Astronomy research student, I have gained skills such as data analysis, mathematical modelling, communication and writing, programming, and teamwork, among others. These are requirements for most companies and institutions. With the unfolding of the 4th Industrial Revolution, such skills sets make young and aspiring scientists the perfect candidates for making the most of future opportunities,” reflected Mofokeng.

Most of the learners said they have never attended a science-outreach event. They were inspired by the young scientists’ stories and nearly half of them said they could see themselves pursuing a career in science. The learners also expressed a strong interest in more events of this kind, as well as mentorship during Grades 11 and 12 from peers at university. They asked about the salaries earned by astronomers, how long the studies take, and where astronomers are working in South Africa.

This initiative, started by two bright young scientists, hopefully marks the beginning of many more events of this kind. Mofokeng and Mbonani are already planning what to do on their next trip home.

News Archive

Council on Higher Education LLB qualification review not yet complete
2017-05-16

The reaction from various stakeholders following the ‘Outcomes of the National Review of the LLB Qualification’ by the Council on Higher Education (CHE) on 12 April 2017 requires the CHE to clarify that the national review process has not been completed and is ongoing.

The peer-review process conducted under the auspices of the CHE is based on the LLB Standards Document which was developed in 2014-2015 with input from higher-education institutions and the organised legal profession. Following self-review and site visits by peers, the process is now at the point where commendations and shortcomings have been identified, and the statement of 12 April reflects those findings. All law faculties and schools have been asked to improve their LLB programmes to meet the LLB Standard, and no LLB programme has been de-accredited. All institutions retain the accreditation they had before the Review process began and all institutions are working towards retaining their accreditation and improving their LLB programmes.

The South African Law Deans’ Association (SALDA) has issued a set of responses regarding the LLB programme review. The following questions and answers were published to give more clarity on the questions raised.

1.    What is the effect of a finding of conditional accreditation?
The programme remains accredited.

(“Accreditation refers to a recognition status granted to a programme for a stipulated period of time after an HEQC evaluation indicates that it meets minimum standards of quality.”)

The institution must submit a progress report by 6 October 2017 that indicates how short-term aspects raised in the HEQC reports have been addressed and an improvement plan to indicate how longer-term aspects will be addressed.

2.    What is the effect of a finding of notice of withdrawal of accreditation?
The programme remains accredited.

The institution must submit an improvement plan by 6 October 2017 to indicate how the issues raised in the HEQC report will be addressed, including time frames.

3.    How does the finding of notice of withdrawal affect current students?
Students currently enrolled for the LLB programme at any institution are not affected at all. They will graduate with an accredited qualification.

4.    How does the finding of notice of withdrawal affect new applicants?
The programmes remain accredited and institutions may enrol new students as usual. This also includes students completing BA/BCom (Law) programmes who wish to continue with the LLB programme.

5.    How does the finding of notice of withdrawal affect prior graduates?
Degrees previously conferred are not affected.

6.    What happens when the improvement plans are submitted in October 2017?
The CHE will evaluate the plans when they are submitted, and the programmes remain accredited until a decision is taken whether the improvement plan is sufficient and has been fully given effect to or not. The institutions will have to submit progress reports to the CHE indicating implementation of measures contained in the improvement plan.

Should a decision at some stage be taken that a programme’s accreditation must be withdrawn, a teaching-out plan would be implemented so that all enrolled students would have the opportunity to graduate with an accredited degree.

For more information on the CHE’s pronouncement please contact Moleboheng Moshe-Bereng on MosheBerengMF@ufs.ac.za.

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