THE PEOPLE’S UNIVERSITY
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela. It’s a belief upheld at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in Pretoria, South Africa, where education isn’t just about improving students’ lives, but about shaping a better collective future.
The country’s newest public university of technology, founded in 2004, TUT is already setting the highest standards in research and teaching and is responsible for world-beating innovations in tissue engineering, water purification and sustainable energy. “Our higher education framework grants us a unique opportunity to look into areas that really make a difference,” says Professor Stanley Mukhola, Deputy Vice- Chancellor of Teaching, Learning and Technology. “We believe in training students for the good of our country.”
MAKING EDUCATION ACCESSIBLE
Since 2015, universities across South Africa have seen protests over tuition fees and accommodation shortages. TUT has responded by pledging not to increase its fees and by procuring more funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme to assist poorer students. It also offers foundation courses to prepare under-qualified students for degree courses, to make higher education accessible to as many as possible. To enhance student success rates a new mentoring and tutoring programme has also been introduced, giving first-year students one-to-one support.
About 64,000 students are currently enrolled, making it the largest university in the country. “TUT is proud to be the people’s university,” says Professor Mukhola. “We’re committed to the task of improving the lives of students through affordable but world-class education that will contribute to a prosperous and better life for generations to come.”
Student-centred teaching methods are aimed at creating employable, entrepreneurial and socially responsible citizens. “We develop their communication skills and confidence,” says Professor Mukhola. “Every student must be ready to go into the world of work when they leave us.”
A PRACTICAL EDUCATION
The practical application of knowledge is crucial. “Our lecturers go out into industry to see the latest developments in technology, then bring this knowledge back. This means our students are keyed into advances in civil engineering, architecture and ICT (information and communications technology), among others. Lessons are not just blue-sky thinking.”
In 2014, a School of Education was opened within TUT to ensure the highest standards of teaching. “We have to consider how to get the maximum out of a course, how to make it relevant and how to communicate it well,” says Professor Mukhola. TUT is also the only university of technology (UOT) in South Africa to have an accredited business school offering MBAs and DBAs including leadership programmes. “We need to empower our students,” says Professor Mukhola. “That means showing them how to start a company and manage money. Our graduates are creating jobs for the future.” To this end, the university is launching a new entrepreneurship programme, combining local expertise with tutors from the StartUp School at Haaga Helia University in Finland, whose graduates have founded more than 100 companies.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
With a mandate from the Department of Education and Training to focus on research, TUT has built its reputation on tackling some of South Africa’s most pressing problems. It was one of five applicants out of 135 to be selected by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 fund to launch a rural water and purification technology programme known as SafeWaterAfrica. “Acid water is a by-product of the mining industry and is a serious problem, polluting seas and rivers,” says Professor Mukhola. “One of our students came up with the idea of using a plastic membrane to purify water, rather than treating it chemically, which is expensive. This has been life-changing for the poorest communities, who now have clean drinking water. I’m very proud we came up with a solution that was appreciated by our government and has added value to what we are doing as a university.”
In 2016, the TUT’s Centre for Tissue Engineering opened South Africa’s first skin-banking programme. It supplies skin grafts to treat first, second and third-degree burns. “This has made a huge difference to people with deep wounds and burns,” says Professor Mukhola. “They can make a full recovery. I’m very proud of our work in this area.”
RESEARCH AND INNOVATION
As well as participating in world-class research, students are encouraged to identify where they’d like to do research. “We say: ‘Come up with a proposal and we’ll support you’,” says Professor Mukhola. “The number of research students at postgraduate level is increasing annually. We are solving problems together.”
Sustainable energy and environmental preservation are major concerns, and TUT plays a role in addressing future sustainability. Its Centre for Energy and Electric Power works directly with local communities to implement new ways to meet power demands with appropriate technology, while protecting the environment. “We have experts who are working towards greening the environment with solar energy,” says Professor Mukhola. “We have a lot of sunshine in this country and we need to use this to our advantage.” The centre’s latest innovation is an Intelligent Energy Management System, technology that can save up to 10 per cent of energy use.
TUT’s groundbreaking research is now attracting international students. “We have a large number of students from across Africa, China and Europe. We also send our students overseas, so they’re exposed to new ideas and can bring back fresh perspectives to share with their peers.”
Academic staff are attracted by the chance to make a real difference. “Most of the teaching staff have a real vocation,” says Professor Mukhola. “I used to work for the government in the field of environmental health. I still feel I must go to class and share my experience with students.”
His passion is inspiring. “As a university we need to say, ‘What can we do for our country?’, not ‘What can our country do for us?’ If you are in a position to make a difference, you must do so. We all need to change our society for the better.”