The Minerals Education Trust Fund (METF) has since its inception in 1999 disbursed more than R530-million in grants to funded institutions, with grants in 2020 totalling more than R42-million.
“These pooled resources aim to address and resolve some of the many challenges facing minerals tertiary education, as well as to support, promote and advance the interest of minerals education in South Africa,” explains University of Pretoria Department of Mining Engineering Head of Department Professor Ronny Webber-Youngman. The University of Pretoria is one of nine institutions that benefit from METF support.
Universities across South Africa that teach minerals-focused courses receive funds from the METF, which are used primarily to supplement academic salaries in the disciplines of mining, metallurgy and chemical engineering, as well as geology.
Other universities funded by the METF include the universities of the Witwatersrand, Cape Town, Stellenbosch, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Johannesburg and the Free State, as well as the University of South Africa, or Unisa.
“Supplementing the salaries of key lecturers ensures that universities are able to attract and retain staff who might otherwise be tempted to leave academia and enter into industry. The grant also assists in developing undergraduate teaching staff,” Webber-Youngman explains.
The METF aims to ensure that students receive high-quality minerals education to produce quality graduates for the minerals industry, which supports the METF’s aim of developing scarce skills in the mining, metallurgy and geology sectors.
“One of the most important objectives, however, is the attraction and retention of high-quality academic staff in these scarce skills disciplines to contribute to local staff development at the institutions. Ultimately, this is how we can secure the future of the South African mining industry,” he points out.
This is especially true in highly specialised fields such as mine ventilation, rock engineering, virtual reality and immersive technology, as well as training such as virtual mine design.
“The quality of education as well as the quality of students entering industry, would be negatively affected without support from the METF,” states Webber-Youngman.
The METF also supports these academic centres of excellence by focusing on departments that deliver quality education. This, in turn, fosters greater collaboration between industry and academic institutions.
“The value of the collaboration between academic institutions and industry should never be underestimated, and we are so grateful for the role the METF plays in this regard,” he emphasises.
Webber-Youngman says being part of the METF holds many benefits for participants, institutions and business.
“Becoming involved as a partner in this industry-wide initiative, provides key support for world-class South African minerals education. Students gain access to teaching and learning at undergraduate level and have the opportunity to influence the needs of the industry.”
Further, an organisation can meet its corporate social responsibility to South African society, since all donations to the fund are tax exempt. This, in turn, drives social mobility and economic growth.
About 76% of the students benefiting from this initiative are from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, while 39% of the students are female.
“This demonstrates a real transformation in the department. The contributions from the METF have been critical in this transformation from a previously majority white-student base to a more representative environment from a South African perspective,” Webber-Youngman points out.
University of Pretoria PhD candidate and part-time lecturer (and researcher) Jennifer van der Walt says the METF contributions support the department to recruit high-quality lecturers who have years of experience, which enables them to deliver quality education to undergraduate students.
She also points out that the contributions enable the Mining Engineering department to recruit more post-graduates full time, who are then able to act as lecturer support assistants.
“This helps with educating the students, and with developing additional skills as an individual and a potential lecturer,” notes Van der Walt.
There is also the research component that enables postgraduate students to develop quality research skills that can be optimised in the academic space where they can benefit the industry as a whole later on in their careers.
“Students who graduate from these key supported departments go on to fill critical posts in an industry that remains central to South Africa’s economy,” notes Van der Walt.
Other benefits for contributing companies include broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) points and Mining Charter points for human resource development.
Companies can also gain significant brand exposure and recognition from universities and key departments, which will eventually provide undergraduates for those industries.
The METF has 29 participating companies that contribute to the Fund for the disciplines in which these companies have employees; they range from some of the industry’s biggest operators to smaller suppliers and consultancies.
The contributions from the METF also encompasses capital grants which enable universities to adequately equip their laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment that enhances the students’ learning experience, concludes Webber-Youngman.