Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
On-line version ISSN 2411-9717
NEL, W.P.. Universities and decision-making: programme and qualification mix - four learning pathways. J. S. Afr. Inst. Min. Metall. [online]. 2014, vol.114, n.5, pp. 01-01. ISSN 2411-9717.
The introduction of the Higher Education Qualifications Framework (HEQF) and the updated Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework (HEQSF) has caused many South African university departments to rethink their programme qualification mixes (PQMs). In addition to the requirements stated in the HEQSF, a number of other factors have to be taken into consideration by a university department. These factors include, for example, the standards generated by the Engineering Standards Generating Body (ESGB) and subsequently approved by the Engineering Council of SA (ECSA) and the need to prepare students for various categories of professional registration with ECSA. This means that a university department has to choose the correct mix of Learning Programmes (LPs) from the HEQSF menu (which consists of 13 types of LPs). Preparing students for ECSA registration is aligned with the mission of universities, which is to teach and undertake research. However, research and the LPs associated with research go beyond the requirements for current ECSA registration. Assuming that universities offering engineering LPs would elect to prepare students for both ECSA registration and teach them to produce research outputs, which is mostly done at Master and Doctorate levels (NQF Levels 9 and 10), then it follows that academics are more interested in NQF Level 5 to 10 pathways (abbreviated as 'L5-10') rather than the shorter pathways required towards professional registration. (For example, ECSA requires an NQF L5-L7 pathway for registration as a candidate professional technologist. This specific pathway may consist, for example, of two LPs, namely the 360-credit Diploma and the Advanced Diploma.) A L5-L10 pathway is a combination of LPs that will prepare the learner with a NSC (or equivalent qualification at level 4) to Doctoral level (level 10). Universities may choose at least four major pathways from the HEQSF menu in order to educate and develop students from NQF Level 5 to 10. However, various pathways towards registration in the category of candidate with ECSA are also embedded into these four NQF L5-L10 pathways, where each consist of a unique combination of LPs. Each of these pathways has an opportunity cost, and economic reality means that smaller departments may have to choose between the four pathways. Of all the many factors involved in PQM decision-making, the focus of this paper is on the HEQSF requirements, ECSA standards, and ECSA registration and how these, together with the various qualifications and educational LPs provided for by the HEQSF may impact on the PQM decision taken by engineering departments and schools at South African universities. The proposed four NQF L5-L10 'pathway tool' for PQM decision-making may be useful for pointing out the advantages, disadvantages, and applications of the various pathways and combinations of pathways. Rather than deciding from a menu of thirteen qualifications and associated LPs, this article proposes that decision-making be undertaken on the basis of a menu of four main articulated 'NQF L5-L10' pathways (which also include one or more of the ECSA's pathways for professional registration). The proposed 'NQF L5-L10 pathway' tool is an attempt to move one step closer to the aim of achieving a structured decision-making approach for designing a PQM at departmental level. The ECSA designed standards for some of the 13 LPs that form part of the HEQSF -ECSA have to date not developed competency standards for Levels 9 (Masters) and L10 (Doctorate). If universities design LPs according to these standards, then learners would be eligible to comply with ECSA's educational requirements to register in the categories of candidate Pr Techn., Pr Tech., Pr Cert. Eng., and Pr Eng.
Keywords : Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework (HEQSF); educational learning programmes (LPs); educational pathways; programme and qualification mix (PQM); registration in the appropriate candidate category with the ECSA approved standards; PQM decision-making; articulation.