‘As disadvantaged students we were sold a dream’
They say a Vaal University of Technology safety and maintenance degree is useless, but the institution disagrees
The Vaal University of Technology is offering a two-year diploma in non-destructive testing (NDT) that is not recognised by the engineering industry the students will work in.
Following a slew of complaints from students who say they only discovered after completing the course that the industry does not value the qualification, VUT has been looking into the matter.
The institution did however point out that the course was accredited by the relevant university authorities.
VUT’s Mike Khuboni, executive director of corporate affairs, said this specific course was an accredited university degree. The practical courses required to enable a student to work in the NDT industry were not at a university level so VUT could not offer them without losing accreditation for its degree.
But many former students, who are unemployed, have called on the institution to stop offering the course.
“We have been robbed of our future," said former student Oupa Ditsepu.
Non-destructive testing trains people in the testing of engineering and factory equipment as part of maintenance and safety checks.
The two-year NDT diploma course does not offer the industry-accredited practical certificates, which job seekers need to secure employment in the industry.
“Students complete the course and when they go to companies looking for job opportunities we are always asked if we have levels (certificates) since they don’t recognise our course,” said Ditsepu.
In a memorandum to VUT management late in 2018 a group of former students wrote: “As black disadvantaged students we believe we have been sold a dream. We have been ripped off of our future and left drowning in debts with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme that we cannot settle. Instead of us, the young people, liberating our families from poverty we find ourselves being more of a financial, emotional burden to our parents ... because of this harrowing blanket of poverty that this noncompliant diploma has clothed us with.”
Ditsepu suggested that VUT merge its diploma with industry bodies that provide the industry-accepted courses required for a career as a safety and maintenance officer.
Lencelot Ngoveni, who graduated in 2016, said he would not have done the course if he had known it would not be accepted by potential employers. He discovered, like hundreds of others, that he needed practical certificates given by the industry, without which his qualification is meaningless. He had the money to do a month-long accredited course, and secured a freelance job.
Former student Kopz Makopido said many of the now unemployed students were funded by the state through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
“Not only does it cause pain and misery and debt on our side, it is a liability to the state as well.”
According to the VUT website, the estimated cost of this course in 2018 was R35,400.
The group of students met senior VUT management, including the vice-chancellor and the head of the course, Professor Raymond Mabuza, late in 2018.
The South African Institute of Welding, which offers industry qualifications, is trying to help VUT resolve the matter.
Head of SA Institute for Non Destructive Testing (SAINT) Harold Jansen said the course at VUT was theoretical but the industry required “operational skills”.
He is also a manager at the SA Institute of Welding (SAIW), which offers accredited courses. He said he had discussed the lack of industry acceptance with VUT as early as 2012.
“A well-defined space for an NDT academic in the industry does not exist. If one wants to do the physical work, he/she needs to comply with ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) or the company scheme on how to qualify to practice.”
The industry required staff with practical training in line with these international standards, but the VUT diploma was “academic”.
The SAIW’s proposal was to train VUT staff in the practical skills required to train students in industry standards. Then the SAIW would provide testing to students.
The SAIW would meet VUT management again on Monday.
VUT insists that the diploma is recognised by the department of higher education and training, the Council on Higher Education and the South African Qualifications Authority.
It is also affiliated to the American Society for Non-destructive Testing, the British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing and the South African Institute for Non-Destructive Testing.
“VUT has partnerships with several companies where there is an NDT section. Many of our NDT students are doing work-integrated learning and some have been hired temporarily or permanently,” said Khuboni.