Review of Physics Training in SA

 REPORT ON REVIEW OF UNDERGRADUATE PHYSICS EDUCATION IN PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS

The project leading to the creation of the report arose because the heads of Physics Departments of South African Universities identified a crisis in the education pipeline. We felt starting with a Benchmarking process and a Review leading to Recommendations would be an appropriate first step where we can be effective. The SAIP partnered with the Council on Higher Education (CHE) to conduct the Review. Our challenge is now to implement as many of the Recommendations as we can. The current growth phase in Physics in South Africa began a decade ago with a similar review of the Research environment. We have every expectation that we will ultimately see a similar improvement in the capacity development issues following this review.

Prof Simon Connell, the immediate Past-President of SAIP “In South Africa, although we are developing country, the last decade has seen dramatic improvements in the Science System. Specifically, there is an unprecedented improvement in the health of the discipline of physics which is on a new growth trajectory. The award of the SKA site decision is just one aspect of this positive trend. We see increased scholarly output, very much improved access to local and international large scale research infrastructure and the modernization of local research laboratories and other research infrastructure. Linkages within South Africa and globally between academics are well established, and there is a particularly good rapport with the Department of Science and Technology. The main threat to the sustainability of the positive trend is education pipeline. This is now the most crucial point to be addressed. Review of Undergraduate Physics Education in Public Higher Education Institutions is one of the components of a new plan from within our discipline to be part of the solution.”

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REVIEW OF PHYSICS TRAINING IN SOUTH AFRICA

Following a request from a meeting of physics heads of departments held in July 2008, the SAIP council begun working on the project “Review of Physics Training in South Africa”. In the process of identifying stakeholders and partners to the “Review of Physics Project”, the SAIP indentified the Council on Higher Education (CHE) as a critical partner.
The mandate of CHE includes the following
· To promote quality assurance in higher education
· To audit the quality assurance mechanisms of institutions of higher education
· To accredit programmes of higher education
· To generate and set standards for all higher education qualifications

  • SAIP Project Chairperson: Prof Edmund Zingu
  • CHE Project Leader: Prof Rehana Valley

 

CURRENT STATUS

Physics departments at universities (traditional universities and universities of technology) are currently engaged in the self-evaluation of their curricula, facilities and operations. This is an important phase of an initiative of the Council of the South African Institute of Physics to review undergraduate physics training in South Africa. This initiative is a consequence of the fundamental concerns about undergraduate preparation and training, expressed by Heads of Physics Departments at various meetings held in 2008 and 2009.

The self-evaluation is being undertaken against a set of criteria and minimum standards which have been developed for undergraduate physics and endorsed by the heads of physics departments. The set of standards were informed by the Benchmark Statement for Physics which was drafted by a task team of physicists, and the CHE Programme Accreditation Criteria and Minimum Standards. The SAIP approached the Council on Higher Education (CHE) to undertake the review jointly, and the CHE has obliged by making its expertise, experience and infrastructure available.

The review of undergraduate physics teaching and learning is unique in many ways. The CHE through its Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) has previously undertaken national reviews of the MBA programme and a range of Education programmes. It has never undertaken a review of a discipline – always a programme (complete qualification). Furthermore, such national reviews are usually undertaken on the basis of portfolio’s (self-evaluation reports) which are validated through on-site visits by a review panel. This review is undertaken on the basis of an online Self-Evaluation Report which each department is currently completing. No site visits are envisaged.

The Self-Evaluation Reports will provide an analytical and critical self-appraisal of the undergraduate physics curriculum in each department. The reports will be analyzed by a Group of Experts consisting of the following physicists:

Members of the Group of Experts:
1. Prof Craig Comrie (Retired - University of Cape Town) Convenor
2. Dr Lutz Ackermann (Retired - University of Limpopo)
3. Dr Mmantsae Diale (University of Pretoria)
4. Prof Harm Moraal (North West University)
5. Prof Ramon Lopez (University of Texas at Arlington)
6. Prof David Wolfe (Emeritus - University of New Mexico).
7. Prof Makaiko Chithambo (Rhodes University)
8. Dr Joseph Asante (Tshwane University of Technology)
9. Prof Carl Wieman Nobel Laureate in Physics

 The group of experts will evaluate the departmental reports and draft a national report which will present the status of undergraduate physics, identify best practices and challenges in undergraduate physics, and make recommendations which, if implemented, would enhance undergraduate physics teaching and learning. It is eagerly anticipated that the implementable recommendations will serve to shape the physics training landscape in South Africa in order to ensure that the training provided is effective and in comparable to the best elsewhere in the world. A concomitant reality flowing from this phase of the project is the need for monitoring and evaluation to ensure that our objectives are met. All stakeholders are called upon to actively participate in this project.

 

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