The new School of Engineering

The new School of Engineering

MASERU- Why Lesotho must set up its own School of Engineering

The National University of Lesotho (NUL) says it plans to set up a School of Engineering at its Roma campus. Our correspondent for thepost at the NUL this week sat down with Professor Leboli Zak Thamae, an electronics engineer, to speak about the project. Below are excerpts of the interview.

So what is this engineering after all?

In a layman’s language, it is an applied science. Basic science normally deals with discovering of natural laws, principles, phenomena and so on. After such discoveries, engineers follow with a, “Wow! Then how can we make use of this stuff?” It starts there.

What engineering programmes do you hope to offer?

We want to get to the basics first. We intend to introduce Chemical Engineering which will also include Biochemical Engineering, Civil Engineering which will also house Mining Engineering and Water and Environmental Engineering.
We also intend to introduce Mechanical Engineering which will also house Agricultural Engineering and Industrial Engineering as well as Electrical Engineering which will also include Computer Engineering and Electronics Engineering, and, finally, the Built Environment which will include Architecture and Planning.

Why does NUL want to have a School of Engineering?

Well, from the very definition of engineering, no doubt you understand that it is at the heart of infrastructure development and economic growth.
If you are going to build new products, new machines, new cars, new buildings, new roads, new bridges, new dams, new power plants, it won’t happen by chance, you need engineers and engineering.

NUL is more than 70 years old, if engineering is at the heart of development, why now, why did it not happen long time ago?

We wish we had an answer to that question.

But the country is already sending students to study engineering abroad, why should they study it here?

Many of them don’t come back, not because they don’t want to, but because the environment is not conducive for them. A conducive environment starts with the local School of Engineering.
Well, they may not come back, but, you see, the world is now talking about exporting skilled labour and gaining remittances, money, in return.
Maybe it is the Third World you are talking about. The most innovative countries in the world, the United States, Israel, Japan, you name them, they teach engineers in their own countries, employ them in their own countries, to solve the problems of their own countries.
If anything, they encourage importation, not exportation of highly skilled labour. That tells you something.

But the skilled emigrants bring back the money.

Education is not about money; it should never be. There is something more precious than gold – brains. Never exchange brains for gold. This school is about localising our knowledge base. It is about generating new ideas to kick-start the economy.
It is about commercialising the ideas to create new industries right here in Lesotho. Note this one. No one will do these things for you!

Is this not just another case of educating more and more job-seeking-graduates roaming the streets? Surely the local industry is saturated.

Yes! This is probably where we have been getting it wrong all along. We don’t produce engineers so they can work in engineering industries, we have more than enough people to work there; artisans, technicians, unskilled labour, you name it. Rather, we produce engineers so that they can create engineering industries.

That sounds interesting, but how do you do that?

This is an open secret because everyone else is doing it. First, you allocate money for research into new products. Then you support incubation of those products to test their business and market potential. Then you fund the mass production of the products that pass the incubation test, thereby employing masses.
Then you allow the engineers to go back to the labs and conceive new products. This is not only a secret of job creation, it is also a secret of how to hold on to your engineers.

We hear you are also thinking about teaching Masters and PhD in these disciplines.

Yes!

But where will you find engineering teachers?

What we know is that there are millions of engineers around the world, including those that Lesotho trains every year in other countries. Let’s hope many of them, especially the locals, will avail themselves.

Will you have the money to pay those teachers?

NUL invents many things nowadays; money is not one of them. But the country already spends millions of Maloti educating engineers at three to four times the price we would pay if we trained them here. If we can pay for them in foreign lands, surely we can pay for them here.

Is this engineering thing not going to kill the flourishing sciences at the NUL?

Quite the opposite! Remember science gives birth to engineering, but engineering, in turn, strengthens science by applying its principles. Without science, there is no engineering.

Is the government going to help you?

It is not only going to help. It is already helping. Actually, we are developing this project together. In short, the government’s involvement has been amazing.

When will you establish the school?

We don’t know yet. It is a lot of work as you can imagine. So many variables are involved. However, the necessary groundwork is already being laid through the regional Enriching Engineering Education Programme (EEEP) supported by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering.

Staff Reporter

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