Total South Africa and Wits University renewed the metaphoric vows of their partnership earlier this week.
In 2010 Total SA signed their first memorandum of understanding with Wits, which saw Total funding students’ studies and research at the university in an effort to remedy the skills shortage present in South Africa.
Total SA’s managing director and CEO, Christian des Closiéres, said Total had over 90 scholarships on the continent to make sure the youth are equipped with the “powerful weapon” of education. Des Closiéres said the partnership with Wits went beyond financing students’ studies and included a multidimensional investment that saw Total funding research and training of academic staff at Wits. In total 14 students had benefitted from the partnership over the past three years.
Highlighting why he saw the partnership as mutually beneficial, Wits Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib said Total would need the capacities of “a whole new generation of engineers” and the skills of many other professions.
While Wits may have a much smaller engineering programme than the University of Pretoria but it is “perhaps the strongest engineering programme in the country and probably the continent,” said Habib. He said this strength lay in the vast amount of engineering research done at Wits, and being one of the only universities in the world with a mining engineering school, was another advantage.
Wits hopes to branch out into petroleum engineering and the partnership with Total could facilitate this move. “Wits as an institution is beginning to ensure that the capacity for petroleum engineering, the skill sets required for it and the partnerships required for it, is developed in the country,” said Habib.
Along with this, Wits is trying to build partnerships with other universities across the continent to “begin to weave an intellectual capacity that can begin to support the developmental agenda of the African continent”.
Two ex-Witsies, whose studies were sponsored by Total, were present at the signing and said they were particularly grateful for the opportunity to go to Total’s summer school while they were studying at Wits.
The summer school runs for a week and consists of a series of seminars on various energy issues. Chemical engineering graduate Thulisile Cingo said the summer school was a way for Total to get insight and ideas from the various students they fund worldwide.