Universities launch efforts to lift mining enrolments

Australia’s tertiary institutions are persisting with their efforts to attract mining and engineering students despite slipping enrolment figures.

Professor of civil, environmental and mining engineering at the University of Western Australia (UWA), Andy Fourie, points to the cyclic nature of the industry as a reason for the reluctance of some students to study mining engineering.

Although extremely attractive salaries being on offer during boom times, employment security during downturns is understandably a key concern for many young people, according to Fourie.

However, it doesn’t stop UWA from improving the curriculum to attract more students.

“Advances in technology are impacting on mining engineering as much, if not more, than on other branches of engineering,” Fourie tells Australian Mining.

“There are now fleets of extremely large trucks at many open pit mine sites in Australia, transporting enormous volumes of rock to processing plants. In the future, such advanced technologies will be incorporated into underground mining activities that are currently potentially hazardous to human workers.

“These advances require mining engineering graduates that are competent in understanding and utilising the emerging technologies.”

UWA now includes data science subjects such as robotics, automation, cyber security and data mining in its three-year mining engineering degree.

These skills will be invaluable to future mining engineers, making students highly employable for their flexibility to adapt to job opportunities that are not even currently imagined, Fourie said.

Curtin University, the world’s second-best institution for mineral and mining engineering according to the QS university rankings, has been working with high-profile alumni, such as Saracen Mineral Holdings managing director Raleigh Finlayson, in a bid to help improve student enrolments.

It has also introduced several initiatives to specifically improve the number of female students pursuing a career in the mining sector.

Curtin’s revised curriculum is expected to be progressively rolled out from 2020 to attract more students.

Meanwhile, the University of Queensland (UQ) has worked closely with member companies of the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) to secure vacation work opportunities during their first year of engineering studies.

“By enabling students to observe and experience mining and metallurgical engineers on-site as they work, we’re able to show them what a career in this sector really looks like, and we’ve found this has had a positive impact on the number of students who elect to study mining engineering and pursue it as a career,” UQ School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering professor Peter Knights concluded.

Curtin (second), UWA (fourth) and UQ (fifth) were all last week named in the top five of the 2019 QS World University Rankings for their mineral and mining engineering courses.

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