University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) much-anticipated Phoenix hybrid rocket test flight at the world-class Denel Overberg Test Range in the Western Cape has been a resounding success.

The successful flight took place on 8 March when a gap in the weather provided suitable launch conditions. The Phoenix-1B Mk IIr vehicle soared to a new high altitude mark for hybrid rockets, beating the previous African record of 10.3 km.

more ‘The team is delighted to see all of their hard work come to fruition with a picture-perfect flight, which exceed our expectations’ said Dr Jean Pitot, the leader of UKZN’s Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG).   

ASReG’s Phoenix Hybrid Rocket Programme is a skills development initiative that focuses on suborbital launch vehicle design and testing.

‘Internationally, sounding rockets continue to play a crucial role in the facilitation of experiments conducted in a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including bio-technology, astronomy, astrophysics, materials science and meteorology, among many others,’ explained academic leader for mechanical engineering at UKZN, Professor Michael Brooks. ‘They also serve as valuable test platforms for aerospace technologies related to commercial satellite launch vehicles.’

The Phoenix-Mk IIr suborbital rocket that was successfully tested was developed as a technology demonstration platform. 

After signing the fins pre-launch – a tradition in rocketry research – the team retreated to a mission control blockhouse from where the nerve-wracking countdown was initiated.

At 16h47 Mk IIr blasted off – and the exultant team broke into cheers as the rocket reached a 17.9 km altitude, setting the new African record.

Said Pitot:  ‘The Mk IIr rocket is a high-performance version of our initial Mk I rocket, and demonstrates low-cost and robust construction methodologies coupled with advanced fabrication and propellant technologies.’

Brooks acknowledged the substantial funding received from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) for the project.

‘This funding has enabled the development of key expertise in the engineering disciplines of rocket propulsion technology, launch vehicle design and flight dynamics modelling, as well as the development of appreciable scarce skills. It has also enabled unique cooperation between the University and industry,’ he said.

The ASReG team included 18 postgraduate and undergraduate students who contributed to the success of the launch through their innovative research. These students are products of ASReG’s DSI-funded transformation-centred talent pipeline programme.

Lead engineer on the Phoenix campaign was UKZN PhD student, Mr Kai Broughton, a former winner of the prestigious Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) merit medal and a cum laude  UKZNMSc Mechanical Engineering graduate who has been named among the African Space Industry’s Top 10 Under 30’s by the Space in Africa news agency.

Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Engineering, Professor Glen Bright said: ‘This launch constitutes a deliverable on our DSI Space Propulsion Programme funding grant, under the category of technology demonstration.  We are thrilled at the outcome and are very proud of our students whose meticulous work, dedication and commitment contributed to this success.’

The Chief Director of Space Science and Technology in the DSI, Mr Humbulani Mudau said: ‘Excellent work, team ASReG!  You have broken the African record.  The DSI on behalf of government is very proud of this achievement.  Well done!’

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, Professor Albert Modi echoed his sentiments: ‘Well done Guys! You have put UKZN on the map, we are so proud.’

A delighted and relieved Pitot said: ‘This launch is the culmination of months of preparation.  We had to move an entire rocket team, its launch platform, two rockets, multiple back-up parts, computer equipment and everything that goes with it 1 700 km across the country.  It was a massive undertaking, but the work has paid off.’

UKZN’s Aerospace Systems Research Group with a Phoenix-1B Mk I hybrid rocket.
The record-beating Phoenix-1B Mk IIr hybrid rocket leaves it’s launch rail at Denel Overberg Test Range.

Hlengiwe Khwela, UKZN

UKZN has developed the Msizi Chatbot to enhance the student and visitor experience for 2021 online registrations.

Launched at the beginning of February, the Chatbot is a computer programme designed to mimic human conversation and provide predetermined answers by interpreting words given to it in the chat interface.

Named Msizi – isiZulu for “helper”- the Bot was developed to assist those accessing the UKZN website. It is found in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, appearing as a blue icon.

The Chatbot is customised to respond to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) which have been categorised as follows: Undergraduate Student, Postgraduate Student, Applications and Information, Student Finance, Student Funding (Scholarships, Bursaries and NSFAS), Student Residence, ICS Student Computing, International Students and the Disability Support Unit.

Created by the Information and Communication Services (ICS) division at UKZN, Msizi Chatbot also has the added “chat with us” feature which enables students or visitors to have a live chat with a staff member.

Commenting on the development of the Chatbot, Mr Handsome Nyathikazi of ICS Support said: ‘The team worked long hours creating categories, capturing FAQs, linking staff members to the chat feature and training the Bot.’

‘Working in a virtual environment due to COVID-19 posed some challenges but we had fun creating the Chatbot and we appreciate the team’s effort,’ said Nyathikazi.

Thanking ICS Management for their exceptional support throughout the project, Nyathikazi explained how the Msizi Chatbot was different to other chatbot services because of a three-pronged interactive approach which includes:

•    Interacting with a pool of information made up of well-constructed FAQs

•    Interacting with the friendly Msizi Chatbot •    Interacting with well-informed staff members through the live chat.

Nelson Mandela University and the Mandela International Office have admitted over 650 new international students into undergraduate and postgraduate programmes for the 2021 academic yearThe university also welcomed 12 study abroad and exchange students from France, Germany and Sweden for the first semester. The new students will join about 700 returning international students at the university.

Although the start of the 2021 academic year has been a challenge due to the global pandemic, the Mandela International Office has remained in constant contact with new international students over the past few months in order to keep them informed about the developments around the start of the academic year and the registration process. 

The international student orientation programme for new full degree international students took place on 11 March via a combination of live Microsoft Teams sessions and recorded sessions. The orientation for study abroad students was delivered also live via Microsoft Teams between 8-12 March and included presentations. The aim of all sessions was to welcome and orientate students to the university and the city. The level of engagement and attendance was a positive indication of the interest to start the academic year and have illustrated the new students’ enthusiasm to find out more about the university and their study journey that lies ahead. 

The 2021 academic year started on 15 March. Registration at the university began on 24 February and the students can register for their classes until mid-April 2021. While the majority of the programmes will be delivered online, some programmes will offer a combination of online learning and mask-to-mask activities. 

Nelson Mandela University values the diversity that the international students add to the university’s student body, strengthening the vision of internationalisation at home and the overall vision and mission of the university be a dynamic African university.

  • IEASA has been represented in the AIEA conference which offered the first day free to all members.
  • IEASA was represented at the first NIEA meeting of 2021 by Dr Lavern Samuels and Ms Orla Quinlan.

Dr Samia Chasi and Brightness Mangolothi Director: HERS-SA

  • Dr Chasi represented IEASA at HERS-SA Academy  in Cape Town
  • Orla Quinlan, IEASA President (2019-2020) on International Women’s Day: An historic first collaboration between HERS-SA, IEASA and Usaf’s transformation group. (List who was on the panel) and provide a link to the event. 
  • Dr Sami Chasi facilitated a workshop on Joint degrees at DUT

Warm greetings to all of our membership; colleagues; friends and all those that continue to express a keen interest in internationalisation, within the higher education aren. Please allow me to start off by expressing my sincerest gratitude and appreciation for the support I have received in my journey to becoming President of IEASA. It is with much joy, excitement and immense hope that I have accepted this baton to lead the organisation over the next year..

I must confess that I feel both humbled and honoured to be granted the stewardship of this venerable organisation. I am most grateful for the trust bestowed on me by the IEASA Council, the Directors’ Forum, and the broader IEASA membership. This fills me with boundless optimism for our shared future.

In the month of March 2021, we experienced an unprecedented start to our new academic year, which signalled a tumultuous period, filled with significant upheaval. For that reason, I consciously choose to focus my brief on the call for ‘Compassion and Cooperation for Change’.  Historically, social conflict and disease pandemics have served as catalysts for change, and so we should not be surprised that many are now calling for further transformation in higher education in particular, and in society at large. The past year has brought with it a series of changes, wherein some have lost family members, spouses, sons, daughters, parents, friends and colleagues. Universities across the board have experienced the immense loss of both staff and students. It would be remiss of me to underplay the    challenges incurred by the sudden switch from the way teaching; learning; research and international engagements are conducted and how this has in turn impacted our higher education ecosystem. I find it fitting therefore to call for compassion and cooperation for change in my foreword for the first IEASA newsletter for 2021, and my first communication in my new role as president.

At the start of this academic year, we find ourselves dealing with two parallel crises: the COVID-19 pandemic and the call for equal access to higher education, regardless of financial status. We have all been affected by these challenges, more especially members of university communities, who seem to bear the brunt of such burdens. IEASA’s main membership body consists of universities, as well as individuals employed at institutions that have expressed an interest in internationalisation, within the higher education sector. The general membership needs to lend its voice to all matters pertaining to internationalisation as IEASA is viewed as a leading light in this regard. This is with particular reference to the proactive engagement of the broader Study in South Africa campaign, the benefits of which are disseminated via various international channels.

As the incoming president of IEASA (2021/2022), I have been reflecting on how the organisation, and I as its new leader will be affected by these universal challenges. Much remains to be seen in this turbulent period, but what is certain is that the core mission of IEASA remains steadfast, and is  deemed to be more relevant than ever. IEASA remains committed to developing and advising its members, via its vast international networks and communities of practice. We can accomplish our mission through the free exchange of ideas within an ethical, interdependent and diverse community. Such a community will be made up members, office staff, and a cohort of international students from across the globe. As a firm believer in collective leadership, I consciously choose to focus my efforts on ensuring that proper stakeholder relations are established, fostered and advanced during my tenure as president.

I wish to remind all IEASA members that the need to work together, in terms of sharing of best practice and collective wisdom, has become even more important than before. As we celebrate the promulgation of the innovative Policy Framework for Internationalisation of Higher Education in South Africa, IEASA is poised to become an integral player within the sector. Furthermore, the policy compels South African higher education institutions to engage in what is termed comprehensive internationalisation. This basically means that internationalisation should ideally permeate all aspects of the core business within the university. The policy further encourages higher education institutions to develop innovative models for institutional internationalisation, that will help ensure that every student registered has equitable access to some form of international exposure and experience.

Taking note of the disparities within South African higher education institutions, I therefore call for the formation of strong communities of practice by IEASA members, as well as active participation in the implementation of the government policy. This will require collective wisdom, compassion and cooperation for constructive change. When we find ourselves motivated by values of empathy, compassion, and cooperation, we can bridge any differences that may arise. We can equally learn to understand one another better, and in this way enact meaningful and sustainable change.

In concluding, I would like to reiterate my belief that both empathy and compassion serve as  preconditions for mutual cooperation. Cooperation for me means coming together to find solutions for common problems, more especially on issues that we cannot overcome by working in silos. This will require us to listen to one another attentively and to appreciate each other’s perspective. It will require great resolve in order to inhibit our individual desire to merely dismiss those with whom we believe we do not share a common purpose.

Finally, I wish to offer my sincerest thanks and appreciation to the immediate Past President (2019-2020), Ms Orla Quinlan for all that she achieved during her term as president. I want to assure the IEASA membership that I will continue the great work she has started and that I willingly accept the baton, after serving as part of her Exco, during my term as Deputy President. With all of the new projects, processes and models I have in mind, I will certainly be calling on your continued support as members for their implementation.

I also want to take this opportunity to wish you as the general membership, every success in all of your endeavours during the 2021 academic year.