Australia’s great mining universities

Scarlett Evans 6 August 2020 (Last Updated August 5th, 2020 11:26)

This year’s QS World University Rankings - renowned for its listings of global university courses - included five Australian universities in the top ten mineral and mining engineering courses. We round up the best to profile their offerings, and how they’re keeping up with changing times.

Australia’s great mining universities
“Curtin is rolling out a revised curriculum for mining engineering, which incorporates robotics, data analytics, and additive manufacturing,” said Professor John Cordery. Credit: Kookyrabbit

As one of the leading global hotspots for mining activity, it is no surprise that Australia has consistently led the pack when it comes to mineral and mining engineering courses. This year’s QS rankings reflect this once more, and while the Colorado School of Mines landed the top spot, Australian establishments dominated the top ten. Curtin University claimed the global second, with the University of Western Australia, University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, and Monash following behind in the third, fourth, fifth, and seventh positions respectively.

While QS rankings are based on four metrics; academic reputation, employer reputation, research citations per paper, and H-Index (a measurement of scholarly productivity and citation impact), here we look a little closer at each course to find out their ethos and structure, as well as how they are adapting to mining’s ever changing landscape.

Curtin University

Speaking with Curtin University’s Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor John Cordery, he says that Curtin’s leading spot is a result of “high-quality research…high level of industry collaboration and…commitment to being an international leader across all fields of study.” Indeed, the program’s prowess is evident in its 93% employment rate for mining engineering students.

The course allows students to visit mines in a range of Australian regions, including iron ore mines in the Pilbara, and this access to real world experience in busy mining sites offers significant exposure to the practical skills required by industry members.

“As the majority of our mining engineering course is taught at Curtin’s Kalgoorlie campus,” Cordery says, “students also have the opportunity to study in the heart of Western Australia’s most notable mining town, and maximise their exposure to the industries that operate there…seeing first-hand the mining techniques and situations they are learning about in class.”

In addition, an awareness of technological advancements within the industry is, Cordery says, crucial in ensuring students are well placed for employment opportunities.

“As the industry moves rapidly towards remote and autonomous production, we recognise that the future employability of Curtin’s graduates will depend on our ability to respond to digital disruption,” Cordery says. “Recognising this, Curtin is rolling out a revised curriculum for mining engineering, which incorporates robotics, data analytics, and additive manufacturing.”

University of Western Australia

Professor John Dell, executive dean at the Faculty of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, credit’s the University of Western Australia’s (UWA) ranking to its partnerships with industry members, saying such collaboration has allowed for a consistent understanding of real-time developments and needs within the sector – including mining’s digital environment.

“UWA’s unique degree structure has enabled the development of a new and agile degree option, allowing students to study both mining engineering and data science together,” Dell says. “This broadens their career options and provides them with essential skills for the current and future digital revolution.”

Partnerships offered through the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Mining Engineering include both small and large operations, such as Pritchard Francis, Golder Associates, BE & E, and Main Roads – to name a few.

University of New South Wales

Professor Ismet Canbulat, head of School for Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), highlights technology as playing a crucial role in how they deliver a modern mining program. At UNSW, such digital systems are harnessed to offer students access to teaching resources from anywhere at any time; for example, CT-imaging capabilities and augmented reality offered for students’ use on their smartphones. Ties with industry members was also highlighted by Canbulat as crucial.

“Our courses are directly linked to industry, as we have significant research funding mostly sponsored/partnered by the industry,” he says. “Since we get involved in industry driven research, what we teach is usually the latest knowledge and technology.”

Indeed, the curriculum is due to implement new courses given the ever-shifting requirements for those wanting to work in the sector, incorporating a more holistic understanding of multiple disciplines.

“Until recently, the skills required by most mining engineers were focused on engineering knowledge and technical skills, as well as the hands-on application of those skills,” Canbulat says. “But things are changing. We are rapidly moving to an era of new skill requirements for engineers.”

This new skill set includes an understanding of economic factors, as well as navigating rapidly changing technologies including big data and data analytics, artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation.

University of Queensland

The University of Queensland (UQ) offers one of the best mining locations in the world, given its proximity to the Bowen, Surat, and Galilee Basins. As such, students are able to undertake work placements and site visits at some of the most active mine sites in the country.

However, Professor Ross McAree, the head of School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering at UQ, identifies keeping teaching relevant to a rapidly changing industry as the biggest challenge, given the ‘staggering breadth’ of knowledge that graduates are required to have.

“Not only do they require a detailed knowledge of geology, mining practices and methods, geotechnical engineering, mine design, and mineral economics,” he says, “but they are also expected to have knowledge in areas of emerging importance to the sector such as data analytics, artificial intelligence, and equipment and process automation.”

An 18 month review of the program was recently undertaken to adapt to this new industry climate, and resulted in the decision that students would first study the fundamentals of engineering before those interested in a career in resources take a mining engineering major. This unique structure is, McAree says, one of the assets that distinguishes the UQ program.

“A nice thing about the new curriculum model is it also allows us to upskill engineers who have been in professional practice for some years, adding to their skill sets and core mining engineering knowledge,” he explains. “They will be able to do this through micro-credentials that can be taken alone but can also be stackable all the way up to master of engineering-level qualifications.”

Monash

Dr Hossein Masoumi, head of Resources Engineering at Monash University says that one of the main advantages of Monash’s mining program is its ‘integrated structure’ with other disciplines including civil, environmental and renewable energy – which he says leads to a more adaptable program ‘with respect to industry dynamics’.

“Strong alignment with renewable energy under the resources banner is our key strength at national level,” he says, “where students can benefit from other engineering disciplines on a broader scale.”

The university also has an industry advisory committee (made up of industry representatives from mining companies), which ensures the university keeps up with any changes within the sector.

“Almost every possible practical or hands-on activity is available to our students during the mining program,” Masoumi adds. “We believe mining engineering is more of a practical engineering program where students need to be continuously engaged with industry on different capacities, including field trips, vac or internship programs, and also through industry invited guest lectures.”