The importance of internationalising the maritime curriculum

Moving towards relevance, responsiveness and resilience through the Internationalisation of the Curriculum, for a more varied introduction into the Maritime Industry


Internationalisation of the curriculum is one of the six drivers of the Durban University of Technology’s Strategic Plan (2015 to 2019). For DUT, internationalisation of the curriculum involves the “incorporation of international dimensions into the activities and functioning of the university so as to build global citizens; and embedding comprehensive internationalisation across the university so as to benefit the university and all its staff and students”.

To ensure that graduates are “relevant, responsive and resilient”, universities in many parts of the world have been involved in internationalising the curriculum for decades. Today, curriculum design goes far beyond disciplinary content and compliance with international standards; but also incorporates the employability and success of graduates, and supporting pedagogical approaches.

The importance of internationalising the maritime curriculum cannot be over-emphasised, as graduates will be exposed to a globalised work environment, whether they are pursuing a career at sea or ashore. Nautical Studies graduates will work onboard vessels manned with multi-national, -lingual and -cultural crews; and interact with port personnel across the globe. Locally, Shipping and Logistics graduates will work for international shipping companies, liaise with clients around the world, interact with foreign crews, or be exposed to projects in neighbouring countries.

Internationalisation of the curriculum can take many forms and comprise varied activities to best suit the discipline. Since 2012, the Department of Maritime Studies at DUT has been involved in a number of activities to internationalise the curriculum. These include the attendance of international conferences, mobility of students and staff, embedding internationalisation in the curriculum and international collaboration.

Attendance of International Conferences: During the past five years, staff members have attended and participated in several international conferences on maritime education and training. In addition the DUT hosted the 23rd International Maritime Lecturers Association Conference in 2015. Through participation at these conferences, staff are exposed to best practices in maritime education and training which may thereafter, be incorporated into the teaching, learning and assessment practices at the department. Such practice enables responsiveness and relevance in our programmes.

Mobility of Staff and Students in 2016: The department’s shore-based lecturer had the opportunity to attend a three week workshop in Shanghai. Twenty participants from across the world were exposed to changing global trends in technology, operation, management, administration, policy, and economy relating to the maritime industry. The programme also included cultural exchanges. These trends will be incorporated into the Diploma in Shipping and Logistics.

The department actively supports the development of students as global learners. Seven students participated in a two week Winter School in Fuzhou, Fujian Province. These students were amongst the top achievers in Mandarin, a non-credit bearing module offered by the Confucius Institute at DUT. The programme included the enhancement of Mandarin and visits to natural, historic and cultural sites in Fuzhou.

The top achieving student across the five levels of study attended a four week International Summer School, hosted by the Shanghai Maritime University. During this period, students were engaged in Chinese culture, particularly maritime history and ethos.

All expenses in China were sponsored by the Confucius Institute and Shanghai Maritime University, while the Department of Maritime Studies and the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences sponsored international flights. The department intends supporting these programmes in the future.

Embedding internationalisation in the curriculum: Since not all students will have the opportunity to travel abroad while studying at the university, internationalisation is embedded in core and elective modules. Global case studies and comparison of national and international practice is included in Core Modules, whilst, in accordance with international best practice, all DUT undergraduate programmes include General Education Modules. These modules include elements of internationalisation and students are required to choose a total of six modules from electives across the University curriculum.

To further bolster internationalisation, Maritime Studies will include Mandarin, French and Portuguese as part of the department’s general education elective in 2018. These modules will include basic language skills, history, culture and related topics of the countries where the language is spoken. It is envisaged that the three foreign languages will be further developed by the General Education Unit at intermediate and advanced levels.

International Collaboration: There has been two-way movement of staff between DUT and the Shanghai Maritime University since the signing of the MOU between the two institutions in December 2015. The MOU has also resulted in the inclusion of DUT students in the International Summer School in Shanghai.

A second international collaborative project that the department is involved in is the Virtual Reality Pedagogy Project. The Warsash Maritime Academy (Southampton Solent University) is the lead university in the project. Other participants include Dalian Maritime University, Shanghai Maritime University, Jimei University and Memorial University – Newfoundland. The aim of the project is to develop a good practice approach to synthetic teaching and learning using Virtual Reality (VR) based technology that will support education in the commercial maritime domain and deliver cost-effective immersive training solutions to enhance student engagement.

In January 2016, DUT’s Department of Maritime Studies became the first department in South Africa to offer maritime related undergraduate programmes. These programmes are aligned to the new Higher Education Qualification sub-Framework, accredited by the Council on Higher Education, registered by the South African Qualifications Authority and funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Despite the rigorous quality assurance process related to new programme accreditation, criticism from certain sectors of the maritime industry on the three year Diploma in Nautical Studies, still remains. Arguments appear to be based on a model employed more than thirty years ago. A model that worked when South Africa had ships on its register. However, that environment has changed significantly and DUT graduates now depend on international shipowners for cadet training berths and future employment.

Globally, maritime education and training has evolved beyond the disciplinary content of DUT’s former ND: Maritime Studies. Today’s seafarers are required to have technical, people and conceptual skills. To equip students with such skills, it is essential for educational programmes to incorporate student-centered teaching, learning and assessment practices; graduate attributes; general education and internationalisation into the curriculum.

As an emerging maritime education department, it is imperative that we focus on quality graduates. Graduates who are relevant, responsive and resilient and are equipped to excel in the dynamic, global maritime arena. 

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Issue 2020