General FAQ

What is NGA(MaSS)?

The acronym NGA(MaSS) stands for National Graduate Academy for Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. It is a consortium of South African universities that collaborate around the training of the next generation of mathematicians, statisticians, and data scientists. The main objective is to pool existing expertise and resources across the National System of Innovation in order to empower students enrolled for Masters and PhD degrees as well as early career academics who graduated with their PhDs within the previous 5 years. See the NGA(MaSS)’s main website for more information https://www.up.ac.za/nga-mass.

What is NGA-Coursework?

NGA-Coursework is a centralized platform for pooling the teaching resources of South African universities in offering master’s and PhD level coursework in mathematics. The model of centrally pooled resources is based on similar programs that have been running successfully in The Netherlands (https://elo.mastermath.nl/), Scotland (https://smstc.ac.uk/) and Australia (https://ws.amsi.org.au/ and https://ss.amsi.org.au/).

Why pool resources in teaching postgraduate coursework?

It is inefficient for N universities to each offer an advanced course, N times over, on roughly the same material to their own (small) enrollment of postgraduate students. A more efficient allocation of resources is for one university, University X, to expend resources to offer an advanced course and all interested postgraduate students enrolled across all N universities to take this one course offered by University X.

There are many benefits to this resource allocation model:

  1. The best expertise can be put forward to offer a course.

  2. There are N-1 academics freed up who perhaps can offer N-1 different postgraduate courses on the platform that are aligned closer to their areas of expertise, thereby widening the course offering taught by experts in their respective fields.

  3. Students potentially have a wider choice of coursework to choose from and can build a broader and more robust foundation on which to build a research career.

  4. Students are not as isolated from each other, either geographically and/or through their choice of research topic, and have the opportunity to build more robust social and professional networks.

Why Discord and not ...?

Discord is a platform for communities. Discord allows for voice, video, screen sharing, and text messaging. In contrast to other platforms, text messages can be synchronous (think whatsapp) or asynchronous (think email) and are persistent. You should think of the NGA-coursework discord server discord as 'the online mathematics building'.

Student FAQ

As a student, my master’s/PhD degree requires that I take coursework. Can I take NGA-Coursework for this purpose and transfer the credit toward my degree?

NGA-Coursework will negotiate on students’ behalf where they are enrolled in a South African university to obtain appropriate credit toward coursework components required for their degree. At some South African universities credit is not given for course work, but it is indicated on their student transcript.

Whether the coursework will be recognized by universities depends on the rules of the institutions and their willingness to accommodate the initiative. Receiving formal credit for coursework for degree purposes is currently not automatic and the intention must be communicated by the student to the NGA-Coursework steering committee ahead of time.

As a student, why should I take advanced coursework? My degree is ‘research only’.

The subfields of mathematics are all related. To be internationally competitive as a research mathematician requires at least familiarity with the advanced concepts of many fields of mathematics, not just one’s own field of specialization.

Full participation in a number of formal courses will allow students to practice critical reading and listening skills, rapid high quality typesetting in LaTeX, and good oral communication. Lecturers will provide support in a friendly and safe environment for students to practise these skills.

Students will also meet their peers and lecturers from other universities, and will therefore have the opportunity to build more robust social and professional networks. This is far more important than one may think.

Do NGA-Coursework courses involve assessment?

Participants who wish to receive formal credit for coursework are required to complete all assessments. This is geared toward MSc and PhD students.

Participants may choose to not complete assessments while still participating by attending live lectures. This is geared towards academic staff and postdocs.

What will a course by NGA-Coursework be like?

Broadly speaking courses will follow a somewhat traditional model, with (online) lectures, (online) tutorials and some form of assessment. (Within reason, the exact teaching model will be at the discretion of the course designer).

Regardless of a course’s topic, all courses will aim to place at least some weight on transferable skills in a friendly environment: E.g., unambiguous technical writing and typesetting of mathematics (written assignments), critical reading of mathematics (peer grading), technical verbal communication (oral presentation).

An example course model may be: A six week course with 12 hours of (online) lectures, 12 hours of (online) discussion and three forms of assessment:

  1. One or two written assignments (students gain experience in technical writing and typesetting),

  2. A guided peer grading assignment where students comment on each others’ work (students gain experience in critical reading of mathematics),

  3. An oral presentation. (students gain experience in verbal communication of a technical subject).

What will be the mode of presentation for NGA-Coursework?

All courses will be presented as ONLINE. (The default will be for coursework to be presented online on the NGA-Coursework discord server. Discord provides a convenient platform for screen sharing, as well as synchronous-- and asynchronous text communication).

What is the tuition fee?

There is no tuition fee for any participants. Priority will be given to MSc and PhD students enrolled at a South African university.

Will I receive a certificate?

Yes. Depending on the level of participation, students will receive a certificate according to their level of participation in a course.

There are three tiers of certificates that participants may receive.

  1. Attendance. All live lectures are attended, but no assignments or presentations are completed. This is appropriate for university staff members and/or postdocs who may only have a casual interest in a subject.

  2. Full participation. All live lectures are attended, and all required written assignments and student presentations are completed to a sufficient level of quality. This tier is geared toward MSc and PhD students. However, all MSc students, PhD students, postdocs and university staff members may participate at this tier. Students who may want to receive official credit toward a coursework component of their degree must participate at this tier.

  3. Full participation (with distinction). Same as “Full participation” with all required written work of exceptional quality which is typeset in LaTeX and all required oral presentations presented at an exceptionally high level.

I am not enrolled at a South African university. Can I still take a course from NGA-Coursework?

Priority will be given to students enrolled at South African universities for a postgraduate degree. International students enrolled for a postgraduate degree at an international university may also apply to take courses offered by NGA Coursework. Admission will depend on available resources.

Supervisor FAQ

As a supervisor, why should I encourage my postgraduate students to take advanced coursework? Their degree is ‘research only’.

NGA-Coursework aims to build skills that will be useful to students outside of their topic of specialization.

LaTeX typesetting of written components will be strongly encouraged (but not required), and support will be provided. Oral presentations may form part of a course requirement with emphasis on clear communication, which is a different skill to writing. Peer evaluation may form part of the assessment model, which encourages the critical reading of mathematics in students (just because it is in a book, does not mean that the mathematics is correct).

Students will be strongly encouraged to discuss problems amongst themselves, which will have the secondary effect in strengthening the bonds of community amongst young mathematicians who are often socially isolated, either through geographic location and/or by their choice of research topic.

A very important aim of NGA-Coursework is to deliver students that are more ready to commence thesis writing (masters or PhD) and who are comfortable in engaging within the mathematics research community in South Africa and abroad.

Staff / postdoc FAQ

I am a staff member / postdoc. May I attend NGA-coursework?

Yes. You are most welcome.

I want to participate fully. May I complete the assessments?

Yes, however priority will be given to MSc and PhD students who participate fully.

Staff and postdocs who aim to complete the assessments themselves should consider becoming part of the teaching team for the course -- either formally or informally. Do contact the lecturer of the course and negotiate terms and/or potential remuneration.

I would like to present a course. How do I go about it?

Please contact the current chair of the NGA-coursework steering committee for more information. Proposals may be submitted on the Course Proposals page.

There are some points to keep in mind:

  1. The course material should be accessible and of broad appeal so as to be able to attract students even from outside of the specialty.

  2. The nominated lecturers should have excellent communication skills and be experienced and comfortable in an online lecturing environment.

  3. The nominated lecturers should preferably be experts in the field.

  4. Regardless of a course material, assessment should also place weight on transferable skills: E.g., unambiguous technical writing and typesetting of mathematics (written assignments), critical reading of mathematics (peer grading), technical verbal communication (oral presentation).

What online environment is used for presenting courses? May I use the tool …?

The default online environment for activities is the NGA-coursework discord server. Discord allows for video and screen sharing as well as synchronous and asynchronous text communication in a centralized online space. Using a centralized space is important for the soft goal of community building. Deviation from the default may be permitted, but should be discussed with the steering committee.

What about funding?

Please contact the current chair of the NGA-coursework steering committee.

At this early stage, funding for the presentation of coursework is applied for on an ad hoc basis. The NGA-coursework steering committee will assist potential lecturers for coursework in applying for funding from NGA(MaSS). Funding typically includes costs for human resources: lecturers’ honoraria, assistants’ honoraria, and administration costs.