The University of Queensland leads change in resources sector

29 Apr 2021

This article was originally published in Australian Resources and Investments magazine.

The University of Queensland is reimagining the future of mining engineering through innovation in teaching and research – and a focus on sustainability.

UQ this year launched a reconfigured Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) degree that will put its graduates at the forefront of engineering trends from 2024 and beyond.

More UQ students are expected to pursue a career in resources by undertaking a Major in Mining Engineering and combining it with another engineering specialisation.

UQ plans to further enhance the focus on mining engineering in its combined Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)/Master of Engineering through an on-site project and short-form credentials.

“UQ is creating a new generation of resource engineers,” says Professor Ross McAree, Head of the School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering. “We are developing resource-sector engineers who have broader skill sets and who can address future challenges.”

UQ is ideally positioned to lead change in mining engineering. The University ranked first in the world for Mining and Mineral Engineering in 2018, according to the Shanghai Ranking. UQ has consistently ranked in the world’s top universities for mining-engineering education and is Australia’s largest tertiary provider of engineering education.

“Across UQ, there are exceptional capabilities in the resource sector,” says McAree. “We have extensive skills in engineering education, and in resources research through the Sustainable Minerals Institute, the School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering, and other UQ faculties. The university’s interdisciplinary focus on resources is one of its great strengths.”

Industry collaboration

More mining engineers are needed to drive growth in Australia’s resource sector and to develop and commercialise technologies. However, enrolments in mining-engineering programs in Australia are in long-term decline.

About one in 10 engineering students at UQ studies Mining Engineering each year. “Like other universities, UQ is not producing enough mining engineers to meet industry demand,” says McAree.

UQ consulted with industry and students on the redesign of its mining engineering programs, and McAree says some large mining companies challenged UQ to consider radical reform in mining engineering education.

“They want UQ to produce engineering graduates who can work across the sector in varied roles, have a mindset to drive change, and skills in sustainability.”

Students, says McAree, want to work in industries that drive positive environmental and social change. “Some students overlooked mining engineering because they equated the resource sector with climate change. They don’t yet understand mining engineering’s role in driving environmental outcomes or career opportunities in sustainability in the resource sector.”

Students also wanted greater flexibility in engineering education. Previously, UQ students had to choose to study mining engineering after they completed their first year. Some saw better career options in engineering specialisations that required less remote work.

New era of engineering education

In UQ’s Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), students specialise in mechanical, electrical, chemical, mechatronic, software or civil engineering in years two and three of their four-year program. In the final year, civil, mechanical and mechatronic engineering students can undertake a Major in Mining Engineer (or spread it over years three and four).

The goal is to develop engineers with a specialisation in civil, mechanical or mechatronic engineering, who also understand mining engineering fundamentals. “There is an industry need for engineering graduates with deeper understanding of mining practices,” says McAree.

The UQ Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)/Master of Engineering will have a fifth year incorporating work-integrated learning and short-form credentials on surface and underground mining, short-cycle control, value-chain optimisation, and sustainability and mine closure.

McAree is excited about workplace learning. “We will integrate the final year of the combined degree with mining company graduate programs. Essentially, students will work onsite with a potential employer.”

The School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering also intends to launch a Master of Professional Engineering in Mining Engineering (pending university approval).

McAree believes changes will lift student numbers in the Mining Engineering major to 60-100 annually, from 10-15 now.

Outstanding research

UQ’s new approach to mining-engineering education leverages the research strengths of the School and those of the Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI). Consisting of six research centres, including a Centre of Excellence in Chile and a technology transfer company (JKTech), the SMI is one of the world’s largest university research hubs in resources.

It has a strong track record in exploration, mining, mineral processing, workplace health and safety, mine rehabilitation, water and energy, social responsibility, and governance. In addition to depth of expertise, UQ also has strategic programs examining key future issues facing the minerals industry -Unlocking Complex Orebodies, Governance and Leadership, Development Minerals, Future Autonomous Systems and Technology, and Transformational Learning

UQ and The University of Western Australia are hosting the Cooperative Research Centre for Transformation in Mining Economies (CRC TiME). Launched in 2020, the CRC secured $30 million in Federal Government funding. Its 74 partners are contributing a further $100 million to the CRC.

SMI Director Professor Neville Plint says the Institute continues to evolve its research focus to address sustainability challenges facing the sector. “As the world moves from carbon-based energy sources to renewables, the SMI is helping Australia’s resource sector achieve a just transition to a low-carbon future. We’re developing future resource-sector leaders who can be effective in leading multidisciplinary teams to address global sustainability and social responsibility challenges by creating an environment that encourages rigorous multi-disciplinary challenge led research. Our last 50 years of research has focused on making mining sustainable. We are now also focused on mining contribution to global sustainability through responsible resource development.

Plint says the SMI collaborated on UQ’s new engineering programs through its transformational learning program. “UQ researchers are investigating what the future of work in mining looks like. That research helped inform the changes in UQ’s mining engineering programs, which in my view are exceptionally well designed for a fast-changing resource sector.”

The new structure of the curriculum enables broader disciplinary contributions from academics engaged in social responsibility, environmental management, health and safety, leadership and governance to the final year of UQ’s Bachelor of Engineering/Master of Engineering programs. “Our people take cutting-edge research insights and often deep industry expertise, and apply that in the classroom,” says Plint.

“The resource industry recognises that sustainability is a huge opportunity and threat. Australia needs more mining leaders who can work across disciplines and solve complex sustainability challenges in a responsible way.”

To learn more about engineering at UQ, visit For information on the Sustainable Minerals Institute, visit