Xcel – opening closed doors in engineering

A second chance to achieve better matric results may just be the key to a thriving career in engineering. Through the innovative Xcel programme, the North-West University (NWU) is giving talented matrics whose final results stand in the way of their dream to become engineers the opportunity to pursue their passion.

Xcel allows students to repeat grades 11 and 12 by building new School-Based Assessment (SBA) portfolio marks - SBA being a portfolio of evidence that contributes to the final assessment in the matriculation examination. After completing the programme, students rewrite the National Senior Certificate exam in Mathematics and Physical Sciences under the supervision of the Department of Basic Education. If they receive better final marks, they may qualify for admission to engineering.

The one-year full-time programme comprises basic education in Mathematics and Physical Sciences and higher education through Academic Literacy Development subjects (ALDE 111 and ALDE 121 in the second semester). Students also attend two skills-orientated courses in Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Programming.

Life-changing and career-directing

The programme has introduced Lihle Vilakati to the many possibilities in the various fields of engineering. She joined this year and is close to completing the programme.

“It has changed my life in so many ways. I was so discouraged when I did not do so well in maths and science in Grade 12 and out of frustration started investigating other career opportunities.” Her father read about the programme online and encouraged her to enrol.

“It was a great decision. I believe it is taking me to where I want to be. I could address the problems I had with those subjects and greatly improve my marks. I even surprised myself by obtaining distinctions in some of the modules during the course of the programme.”

Lihle is now looking forward to starting her first year as an NWU student in Computer Engineering in 2024.

Skill-developing and study-enriching

Boitomelo Matsobane is currently a fourth-year student in Mechanical Engineering. He says the Xcel programme, which he completed in 2018, equipped him with all the skills he needs to be successful in the field.

“I always wanted to make a difference in communities. I grew up in the township where many of my family still live. One thing that always bothered me was the many garbage dumps and litter that dirty the area. I am determined to have an impactful career in engineering and that is why my research project is exploring the possibilities of converting waste into electricity. Without Xcel laying the groundwork, I would not have been able to pursue this.”

Boitomelo is now well on his way towards realising his dream to be an engineer. “One of the greatest things about the Xcel programme is that it inspired me. It shaped me and taught me various skills that are crucial to the engineering field, such as thinking out of the box and effective time management, and trained me in using the right technology to achieve a specific task.”

Xcelling to project manager

“I have come such a long way from at first not being admitted to study Engineering to where I am now, working at the NWU in the field of computer and electronic engineering,” says JP van Deventer.

After completing Xcel, JP obtained his Engineering degree in 2020, completed a master’s degree in 2022 and is currently enrolled for an MBA degree, while also being a full-time employee. He works as a project manager with the NWU’s engineering team on their Cybathlon projects.

JP was part of the first cohort of Xcel students in 2016. “One of the most important impacts Xcel has had in my career is that it enabled me to surround myself with engineers and explore opportunities in the field. I am grateful that I could also share some of what I learned during the Xcel year,” says JP, who has also lectured and presented modules in the Xcel programme.

More about Xcel

“It is all about opening closed doors. There are many reasons why intelligent and talented school learners may acquire bad marks in crucial subjects. These include anything from exam fears, physical illness, depression and ineffective time management to external factors such as financial and domestic difficulties and inadequate education,” says Elza Hattingh, manager of the Xcel programme.

“Xcel helps motivated students to bridge the gap between the minimum 40% end mark admission requirements for Mathematics and Physical Sciences to the 70% needed to be admitted to study Engineering.”

Elza says she is very proud of the Xcel students and their achievements through the years. “We have seen wonderful examples of passionate and dedicated students who beat the odds to thrive in industry and academia.”

Are you the right candidate for the Xcel programme? According to Elza, the most important traits of successful Xcel students are to be motivated, hard-working, disciplined and committed to attending all the classes.

For more information, visit Xcel-programme | engineering.nwu.ac.za, or contact Sonette Becker on 018 299 1318.


Lihle Vilakati is currently completing the Xcel programme. “It is a wonderful opportunity to meet interesting people and become part of the engineering community.”


Boitomelo Matsobane is a fourth-year student in Mechanical Engineering. He believes the Xcel programme, which he completed in 2018, equipped him with all the skills he needed to successfully pursue a career in the field. “It was a period of 10 months during which my life was completely transformed.”


JP van Deventer says what makes the Xcel programme unique is that it introduces learners to university life before starting their official studies. “It helps you to gradually prepare for all the challenges of being a student while teaching you how to cope and excel in your academic career.”


Elza Hattingh is an expert in the field of university admissions. She conceptualised and compiled the Xcel programme. “It has had a great impact on the future of many talented engineers who might not have been able to pursue their careers without the opportunities it created.”



Submitted on Mon, 11/06/2023 - 11:35