Handbooks and rules

Candidates for postgraduate degrees must carefully read the appropriate degree/diploma rules set out in these handbooks, available at UCT Handbooks

  • Engineering & the Built Environment Faculty Postgraduate Handbook
  • General Rules and Policies (Book 3)
  • Student Support and Services (Book 5)

Supervision and attendance at the university

During the period of his/her registration, a higher degree candidate will be expected to be available to attend at the University for discussion with his/her supervisor. For persons who are not on Campus or who are based outside Cape Town the general rule for PhD candidates for many years has been that a supervisor may require one year of attendance during the total period of registration for the degree. For Master candidates the guideline has been one month per annum of attendance while registered for the degree. Nowadays, given the ease of communication by means of fax or email, a supervisor may at his/her discretion modify the attendance requirement. However, a candidate must be prepared to make him/herself available for discussion at the University if required.

Faculty best practice with respect to roles and responsibilities

Responsibility of the student:

  • To accept that the primary responsibility for his/her education rests with the student.
  • To demonstrate a reasonable work ethic and to make every effort to meet the normal throughput rate (2 years for a Masters student, 4 years for a PhD student).
  • To share ideas and to work collegially.
  • To participate in and to contribute to the life of the department.
  • To assist in the mentoring and orientation of fellow students from outside Cape Town.
  • To commit to co-publication with the supervisor.
  • To commit to constructive feedback at the end of the process.
  • To familiarise him/herself with the University rules, particularly with regard to plagiarism, and to commit to respecting those rules.

Responsibility of the Supervisor:

  • To provide quality supervision on a regular basis (as a guideline, a minimum of one hour per week).
  • To respond timeously to the submission of written work requiring feedback.
  • To arrange for a suitable replacement if the supervisor has to be absent for a lengthy period of time (more than three weeks).
  • To refrain from any form of sexual harassment.
  • To treat the student with unfailing respect and politeness.
  • To integrate the student into the academic life of the department. This should include the following:
    • Whenever possible, providing an opportunity for the student to teach undergraduate students in the candidate's area of growing expertise.
    • To organise a seminar by the student, involving staff and senior students in the Department. As a guideline each student should give one seminar a year with the first seminar to be delivered once the student’s research proposal has been developed to the satisfaction of the supervisor. A seminar should also be delivered within 4 months of the final write up of the thesis / dissertation. These sessions should be used by the head or postgraduate programme convenor to monitor the progress of each student.
    • To facilitate postgraduate students, on a voluntary basis, playing a mentoring role to undergraduate students - part of this function could include the early identification of serious stress and referral to appropriate forms of assistance.
    • To assist in the incorporation of the student into the social life of the department. 

Selecting a supervisor

Once students have decided on the broad research area in which they wish to work, it is necessary to identify a supervisor. Save in exceptional circumstances, the principal supervisor must be a full-time member of the academic staff or a person who has been accredited by the Faculty’s Postgraduate Planning & Administration Committee for supervisory purposes. Co-supervision by persons within or without the University is a possibility, but a person employed outside of the University may not act as principal supervisor.

Student-supervisor relationships are normally established through one of four processes:

  • The prospective student directly approaches a staff member
  • The prospective student approaches the Head of Department who will suggest a supervisor
  • The prospective student approaches the head of a research unit working in the broad field of interest who will suggest a supervisor
  • A staff member (usually with access to research funding) will approach the student, in order to encourage the student to undertake research in the staff member's area of research interest.

In the final instance, however, the Department allocates supervisors to students: the students do not select their own supervisor. It is an important function of the Head of Department to satisfy him/herself that the proposed supervisor has adequate knowledge and time to do the job properly. In the case of Doctoral candidates, the Doctoral Degrees Board is also charged with satisfying itself about the adequacy of the supervisor. Academic staff who do not have a PhD, will not normally supervise PhD degrees. In some cases, people who are experts in their fields and who do not have a PhD are suitable for supervision. In these cases, the Department must secure formal accreditation to act as a PhD supervisor from the Faculty’s Postgraduate Planning and Administration Committee.

Staff members should not accept the responsibility of supervision unless they have knowledge in the direct research area or if their workload is too heavy for them to discharge their supervisory duties satisfactorily. As a general guideline, no member of staff should supervise more than 8 postgraduate students at any point in time. Heads of Departments should review workloads annually to ensure a balance is maintained. For information on research areas offered in the various departments, see the EBE Faculty website.

Selecting a research topic

The selection of a topic for research may occur in two ways. Particularly in cases where the supervisor is part of an active research group, students may be invited to work on a topic identified by the supervisor. In other cases, the topic will be identified by the candidate. In all cases, however, it is the responsibility of the candidate to select the final topic. This identification and selection is seen as an important part of the research process.

MoU between postgraduate students and supervisor

In the case of PhD registration, the University has introduced a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to be signed in the first year of registration by both supervisor and candidate, clarifying issues relating to relative roles and responsibilities, timing, funding (if appropriate) and intellectual property. The University has produced a generic model of the agreement, but faculty-specific versions are allowed, with the approval of the University.

Before the start of the second and subsequent years of registration, a supplement to the MOU, consisting of two schedules (candidates’ plan of work for the year (schedule 2) and budgets and outputs (schedule 3) should be signed by both the candidate and supervisor. This process represents an annual review of progress and should preferably be undertaken at the end of each academic year. If in the opinion of the supervisor, adequate progress is not being made, the MOU should clearly lay down criteria (such as submission dates and milestones) against which further progress shall be measured). If progress continues to be unsatisfactory, the Doctoral Degrees Board may refuse re-registration.

In the case of a Master's registration, an MoU will also be required. A lack of progress should be formally documented and milestones set.


The relationship between supervisor and postgraduate student is an important one: if it is unsatisfactory it can significantly and negatively impact on the educational experience. If serious problems develop in this relationship, the student should normally:

  • Raise the matter with the supervisor and seek to resolve the matter personally.
  • If this does not resolve the matter, the problem should be referred to the Head of Department. If the supervisor is the Head, it should be referred directly to the Deputy-Dean charged with Postgraduate Affairs.
  • If the supervisor is the Dean or a Deputy Dean, the matter should be referred to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor with the research portfolio.


The issues of ethics and intellectual honesty are vital to university life. The EBE Faculty takes the issue of ethics in research very seriously and to this end has established a Faculty Ethics in Research Committee.

Students are required to apply for ethics approval through this online form.

Students are required to carefully read the following, available on EBE Ethics in Research:

  • The EBE Ethics in Research (EiR) Handbook
  • Research-Based Education Handbook

The terms of reference of the Faculty Ethics in Research Committee are to:

  • take steps to ensure the highest ethical standards in research by members of the Faculty; 
  • raise the consciousness of members of the Faculty (staff and students) regarding ethical standards in research;
  • review, in terms of ethical considerations, research applications submitted by members of the Faculty, student research, contract research and research activities undertaken by individual staff members. (details of how this will be done were under consideration at the time this booklet was sent to the printers);
  • raise the consciousness of the Faculty student body regarding plagiarism;
  • promote the education of the Faculty student body regarding proper and appropriate styles of referencing cited work;
  • provide assistance, upon request, to Heads of Department within the Faculty on matters relating to ethics in research; 
  • further the aims and objectives of the University Ethics in Research Committee insofar as they are applicable to research undertaken within the Faculty.


In academic work, researchers build on the ideas of others. This is a legitimate and accepted way of doing research. Plagiarism is using someone else’s ideas or words and presenting them as if they are your own. It is therefore a form of academic cheating, stealing or deception. Because plagiarism is an offence, all universities take a very serious view of anyone who is found cheating. Those who are suspected of having plagiarised, will be referred to the Vice-Chancellor or nominee for possible disciplinary action in terms of the rules on disciplinary jurisdiction and procedures (DJP1.1) as per UCT Institutional Statute, Institutional Rules, Related Legislation & Code of Conduct, available at UCT Legislation.

Not all plagiarism is deliberate, but even inadvertent plagiarism will be severely penalised. It is therefore your responsibility to know what will be regarded as plagiarism and to know how to avoid it.

A particular (and unfortunately growing) ethical issue is that of plagiarism. Plagiarism, in essence, is passing off someone else’s work as your own: it results from inadequately acknowledging sources of data, analyses and ideas. It is dishonest and it has no place at a university. If students are in any doubt on issues relating to plagiarism, they must consult their supervisor or the Ethics Committee. Instances of plagiarism will be taken to the University Court and may have very serious consequences, including rustication or even expulsion.

All Master candidates, at the same time of submission, are required to make a declaration, which should be included in the dissertation stating: “I know the meaning of plagiarism and declare that all of the work in the document, save for that which is properly acknowledged, is my own”.

If in any doubt regarding ethical issues relating to research, seek advice from your supervisor or Head of Department.

Presentation and submission of dissertation

At the conclusion of research, the candidate shall submit a dissertation or thesis for examination. This normally occurs after receiving an indication from the supervisor that the product is in a form which is acceptable for submission. However, a candidate is not debarred from submission without the supervisor's approval.

If a candidate intends submitting a Masters dissertation for examination he/she must inform the Faculty Office by submitting the completed 'Intention to submit' form, available at Faculty Master's Dissertation Information. The supervisor will then be asked by the Faculty Office to fill in an ‘Appointment of examiners’ form on which recommendations on external examiners are made.

If submitting a PhD thesis, the candidate must inform the Doctoral Degrees Board Officer by submitting the completed intention to submit form.

The closing dates for submission of the ‘Intention to Submit’ for the purpose of graduation are:     

  • for Master candidates: 16 July for persons hoping to graduate in December
  • for PhD candidates: 20 June for persons hoping to graduate in December.

The closing dates for submission of dissertations and theses are:

  • for Masters candidates: 16 February for persons hoping to graduate in April; 31 August for persons hoping to graduate in December
  • for PhD candidates: 15 August hoping to graduate in December.

All candidates submitting a thesis/dissertation, including candidates who submit a dissertation or a thesis before the beginning of the academic year or during the first quarter, must complete registration forms. If the thesis/dissertation is submitted before the first day of the academic year no fee is payable. If submitted after the first day of the first quarter or after the first day of the second quarter (up to the beginning of the second semester) a pro-rata fee may be rebated, depending on the date of submission, and at the request of the student. However, this will result in the termination of access to the UCT network and other infrastructure. In most cases a full year will be payable.

Please note that where a student is required to revise and resubmit a dissertation/thesis the student is required to re-register at the date of the letter of notification of the result, and the appropriate academic fee will apply. Further information can be found in the Fees Handbook (Book 12), available at UCT Handbooks.

Master paper requirement

This applies to students registered in his/her final year who will be submitting a 120cr/180cr dissertation. It is most important that candidates refer to the EBE Faculty Handbook, the Research Based Education for Masters and PhD booklet and consult their supervisors regarding this requirement.

Closing dates are 30 April (June graduation) and 30 September (December graduation).

Leave of absence

If you are a registered student at UCT and it is impossible for you to continue with your studies/research in the current year but you intend continuing in the following year, you must apply for leave of absence, by completing the Leave of Absence form which must be submitted via email to the postgraduate administrative staff at the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment.

An additional letter of motivation should include: your address, name, surname, student number, your reasons, the period for the leave of absence (i.e. whole year, 1st semester. (Jan – Jun) or 2nd semester (Jul – Dec), the name of your supervisor and what your intentions are when you return from the leave of absence. However, you should note it is the policy of the Faculty that leave of absence is not granted for more than two years.

Applications for the grant of leave of absence retrospectively will not be accepted.

For a candidate to be considered, if eligible, for a refund of fees already paid, application for leave of absence must be made before the deadline dates specified in the Fees Handbook (Book 12), available on UCT Handbooks.

Cancellation/discontinuation of studies

A candidate who wishes to discontinue his/her studies and not return, must complete a Cancellation of Registration form available at UCT Cancellations of studies and courses before the set deadline date (refer to the Fees Handbook (Book 12), available on UCT Handbooks for information on these dates and on eligibility for refunds). This form must be completed and submitted with his/her student card to postgraduate administrative staff at the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment. This is of critical importance because if a candidate leaves without cancelling he/she will still be liable for fees that are payable. Applications for retrospective cancellation of registration will not be accepted. There are specified dates after which a cancellation cannot be accepted or any fees refunded (details are in the Fees Handbook).