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History of the Department

The establishment of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in January 2005 was the result of a merger between three respected yet very different Eastern Cape tertiary institutions. The three institutions, the former University of Port Elizabeth (UPE) which was established in 1964, the former Port Elizabeth branch of Vista University which was established as a multi-campus University in 1982 and the former Port Elizabeth Technikon (PET) which was established in 1979, all provided formal statistical training although only UPE was a provider of post-graduate studies in statistics.

At UPE the Mathematical Statistics programme was started in 1965 under the tutelage of Professor GJJ van Zyl. At this early stage, the members of staff who administered the Mathematical Statistics curriculum resided in the Department of Mathematics. In the late 1960’s academics K Howard, AG de Wet and NAS Crowther joined UPE and in 1969 the Department of Mathematical Statistics came into being. These academics were the stalwarts of the department for many years to follow, and still today, former UPE students enquire as to “how is Ken Howard?”. UPE was the only of the three institutions to provide post-graduate statistical training. Statistical training at PET was restricted to service level courses offered to students in the Engineering and Science disciplines whilst PE Vista students were offered the opportunity to proceed to third year degree status. These graduates then had the opportunity to transfer to UPE to further their studies. With the subsequent establishment of NMMU it is interesting to note that one of the first UPE Statistics graduates from those early years, Johan Barnard, has returned to the Department in an academic capacity.

The 1970’s and 1980’s saw considerable growth in the UPE Mathematical Statistics department. In 1971 NAS Crowther became the first student to graduate with a UPE Masters degree in Mathematical Statistics. UPE acquired the services of Lize van der Merwe who subsequently became the Department’s first PhD graduate under promotership of Professor Crowther. The degree programme was expanded to include curricula in Mathematical Statistics, Statistics and Operations Research. Dr Nico F Laubscher was appointed full professor to strengthen the staff component in 1975 and stayed with the department until 1986. In 1984 AS Koorts became the Department’s second PhD graduate. Dr Koorts subsequently went on to become Head of Department (HoD). In 1995 Professor I Litvine, a graduate from Kiev University in the Ukraine, joined the Department and in 1996, after the departure of Professor AS Koorts, took over as HoD.

The Department of Mathematical Statistics has graduated many BSc, BCom and BA students over a period of 40 years. The number of senior post-graduate (Master’s and PhD’s) degrees during this period is 28, of which 24 are Masters and 4 are PhD degrees. Throughout this period the research output of the Department has covered a wide range of topics. Some of the more recent research includes variance component and tolerance interval estimation using a Bayesian approach (Johan Hugo) and statistical analysis of sports related issues such as predicting football results (Julia Keddie, PhD), statistical modeling of rugby scores (A Pretorius), analysing the efficiency of the horse race betting market (Gary Sharp, MSc) and “selecting a limited overs cricket squad using an integer programming model” (Hannah Gerber). An established area of research in the department is the theory and methods of paired comparisons. Several post-graduate studies having been undertaken, for example the computational procedures for paired comparisons (David Friskin, MCom) and SL-models for paired comparisons (Morne Sjolander, MSc).

Graduates of the department have been employed by other universities (Wits, Pretoria, Free State etc), several South African banks FNB, Nedbank, Standard Bank and ABSA employ the departments graduates, whilst industrial corporations Eskom and Daimler-Chrysler are known to have recruited our graduates. International companies Quintiles, SSI central (Gerhard Mels, PhD) and GMAC-RFC are also employers of the department’s graduates.

In addition to teaching and research, a consultancy service, was founded at PET in 1993 and at UPE in January 1995. The Unit for Statistical Consultancy (USC) was founded in the merged institution in January 2006, with Danie Venter as the director. The USC provides a comprehensive free statistical support service to all masters and doctoral students registered at NMMU and NMMU academics who are conducting non-contract research. The service, provided by two qualified statisticians, Danie Venter and Jacques Pietersen has been deemed essential to NMMU’s research efforts and is constantly in demand.

Currently the Department employs nine fulltime academics, several part-time lecturers, two fulltime administrative staff and numerous student assistants. Student enrollment continues to increase with the bulk of the students enrolled for introductory service level courses in Statistics. Joint collaborative research with other NMMU Departments continues to grow with numerous post-graduate supervision/co-supervision projects. Finally, the Department continues to provide post-graduate research programmes in Mathematical Statistics with one PhD candidate and five Masters candidates enrolled for this year.