PhD in Biomedical Engineering


This doctoral programme (PhD in Biomedical Engineering) is aimed at developing specialist researchers in biomedical engineering, with particular ability to develop new knowledge at the forefront of biomedical engineering technology. They will be able to develop novel, complex biomedical engineering systems by integrating the medical and the engineering domains. The graduates will be able to apply these systems to human patients, addressing healthcare needs of South Africa and of global communities.

The programme prepares the candidate for a research, academic or high-level consulting career. It requires a candidate to undertake independent research, with minimal supervision, at the most advanced academic levels culminating in the submission, assessment and acceptance of a dissertation, as well as two papers suitable for submission to peer-reviewed journals. Through the research that leads to the dissertation and paper, a graduate would develop the ability to evaluate the research at the forefront of biomedical engineering based on knowledge of the relevant literature and applicable research methodologies.

The defining characteristic of this qualification is that the candidate is required to demonstrate high level independent research capability and to make a significant and original contribution at the frontiers of biomedical engineering knowledge. The work must be of a quality to satisfy peer review and merit publication.

PhD programmes in biomedical engineering are offered by many leading universities internationally, e.g. KU Leuven (Belgium), University of Surrey (UK), John Hopkins University (USA), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, USA) and University of Sydney (Australia). The structure of the programme proposed here is aligned with those found in Western Europe. PhD programmes in the USA are also similar, but often contain an element of compulsory course work.

Selection Criteria for: PhD in Biomedical Engineering

Minimum admission requirements are a relevant research-based Masters of Engineering, Masters of Science, Masters of Engineering Science or the equivalent thereof at NQF-level 9; or other academic degree qualifications and appropriate experience (assessed using the regular “recognition of prior learning” procedures) that have been approved by the Faculty Board. Including, MSc (medical, biological, mathematical/physical and agri-sciences), MEng, MScEng. Students with a structured master’s degree will be considered if they have demonstrated their independent research ability, normally in the form of publications in peer reviewed journals.

In accordance with the Engineering Faculty’s “Minimum Standards Regarding PhD Registration”, students are initially only admitted to first year of the programme. To be allowed to continue after the first year of admission, each candidate is required to submit, within the first year of registration, a research proposal that contains a review of the relevant literature, research objectives, an explicit description of the intended original contribution, and a plan for the research. The student, in consultation with the supervisor, chooses the research focus. The research proposal is considered by a candidacy panel, which may also require an oral presentation by the candidate. The student is only allowed to continue in the programme after the first year of provisional admission if the candidacy panel submits a positive recommendation to the Engineering Faculty Board and the Engineering Faculty Board approves the research topic.
Only a limited number of students are selected annually, in accordance with the capacity to supervise students and the relevant faculty’s postgraduate enrolment plan. Equity targets are also considered in the selection process.

Each applicant will be individually assessed. The applicant must have attained the minimum admission criteria as specified. The selection process also considers non-academic criteria, such as communication skills, to ensure that students are appropriately equipped to achieve the proposed learning outcomes.
Students must find internal supervisors willing to supervise them on a provisionally outlined research topic before they are admitted.


Dissertation (Biomedical Engineering). The PhD in Biomedical Engineering programme comprises a major, independent research project aimed at making an original and significant contribution to biomedical engineering. The project will entail formulating objectives in the context of biomedical engineering, planning the project, surveying the relevant literature and a substantial part of own research to develop new knowledge at the fore-front of the discipline. Critical evaluation of the research results will also be required.

The research may be conducted on the Stellenbosch or the Tygerberg campus of Stellenbosch University. The existing assistance and support offered to postgraduate students at the respective campuses (where such degree programmes are already offered) will also be available to students in this programme. The University-wide examination and quality assurance processes will ensure that quality of teaching and learning is maintained. In addition, the Engineering Faculty’s standard quality assurance processes will be applied, unless the Biomedical Engineering Programme Committee formulates alternatives, with the approval of the three faculties involved

The student will be guided by a supervisor in regular (typically weekly or bi-weekly) meetings of the student with the supervisor. The student will also be required to write at least two papers suitable for submission to peer-review journals. The feedback received from reviewers will play a formative role for the student. Detailed feedback by the supervisor on drafts of the dissertation will play an important formative role.

In exceptional cases, some postgraduate modules will be prescribed to students as supplementary study to give them a sound biomedical engineering base for their research. The supplementary modules will typically be from the structured masters in Biomedical engineering. Substantial independent work is expected of postgraduate students in the modules, hence the relatively low contact time, to develop students’ abilities to master independently new knowledge and skills. Since the supplementary modules and research supervision will be offered by departments already offering similar modules and supervision, the teaching methods that have proved successful in the other teaching will also be applied in the new biomedical engineering programme.

The regular meeting between the student and his/her supervisor will be the main monitoring action. Students’ progress is also formally monitored once per year: All students will be required to annually complete a progress report, in which they critically evaluate their own progress and the programme offering as a whole. The student’s supervisor will also be required to formally evaluate the student’s progress once per year. These progress reports will be considered according to procedures determined by the Biomedical Engineering Programme Committee and corrective action taken where necessary.

Students will be allowed to register for this PhD in Biomedical Engineering programme for no more than four years of full time study, or seven years of part time study. If they do not complete the programme within that period, the student may apply for permission to register for one further year and such permission may only be granted by the Faculty Committee of the Engineering Faculty. A major consideration in granting the permission is whether the student is likely to complete the programme within the extra year.

The programme coordinator, or someone designated by the Director of the Institute for Biomedical Engineering, will meet once per semester (typically near the middle of the semester) with a representative group of students to get feedback from the students.

The student’s research proposal is evaluated by a candidacy panel before the student is permitted to continue beyond the 1st year, this is used to help ensure that only candidates with the minimum skills required and with a suitable research topic, are allowed to proceed in the programme.

In research-based programmes, such as this PhD, the reports of the examiners for students’ dissertations also contribute, in the long term, to the feedback to the faculty, since each student’s dissertation is examined by at least three unattached examiners, of whom two must be independent of the University and at least one must be from outside South Africa. A trend of increasing favourable or critical examiners reports will therefore be an indication of corresponding improvement or deterioration of the quality of the programme.

Final assessment is aligned with the University’s policy for the assessment of PhD dissertations as stated in the Engineering Faculty’s “Minimum Standards for Postgraduate Dissertation/Thesis Examination Procedures” and involves the submission of a written dissertation which will be examined by at least three unattached examiners appointed by the Faculty Board. At least two examiners will be external (i.e. not related to the University) and at least one of the externals will be from outside South Africa. Each of the examiners will submit a written, signed report on the dissertation. The examiners will also question the student during an oral examination before finalising their decision. At the oral examination, the candidate’s supervisor(s) must also stipulate that two papers suitable for submission to research journals were completed by the student. The Faculty Board ratifies the examiner’s recommendations, if all are positive. Otherwise, the matter is decided at Senate level.


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