The critical question is whether higher education has the ability to respond with the required speed to the changes the fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) during the Tshwane University of Technology’s 2019 Research and Innovation (R&I) Indaba that took place from 4 to 6 November, at the Pretoria Campus, this and a number of other key questions were discussed.
Dr Phill Mjwara, Director General at the Department of Science and Innovation deliberating on the White paper at the indaba.
These conversations highlighted that the 4IR offers mega potential to transform and realign the South African economy and our society. To equip students for the 4IR requires a holistic approach to curriculum development and teaching that will give them the ability and agility to keep pace with innovation and meet the challenges of this new world of work.
The Indaba brought together academics, students, research and innovation agencies, government officials and various research stakeholders for three days of debates, discussions and celebrations.
Day one focussed on the University’s state of readiness for the fourth Industrial Revolution. Day 2 was all about Research Engagement and Internationalisation, funding opportunities, research collaboration and exchange programmes. The third day’s discussion included Innovation and Technology Transfer Intellectual Property, commercialisation, funding mechanisms, technological innovations Industry 4.0 and community engagement.
The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, a thought leader on the impact of the 4IR on higher education in South Africa, as well as the Deputy Chairperson of the national commission appointed by the president to formulate 4IR strategies for South Africa, delivered the keynote address through a pre-recorded video. He shared an interesting view on the Metamorphosis of Research: A Focus on the fourth Industrial Revolution. “The fourth industrial revolution is characterised by a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between cyber, physical and biological systems.
This has led to rapid advances in fields such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and 3D printing. Universities should not sit back and wait for change. We have the responsibility to lead our societies to have the same experiences as elsewhere in the world,” he said.
Speaking about the new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation on the second day of the Indaba, Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General at the Department of Science and innovation, indicated that the series of indabas is an opportunity to improve the interface between research development and implementation.
“There has been growth in the amount of research produced since 1994, but a lot of this information is produced in a utilitarian manner. We have a situation whereby, in many cases, research is shaped purely by funding and not based on the quality and significance of the work,” said the Director-General.
“We want to ensure that an increasing amount of research and knowledge production is done at our very own universities. Moreover, another issue is that the nature of our work means we cannot separate academics or researchers from policy development and later implementation. I must admit that we are seeing a great move in this direction,” he continued. DG Mjwara also expressed the hope that the Research Indaba would not just be a meeting, but evolve to a continuous discussion between officials, researchers and policy developers as they grapple with the key opportunities and challenges that come with research and innovation.
Dr Thandi Mgwebi, DVC: Research, Innovation and Engagement said that, “As academics, we are debating and relentlessly discussing the need for innovation in all spheres of society, research, the economy and higher education. The 4IR is our greatest opportunity to achieve this. Hence, we are evaluating our state of readiness for the 4th industrial revolution”.
Research presented at the Indaba covered a range of interesting topics, including Navigating Scholarly Publishing in the 4th Industrial Revolution: Opportunities and Pitfalls; Seismology: An Earth Science distributed sensor network, Research landscape in the 4th industrial revolution; Nanotechnology and Public Engagement; and how intellectual property can grow your business. The line-up also included oral masters and doctoral presentations, and an elevator pitching session for three top finalists who made it to the KASI Hack-a-thon 2019 competition.
One of the common threads that emerged from the Indaba was the inevitable reality that all graduates face a world transformed by technology, in which the Internet, cloud computing, and social media create different opportunities and challenges for formal education systems. As students consider life after graduation, universities are facing questions about their own destiny, especially employment. These technologies, powered by artificial intelligence, are transforming the world to the extent that social concepts such as “post-work” are more-and-more defining the present period.
Prof Anish Kurien, Node Director at FSATI (the French South African Technical Institute) responded to this, indicating that the revolution we are currently facing requires certain skills that are not exactly the same as those required for the third industrial revolution, where information technology was the key driver. “These realities will undeniably require much more interdisciplinary teaching, research and innovation,” he said.
Other presenters and panellists at the indaba included: Tracey October-Vilakazi, Prof Alvaro Viljoen, Dr Roelf Botha, Prof Rasigan Maharajh, Dr Thabi Maitin, Nontombi Marule, Dr Priscilla Mensah, Dr Jabu Nukeri, Kimberly Bediako, Prof Edward Nxumalo, Prof Daniel Chowdhury, Dineo Modibedi and Yogani Reddy, Prof David Katerere, Kele Mopopyane and Prof Pius Owolawi.