Young data pioneers polish their skills at top universities

Stellenbosch University. Picture: Stellenbosch University/Facebook.

Stellenbosch University. Picture: Stellenbosch University/Facebook.

Published Nov 27, 2022


Johannesburg - Data has been described as the “new gold”. It’s said the power of data analytics to transform business performance has become better understood, but South Africa has too few specialists in this field.

Now, a band of big data boffins will be applying their substantial intellects to some of the critical problems of our time at top local universities - as beneficiaries of an annual fellowship established by leading fashion and home-ware retailer TFG.

Institutions of higher learning that will participate in the programme include the University of KwaZulu Natal, the University of Pretoria, the University of Witwatersrand and Stellenbosch University.

Studytrust is assisting with the administration of the programme, including advertising for applications, engaging with the students to inform them of the process, and being part of the initial interview process. They will also assist with the documentation and record keeping, disbursements of the funds, regular communication with the universities, and ongoing communication with the students. Candidates applied and went through an interview process with Studytrust, as well as two sets of TFG interviews.

Adjudicators considered needs, academic records and the students’ future aspirations. The Data Science and Leadership Fellowship funds outstanding young South African students in the field of data science to accelerate the development of one of the country’s most scarce and critical skills. TFG CEO Anthony Thunström said data scientists are the pioneers of a better future.

“They hold the key to solving some of the most pressing challenges facing our country and the world. Harvesting insights contained within big data, they can help to focus scarce resources where they are needed most, at precisely the right scale to make the biggest impact,” he said.

Thunström added that data is key to modern businesses and even more so for a leading retailer like TFG.

“Our vision, to create the most remarkable omnichannel experiences for our customers, is enabled by mining data for the sharpest, most relevant insights and the ability to assimilate and interpret a multitude of data points in a complex, ever-changing environment. We want to build a pipeline of data specialists for our business and our country,” he said.

A recent World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report listed data analysts and scientists, artificial intelligence and machine learning and big data specialists as the top three roles in demand, while data occupations are listed as scarce and critical skills on South Africa’s National Critical Skills List.

The Western Cape Provincial Government also listed data scientists as one of the occupations that are crucial for the National Recovery Plan.

The fellowship will fund the first and second year of study towards either a research or coursework MSc in data science across five leading South African universities. Successful candidates will be selected on the basis of academic excellence and high levels of innovation, creativity and leadership. The fellowship is open to all South Africans, although preference will be given to under-represented groups.

“Data analytics can be just as powerful in transforming the public sector and accelerating South Africa’s development as it is in enhancing business performance. We could use big data to identify gaps in public services, from transport to water supply and education, and direct scarce resources more efficiently and effectively,” said Thunström.

The Saturday Star