Huawei SA has launched a 5G course at two universities in Gauteng, with plans to expand the programme across the country.
Internationally recognised as one of South Africa’s foremost computer scientists, entrepreneur Stafford Masie gave academics food for thought at a high-powered forum addressing “Universities powering Africa’s renaissance for the Fourth Industrial Revolution [4IR]”.

“I think that the way we teach children at school today will not be the way we do so in the future. I look at my own children and see that a lot of the knowledge required for the future, they won’t be taught at school. Imagination, for example, is not something taught at school.”

Masie, the founder of innovative payment platform for small business Thumbzup, said the notion of going to university is already gone, with the rapidly increasing number of online courses one could take around the world, even at institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Cambridge in the US.

“Now it’s about self-drive. Education is a human story, not about textbooks only,” he said.

In his address entitled “A Call for Reimagination”, Masie, who worked for US firm Novell and helped establish Google in South Africa, told academics that students must be taught to harness the best of artificial-intelligence technology for harnessing good.

The power of love

Echoing the spirit of late Apple founder Steve Jobs, Masie said the greatest 4IR weapon, asset, attribute, value, competitive edge, strength or edge that any leader, enterprise, start-up or individual must employ today is love. “It is the most powerful force in the universe and the substrate required to mitigate a very possible dystopia,” he said.

Masie was the keynote speaker at the recent Times Higher Education (THE) Africa Universities Forum held in partnership with the University of Johannesburg in Rosebank.

Academics from South Africa and the African continent explored how Africa’s universities should develop awareness to strategically increase funding, reputation and research opportunities.

They also heard about the Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings and how universities fared in terms of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

This forum aimed to assess the institutional leadership required to foster excellence; explore how diversification of the African academy can prepare graduates for 4IR; and debate how the arts and humanities can play an important role.

As a starting point, Will Sanchez, regional director (Latin America and Africa) at Times Higher Education, spoke of the importance of data and its influence on reputation management solutions.

He presented research undertaken by the World 100 Reputation Network that surveyed and interviewed academics who had completed reputation surveys in which they said that “many cited news and online media as how they had heard of universities that had impressed them”.

“Reputations are built primarily on the foundation of high-quality activities, outputs and achievements, but professional communications, marketing and stakeholder engagement can play an important role in building a clear and distinctive identity and a compelling narrative for the university,” Sanchez told delegates.

During a hiring solutions masterclass, THE strategic solutions director Nick Davis discussed how Africa could compete in the global market, saying that the challenges facing African universities were broad and varied.

“The issues faced by a public university here in South Africa may be wildly different from those faced by a private institution in Nigeria, for instance.

“These challenges are ones that I have encountered working with the universities here in Africa, but are as common in developing markets in the East and occasionally even established ones in the West,” he said.

“One of the most common arguments I hear as to why universities are not undertaking international searches for faculty and staff is that they do not have the money to match the salaries that universities in the UK, US, Australia and now China are offering,” he told delegates.

However, Davis warned that political instability remained one of the biggest threats to university internationalisation.

“It’s fair to say that Africa has suffered her fair share of political hardships, with the current difficult times in Zimbabwe being a perfect example. But this kind of instability is global. Even the international powerhouses of the US and the UK are struggling against political regimes who would see them close their borders,” he said.

In 2016, the day after it was announced that Donald Trump would become the next US president, Davis said there was a tenfold increase in candidates looking for jobs in Canada, with a large share of those job seekers hailing from the US.

While employing local staff is critical, he said, internationalisation is as important. It was a theme expanded on by speakers on the second day, including vice-chancellor of the University of Pretoria, Professor Tawana Kupe, who said internationalisation enables institutions to compare teaching and learning facilities and teach courses across continents using technology, such as video calling, allowing for it to happen in real time.

Agreeing with keynote speaker Masie, Nico Jooste, director of the African Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation at Nelson Mandela University, said he too believed that within the 4IR context, it’s all about humans in tertiary space, ensuring that they become globally competent to contribute to the advancement of the African agenda.

“Data shows that a lot of doctorates are coming out of Africa, but they are not connected to the world, so we need to rethink how we do business. It’s not only about ranking and competitiveness but about becoming more involved in collaboration,” he said.

While the forum aimed at helping universities improve through performance analysis and benchmarking, the majority of the presentations enabled the audience to compare their institutions with the world’s elite universities to give clear insight into their strengths, opportunities and global reputation.

But they have their work cut out to ensure that they take up the 4IR cudgel and make sure it is embedded in the tertiary education culture with a view to doing things differently and - as Masie urged - making a difference for the greater global good.

The Sunday Independent