UJ a model for other universities in 4IR, top Brazilian academic says

A top academic from Brazil and Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) believes that South Africa is making good progress in embracing and adapting to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). He said the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in particular was a model for other universities in leading the 4IR conversation in South Africa and the continent.

“Overall, I am very happy with what I am seeing in South Africa. I was very glad to see that the President of South Africa (Mr Cyril Ramaphosa) has set up the Presidential Commission on Industry 4.0 (Fourth Industrial Revolution). The reason I am happy is that South Africa is surging ahead of many countries,” said Prof Fernando Buarque from the University of Pernambuco in Brazil.

“You (South Africa) are absolutely on the right path, and I think that UJ is a model for other universities, not only in South Africa but in the continent and elsewhere, because you are taking this challenge very seriously,” he added.

Prof Buarque was among the delegates at the Times Higher Education (THE) Africa Universities Forum in Rosebank, Johannesburg, that took place on Wednesday and Thursday, 12 and 13 June, 2019. The Forum brought together higher education leaders, including vice-chancellors, from across Africa and other parts of the world. Topics discussed included the accuracy and relevance of current international performance metrics for African higher education, under the theme: “Universities empowering Africa’s renaissance for the fourth industrial revolution.”

The discussions delved into issues such as the latest data underpinning THEWorld Universities Rankings and whether South African universities should care about the global university rankings. Other issues included how diversification, internationalisation and decolonisation will prepare African graduates for the fourth industrial revolution.

Said Prof Buarque: “The fact that you were discussing this (4IR) in an in-depth way means that your country (South Africa) in a few years will be completely ready for the challenges that are involved in this revolution.”

University of Pernambuco and UJ have renewed their Memorandum of Understanding in areas like research and artificial intelligence. Since 2011 when he became a Visiting Professor at UJ, Prof Buarque has worked on various research projects, including supervision at postgraduate level as well as artificial intelligence tasks.

“Obviously, we (Brazil) have a big connection with South Africa, with the researchers here. One of the possibilities is to use artificial intelligence, just as we are doing in Brazil in areas like compliance, corruption and diminish the distance between universities, communities and industry and government. This will assist in ensuring that universities are not places for the few. We have to be working together with industry, government and so on.

“We have to find ways to put our skills together so that society profits from this revolution that is already here. New technologies are seminal, it is an irreversible phenomenon, and you cannot opt out. If you do that you are going to be dooming your people.”

Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UJ, said he was thrilled that the University had collaborated with THE World University Rankings to host the event.

“It is exciting that we have been able to bring all these diverse leaders across disciplines to share knowledge and expertise. There are people who were saying we are going to moving out of rankings. We believe that rankings are important to capacitate universities. It’s an excellent mechanism to bench ourselves with the world, the country and the continent. They make us a better university, whether it’s in teaching and learning or research,” he said.

Prof Marwala said for the universities to remain relevant, they should play a role in communities. “Education is really there to capacitate society so that people can enjoy the fruits of production. An informed population is able to make an informed, rational democratic choice. We have to take the universities into our communities. We should take our university system into communities and industries. If not, we don’t know what we do. Thirdly, universities should play a pivotal role in shaping the political dimensions of our society.”

Phil Baty, THE World University Rankings chief knowledge officer saidAfrican universities should be able to compete on a global stage and drive Africa’s renaissance. “Africa must ensure that it is on the forefront of this revolution, it can’t be left behind, because it is important for the success of the continent’s future.

Prof Fernando Buarque
Prof Fernando Buarque from the University of Pernambuco in Brazil
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