Minister of Higher Education and Training Naledi Pandor said she would soon ask the National Treasury for more funding – and set up a ministerial committee – to ensure South Africa does not lag behind in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) race.
This is in addition to her announcement at a recent BRICS 2018 Future Skills Challenge in Midrand that technical and vocational education and training would get a R2.5billion boost to equip it with 4IR skills.
At the closing ceremony, Pandor said to ensure 4IR success, co-operation among BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – was vital to improve skills, strengthen academic ties and enhance student mobility. Sharing knowledge, research and innovation between academics in BRICS countries could strengthen integration, she said.
“If universities in BRICS collaborate successfully on research and teaching in student and staff exchanges, we can make a significant contribution to global knowledge.” She said the BRICS Network University was an education project underpinned by the 4IR, which had major implications for business and education.
BRICS Network University is a group of 60 higher education institutions from member countries – 12 from each of the five BRICS countries – established by BRICS education ministers to engage in educational and research initiatives across themes that include: university linkages and higher education mobility; technical and vocational education and training (TVET) exchanges; and sharing of education statistics and learning assessment experiences.
“We’re in the age of the pervasive influence of emerging technologies and artificial intelligence and need responsive skills and a development research focus and investment to benefit fully. Through its research partnerships, the BRICS Network University can help reduce the poverty, unemployment and inequality that characterise many countries in the developing world,” Pandor said.
It is crucial that South Africa introduce these 4IR skills as two-thirds of the children at primary school are likely to end up working in jobs that are not in existence today.
While she praised universities for developing 4IR skills, Pandor said much still had to be done to equip the country’s technical and vocational education and training colleges with related infrastructure. Ensuring that schools, colleges and universities prepared adequately for the 4IR was a critical requirement, she said.
Pandor said she would appoint a ministerial committee to address 4IR concerns. “Its remit will be to assess what is being done at different universities in the country and then to advise as to what my department should do to put us on a good edge in terms of participation in the digital revolution.”
She added it was high on her agenda to provide the infrastructure to bring colleges up to speed, so they could respond to the demands of new technology and contribute to employment creation and enterprise development in South Africa – but not all of her efforts would require funding, as she sought to draw on the existing experience of institutions in this area.
The minister added the challenges were not insurmountable and she was impressed at the steps being taken to ensure that South Africans were joining the digital innovation race.
“The Gauteng Department of Education’s introduction of technology to all schools has been a really bold step. We should encourage more provinces to do so. An older initiative in the Western Cape has also had a positive impact. All our universities are doing more, boasting digital facilities in libraries, and wireless is being used widely; certainly, they’re ahead of colleges,” she said.
Commenting on the BRICS 2018 Future Skills Challenge, Pandor said it was a unique initiative, enabling co-operation among the youth, through BRICS, to find solutions to challenges: “The focus on future skills differentiates this skills challenge from all other existing international skills challenges and competitions”.