The past, the present and the future at UP

Posted on September 20, 2019

At a time when the arts are claiming their rightful place among the most sought after 4IR subjects – what we refer to as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) – we are thrilled to be opening the Javett-UP Art Centre on our South Campus. 

This incredible new centre for the arts of Africa is all about exploring what makes us human, what inspires us to think, feel, act, innovate and advance. It’s the story of who we are, where we come from and the importance of Africa in the world.

A symbol of this is the Mapungubwe gold rhino and leopard, which will have a new home at Javett-UP’s interactive Gold of Africa Gallery where virtual reality will take us back to 900 to 1300 AD to experience the Mapungubwe civilisation.

Also at Javett-UP is the reappearance of Discovery by one of the continent’s  greatest 20th century artists, Alexis Preller. It was recovered from a disused building in Pretoria and will be seen for the first time in 30 years at Javett-UP’s public opening on Heritage Day, 24 September. People will be able to witness the restoration of this work as part of our new Master’s programme in Tangible Heritage Conservation, which is a first for Africa, and which spans the arts and sciences – what we call transdisciplinary research.

The upwelling of transdisciplinary research locally and globally offers a unique opportunity for universities to take the lead in creating new knowledge, and new ways of doing things. The trigger is this moment in history with its focus on one-world sustainability and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

The University of Pretoria (UP) recognises this, and we are pushing ourselves to be relevant to both the current and future context. To achieve this, in 2018 and 2019 we launched four key transdisciplinary innovations that have attracted leading local and global partners. They are:

Future Africa Campus

The Future Africa Campus is a continental asset for developing research that lays the foundation for civil society and the industries of tomorrow and addresses the wicked challenges and stresses that Africa and the world are facing today. These include the disappearance of biodiversity, climate change, a rapidly expanding population of unemployed youth, and growing inequality. All Future Africa research and innovation programmes are aimed at achieving a brighter future, underpinned by the ethos of sustainability, diversity and equity. Facilities include research commons, video rooms and a 300-bed facility, and we are inviting other African countries, academics everywhere and the private sector to work with us.

Engineering 4.0

Engineering 4.0 is a 35 000m ² hub for Smart Cities and Transport for economic development in a disruptive 4IR society, with the associated development of civil engineering skills, and technology and data sciences. South Africa has a critical shortage of these skills. Consider that we have one engineer per 3200 people, compared to one engineer per 130 to 450 people in Europe, North America, India and China.

Transportation is critical to economic prosperity. We are partnering with SANRAL and the CSIR, and using the latest innovative technologies for research, testing and training in everything from road surfaces to concrete to smart cars and smart public transport systems that facilitate mobility in rapidly urbanising environments.

Engineering 4.0. also shares its resources in technology and data sciences with all our other faculties via our Future Africa Campus to stimulate a convergence of expertise in everything from agriculture to artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, big data, cloud computing, logistics modelling, synthetic biology and bioprospecting, to name a few.

Javett-UP Art Centre

Javett-UP supports UP academic programmes, and encourages the development of creative, flexible, adaptable minds with the emotional and intellectual intelligence to thrive in the 4IR. With its fast-paced shifts, what is increasingly valued is a student who has mastered the six Cs – think critically, communicate clearly, utilise connectivity, develop creativity, work collaboratively and embrace culture. The new Javett Art Centre at UP is the ideal space to explore the six Cs.

Innovation Africa at UP

Focusing on smart agriculture, we will be partnering with academic researchers in the broad field of agriculture and food security, and also seek to partner with government through the Agricultural Research Centre (ARC), the agricultural sector, industry, IT, and the humanities. Again, we will be drawing on a transdisciplinary approach to co-create knowledge and innovative technologies to develop systems of agricultural production that are resilient to climate change, environmentally friendly, promote sustainable agriculture, and are easy for people to implement.

Our whole approach is that all four innovations should be about transforming lives, and transforming communities, locally, continentally, globally. The main driver lies in the fusion of knowledge not only for economic advancement but also, and equally, for social justice. Research expertise across the disciplines is required to co-create new understandings and breakthroughs to transform society for the better. The foundation to achieve this is a university community that is sustainable, well resourced, future-oriented and at the leading edge of research and innovation.

Professor Tawana Kupe is Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria.

This article first appeared in the Mail & Guardian on 20 September 2019.

- Author Professor Tawana Kupe

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