TOP OF THE CLASS - JSE MAGAZINE

TOP OF THE CLASS

The University of the Western Cape is leading SA’s tertiary education sector in producing strong, technologically capable candidates

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) was once framed exclusively as a previously disadvantaged tertiary education institution. Today, it is redoubling its efforts as a leading research university, using innovation to produce graduates who meet the demands of a world increasingly reliant on data and technology.

By aligning curriculum content to industry standards and staying abreast of global technology trends, the university is well on its way towards establishing a strong profile of technologically capable graduates.

At UWC, technological advancements have been examined alongside the demand for ICT-skilled graduates for both the private and public sector. This has resulted in a key collaboration between the university’s information systems department, led by Mmaki Jantjies, in the Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences, and the computer science department, led by Antoine Bagula, in the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

The collaboration has resulted in three innovative post-graduate programmes aimed at bridging the skills gap in industries that rely on technology and data. The programmes are a post-graduate diploma in e-skills development, specialising in immersive technologies; a post-graduate diploma in computer and media applications, specialising in e-logistics; and a master’s degree in commerce and information management with the focus on big data analytics.

The university has, in part, responded to a key observation by the Higher Education and Training Minister, Naledi Pandor, in her most recent budget speech. The minister noted that a considerable amount of resources would be allocated to allow higher education and training institutions to engage in technological opportunities. She referred to graduates meeting the needs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – where technology is increasingly relied on to solve modern-day challenges.

The minister’s speech raised a number of questions. Are SA graduates ready to meet the skills requirements demanded by industry? How, for example, does a logistics company take the guess-work out of delivering a shipment for a client using data? Can virtual reality (VR) bring a prospective buyer closer to their dream home by offering virtual tours of showhouses? The African Digitalisation Maturity Report 2017 says SA – relative to its neighbours, and although still a developing country – boasts the highest digital literacy across the continent. But to keep up with the large-scale use of new automation, mechanics and applied sciences, it needs to continue to invest in the training and upskilling of human resources.

UWC’s programmes have been designed with these types of practical applications in mind. It is the first university to launch a programme of this kind in SA. Students are exposed to various facets of the best practices used in software and asset development for immersive technology, and to using big data to find efficiencies in supply-chain management. The post-graduate diploma in e-skills is primarily focused on equipping graduates with software development skills to create functional VR and augmented reality (AR) software solutions. The programme is the result of a partnership with EON Reality, a multinational VR and AR software developer that specialises in knowledge transfer for industry and education.

VR and AR have been around since the late 1960s, but their use has been limited to high-end applications such as military training and flight simulations. Until recently, it was too expensive to develop hardware and software solutions for consumer VR and AR use. There was also a lack of adequate computational power to ensure the wide availability of consumer and enterprise-ready VR and AR systems. Now VR and AR are far more readily available. The ubiquitous nature of mobile-ready devices that support immersive technologies has further increased their accessibility. The cost is relative to the affordability of owning a compatible smartphone. Business Insider reports that the global shipment for smartphone-compatible VR headsets has reached roughly 10 million units in 2018 and is expected to grow to an estimated 36 million units by 2022. It is only a matter of time before the local industry need for VR and AR will see a rise in the demand for SA software engineers to design and develop consumer and enterprise-facing solutions.

As an example of practical applications, SA steel and mining company ArcelorMittal has already piloted the use of a VR training simulation as a means to determine the comfort of new recruits working at extreme heights. The simulation allows the company to recreate dangerous, real-world working scenarios allowing workers to practice in a safe, error-tolerable environment.

 

The UWC e-skills programme gives students the chance to work with high-end infrastructure, such as the HTC Vive, to deliver a functioning VR solution. Students are introduced to the basic and fundamental concepts of an immersive technology ecosystem. They then follow an object-oriented approach in designing and deploying a working implementation of their system in a major project. In the course of their work, they draw from popular disciplines such as computer science, information systems and project management.

The post-graduate diploma in computer and media applications: e-logistics will equip graduates from industry with the skills to enable their organisations to draw valuable insight from enormous logistical-based data sets – both structured and unstructured. At the end of the programme, students will be able to analyse the nature and context of decision-making in supply-chain and logistics businesses by utilising statistics, business intelligence, computational techniques and data management capabilities to solve complex real-world problems.

The master’s of commerce in information management degree, with a focus on big data, addresses the shortage of research in big data analytics throughout SA. Given the ‘always online’ state of the data-driven economy, organisations are seeking innovative ways to transform raw data into meaningful information as a means to strengthen business processes and strategies.

Forbes notes that on a global scale, 90% of the world’s data has been generated in the past two years alone – a statistic that is not to be taken lightly. Organisations are seeking new ways to mine data to enhance existing business processes. With the amount of data increasing on an enormous scale, it has become evident that traditional ways of mining data have become obsolete in the face of the computational power available to businesses. The master’s degree equips students with the ability to research and utilise data-mining packages to perform predictive modelling on large data sets, with the aim of adding to the body of knowledge in the realm of big data analytics.

Additionally, technology has changed the way we carry out mundane tasks at an organisational level. This has enabled enterprises to leverage computational power to deliver valuable insight into their data. Data has become a commodity of sorts – one that, as a result, drives business processes to realise greater economies of scale.
The three programmes offered by UWC are designed to help improve SA’s global competitive-ness in key sectors. They will not only give graduates the edge in their respective fields, but also allow industries to enhance the way they do business.

  • The first intake of candidates for the post-graduate diploma in e-skills development starts in September 2018 and the programme will run over eight months.
  • The post-graduate diploma in e-logistics and the master’s in big data analytics are expected to commence in August and September 2018, respectively. The two programmes are available for full-time and part-time students, with funding available from UWC for qualifying part-time students.
For online applications and additional information on each of the three programmes, visit www.ifs.uwc.ac.za