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UJ's new head gears up to meet 4th industrial revolution

25 March 2018 - 00:00 By PREGA GOVENDER

When Professor Tshilidzi Marwala took the helm at the University of Johannesburg three months ago, he knew he had big shoes to fill.
His predecessor, Professor Ihron Rensburg - whose leadership was described as "bold and visionary" by the university's former council chairman Roy Marcus - had left behind an outstanding legacy.
Under Rensburg's stewardship, UJ was ranked fourth last year among South African universities in the Academic Ranking of World Universities by the ShanghaiRanking Consultancy.
But Marwala, who will be formally inaugurated tomorrow as UJ's new vice-chancellor, has refused to remain in Rensburg's shadow.
One of his first priorities has been establishing the Johannesburg Business School, "curriculating it in line with the fourth industrial revolution".
He said: "We are in the process of seeking an investor with naming rights for the business school."
The 46-year-old academic, scholar and registered professional engineer is also determined to establish a medical school at UJ.
"We need to mobilise support from both the local and national government to achieve this.
"We will also be seeking the participation of the private medical industry. Our medical school should allow graduates with three-year degrees to complete medical degrees in four years."The father of three, who is married to medical doctor Jabulile Manana, grew up in the dusty hamlet of Duthuni in the former Venda homeland. His qualifications include a BSc in mechanical engineering from Case Western Reserve University in the US, where he graduated magna cum laude.
He also completed a master's and a doctorate, both in mechanical engineering, at the University of Pretoria and Cambridge University respectively. For his doctorate, he specialised in artificial intelligence.
As a B-rated researcher, he published nine books and more than 300 papers in journals. He received more than 45 honours and awards, including the Order of Mapungubwe, which was conferred on him by former president Thabo Mbeki in 2004.
Marwala started his academic career at the University of London's Imperial College in 2000, where he worked on an artificial intelligence project in collaboration with the University of London and Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.
He returned to South Africa in 2001 and worked as an executive assistant to the technical director for South African Breweries until 2003.
Between 2003 and 2008 he was a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand before being appointed dean of engineering at UJ in 2009.
A total of 2800 postgraduate students graduate from UJ annually, making it one of South Africa's top seven producers of postgraduates.
"My goal is to take UJ into the fourth industrial age, which means bringing technology to humanity subjects and taking humanity into technological subjects. We are a leading university in technologies such as artificial intelligence."He is so determined to drive the artificial intelligence project that he sent student leaders to China last year to learn how the Chinese were preparing their students for the fourth industrial revolution.
According to Marwala, UJ has also made great strides in addressing transformation issues.
"At the management executive committee, we have more black people than we had last year and we plan to deepen that."
At least 39% of academics are black, compared with 34% in 2013. The percentage of women academics has risen from 44% in 2013 to 47%.
Marwala said the university was working on a transformation plan to increase the number of black academics.
UJ came into being in 2005 following a merger between Rand Afrikaans University and Technikon Witwatersrand. A year earlier two campuses of Vista University had been incorporated into RAU.
Commenting on the government's free higher education initiative for poor and working-class students, Marwala said: "Students must understand it is an investment and therefore they should work very hard to succeed and contribute towards this investment."..

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