The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) is gearing itself up for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor on Thursday in her budget speech said she intends to set up a multi-sectoral task team to advise the higher education sector on how it should take up the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
"In 2017 my colleague, Minister (Blade) Nzimande, referred to the challenges and opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. More recently, Professor (Tshilidzi) Marwala, the new vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, has written of the transformative potential of the various elements that are identified as part of the technological revolution that is happening right before our eyes," she said at a press briefing before her budget vote debate.
"It is vital for DHET to devote dedicated attention to these changes and their implications for our universities, colleges and community education and training.
"I intend to set up a multi-sectoral task team to investigate what is being done in research, teaching and outreach and how emerging technologies are being used to enhance our capabilities in our sector."
She said she was aware that several universities had invested in research areas that explore boundaries beyond our current understanding of a range of processes and technologies.
"Significant investments have been made in nanotechnology, new approaches to agricultural technology, bioinformatics, and other fields. We must ensure we build on these early developments and provide the necessary support in terms of skills and research funding."
More work necessary at undergraduate level
In her speech, she said: "We're in the age of the pervasive influence of emerging technologies and artificial intelligence and need responsive skills and development research focus and investment to benefit fully."
At the press briefing, she said the task team would look into what South Africa was doing in terms of research and skills production.
"I suspect that what we are going to probably find is that we're fairly well-invested at the postgraduate level, but that there might be a lot more that we should be doing at an undergraduate level.
"Hopefully, through this task team we will be able to give an indication to these institutions that we are responsible for what we will do to support them to respond effectively to the opportunities and challenges posed by these new developments."
She said there was a need to be responsive to the Fourth Industrial Revolution's range of technologies, not only for their influence in the scientific domain but in society as well.
"And that readiness has to be institutional, but also human resource readiness.
"So it really brings my science and technology background very much into the DHET space," said Pandor, whose previous portfolio was science and technology.