At a time when the arts are claiming their rightful place among the most sought after fourth industrial rRevolution (4IR) subjects — what we refer to as Steam (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) — the University of Pretoria (UP) is opening the Javett-UP Art Centre on it south campus.
This centre 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.
One symbol of this story 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 CE900 to CE1300 to experience the Mapungubwe civilisation.
A painting by Alexis Preller, one the country’s great 20th century artists, titled Discovery, will be seen for the first time in 30 years at Javett-UP’s public opening on Heritage Day, September 24. It was recovered from a disused building in Pretoria. People will be able to witness the restoration of this work as part of the 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 expansion 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.
UP is pushing to be relevant to both in the current and future contexts. To achieve this, four key transdisciplinary initiatives were launched in 2018 and 2019, which have attracted leading local and global partners.
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 problems and stresses that Africa and the world are facing. 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 the university is inviting other African countries, academics and the private sector to work with us.
Engineering 4.0 is a 35 000m2 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 for every 3 200 people, compared with one engineer for every 130 to 450 people in Europe, North America, India and China.
Transport is crucial to economic prosperity. UP is partnering with the South African National Roads Agency Limited and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and — using the latest technologies — testing and training in everything from road surfaces and 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 other faculties through the Future Africa Campus to stimulate a convergence of expertise in everything from agriculture to artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, big data, cloud computing, logistics modelling, synthetic biology and bioprospecting.
Javett-UP Art Centre
In addition, Javett-UP supports the university’s 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, use connectivity, develop creativity, work collaboratively and embrace culture.
Focusing on smart agriculture, the university will partner with researchers in the broad field of agriculture and food security, and also seek to partner with the government through the Agricultural Research Centre, the agricultural sector, industry, information technology, and the humanities. Again, it will draw on a transdisciplinary approach to co-create knowledge and 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.
The aim of all four initiatives is that they should be about transforming lives locally, continentally and globally. The main driver lies in the fusion of knowledge for economic advancement but equally for social justice. Research expertise across the disciplines is required to create new understandings and breakthroughs to transform society for the better. The foundation to achieve this is a university that is sustainable, well-resourced, future-oriented and at the leading edge of research and innovation.
Tawana Kupe is vice-chancellor of the University of Pretoria