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On the Journey to the Smart University

This story is sponsored

May 2021 heralded the much-anticipated Higher Education Information Technology Summit sponsored by the technology company Huawei as speaker. Embracing the new digital world, this summit was conducted online with many excited virtual attendees logging in to hear key insights from industry leaders and be the first to hear about new digital solutions in the Higher Education sector. 

The aim of this prestigious event was to encourage the development and application of standards and best practices through the sharing of expertise among the higher education community. The summit was presented on a local “smart campus”, providing insight into smart campuses and how they operate within Higher Education. 

The Higher Education Information Technology South Africa (HEITSA) chairman, Mr Stanley Mpofu warmly welcomed guests and proceeded swiftly to the introduction of first distinguished keynote speaker of the event, Vice President of Microsoft Education, Mr Anthony Salcito who gave an inspiring speech on post-COVID-19 transformation and how it developed from a process of recovery to reimagination.  

This was followed by a frank discussion from The ITC at University of Cape Town (UCT), Mr Richard van Huyssteen and his team on how they managed a crisis within a crisis during the tragic fire at UCT. Mr van Huyssteen elaborated on the decisions that allowed the students some solace and stability in the chaos.

Next to take the floor was Key Account Manager at Huawei Technologies, Amber Crookes who took the guests on a journey to the smart university and what it would mean for the future. This involved a detailed look into the current state of technology in Higher Education where she listed 4 major touchpoints to improve on, namely that education should be Connected (LAN, Apps, PC), Digitalised (teaching, research, applications), Integrated (network convergence) and Smart (AI, big data, Iot, cloud computing). 

Ms Crookes went on to unveil the all-encompassing nature of Huawei’s Smart University Solution which includes 3 key components namely, Smart Secure, which includes facial recognition-based access control and smart fire alarms, Smart Operation, made up of items such as a smart library and student management and, Smart Teaching & Research which encompasses technology such as intelligent attendance, distance learning and laboratory management.  

The keystone to the entire Huawei Smart University Solution is a unified platform with Huawei Horizon Digital Platform being the home to an intelligent operation centre. The Smart Teaching System Solution itself has a solution architecture that includes 3 touch points, namely, Application, where discussion, recording, or multimedia teaching takes place, Platform which serves the basis for platform integration between Huawei Cloud Meeting and educational resources and smart cloud powered LMS and the Endpoints, where technology such as IdeaHub, laptops, phones, cameras and group sharing devices come into play. 

Leaving some time for these innovations to percolate in the guests’ minds, it was onto a surprising and informative talk from various CIOs and IT directors who shared their war stories on surviving the wave post-pandemic from the front lines of IT within the education sector. The universities that presented include SMU, UCT, Stellenbosch, NWU and UNISA. The key areas that were highlighted in these challenges were laptops and data for students, distance learning solutions and overall preparedness of ICT infrastructure during the pandemic.

The Oracle task team feedback from HEITSA chairman and the subsequent discussion from Business Applications Specialist at Microsoft, Mr Marc Gower on Microsoft Dynamics 365 and their shift from maintenance to innovation was met with much enthusiasm and followed the trend of novel solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. 

ITC Strategy Architect and Senior Manager at ITC, Mr Creswell Du Preez presented the SPU Digital University Story while Mr Eldridge van der Westhuizen from HEITSA provided an interesting take on POPIA and what this compliance means for the future of education. 

Corporate Account Manager at Citrix, Mr Craig Littleford presented riveting insights into what it takes to deliver high-quality remote learning on low-cost devices while USAF CEO, Prof. Ahmed Bawa presented an insightful summary on the challenges and opportunities within Higher Education. 

The final speaker of the summit, TENET Executive Officer on Trust & Identity, Mr Guy Halse, concluded with detailed information on Eduroam, an international roaming service for users in research, higher education and further education providing researchers, teachers, and students network access when visiting an institution other than their own. 

The HEITSA conference included invaluable insights into the challenges presented by unforeseen circumstances and how digital transformation gave universities the tools to pivot their processes and take opportunities offered by technological innovation. It is clear that Huawei is the company leading the way to both Smart Universities and digital transformation in South African Higher Education. 

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