Microsoft, Gijima launch AI varsity programme for graduates

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 29 Jul 2020
Lilian Barnard, managing director of Microsoft SA.
Lilian Barnard, managing director of Microsoft SA.

The Central University of Technology (CUT) in the Free State, working together with ICT services company Gijima, has launched a Microsoft artificial intelligence (AI) university programme in SA, claimed to be the first in the country.

The 12-month programme, developed by Microsoft and Gijima, is designed to teach young graduates with limited or no work experience the ability to explore, transform, model and visualise data, as well as create the next generation of intelligent solutions.

The programme will use a blended learning model that includes the integration of self-study, online learning, classroom instructor-led training and a flipped classroom.

It includes mentorship and coaching by industry experts, business skills, Microsoft Azure AI associate certification, guest lecturers, as well as examination and certification.

The innovation services of CUT and the Free State provincial government will be the first to benefit from the programme’s training. It will then tentatively be open to the general public for enrolment from 2021.

Lillian Barnard, managing director of Microsoft SA, says CUT is breaking new ground with its foray into AI.

“The collaborative nature of the AI university programme will unlock the value of AI and the role it will play in workplaces of the future. By bringing together private and public sector partners, students, facilitators, mentors, coaches and industry experts, the programme will enable the development of critical AI skills that will help our young people become more work-ready and employable, as well as help organisations adapt to the ever-changing demands of the world of work,” she says.

The university says it has introduced Microsoft’s AI programme to address the demand in the province, and SA in general.

Professor Alfred Ngowi, deputy vice-chancellor: research, innovation and engagement at CUT, comments: “This university programme provides organisations the opportunity to bring on board a groomed AI engineer with the certified skills and hands-on project experience needed to assimilate into the workplace of the future, quickly and seamlessly.”

“Enabling South African talent with AI training and certification will change the journey and destiny of our country in a period where technology is driving innovation and changing all spheres of society,” says Aranka Verster, business unit manager, School of Digital at Gijima.

The provincial government has welcomed the move, with premier Sisi Ntombela saying: “As we move further into the fourth industrial revolution, we will see the value that artificial intelligence can bring to modern workplaces, therefore empowering employees in providing a competitive edge.

“These kinds of initiatives are all the more significant currently, as the country grapples with the coronavirus, which requires all of us to think out of the box and be innovative. By using technology to augment human potential, whilst still ensuring jobs are not lost, we will have the ability to drive critical growth across the province, as well as empower our young talent with the skills needed to navigate a rapidly-changing world.”

This is the second educational initiative driven by Microsoft in recent weeks.

Last month, together with Vodacom Business, the company launched a digital education platform, which it says is in response to the growing need for affordable online learning solutions.

The companies said the Connected Digital Education platform enables remote learning with affordable connectivity, also giving learners access to educational tools, apps and resources.