University of Pretoria opens Future Africa campus

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The Future Africa campus has open research commons for interactive work and a conference centre.
The Future Africa campus has open research commons for interactive work and a conference centre.

The University of Pretoria (UP) has opened Future Africa, a multi-disciplinary research institute aimed at using science, technology and innovation to address complex societal challenges in Africa.

According to UP, Future Africa will bring together global researchers, networks of scientists and partners from many disciplines and sectors of the broader community to work on transformative research projects that will seek to resolve some of Africa's biggest socio-economic problems, contributing to Africa's sustainable development.

On-site features include open research commons designed for interactive work, a conference centre equipped with state-of the art technologies, and modern living quarters for postgraduate students.

Speaking at the launch on Friday, UP vice-chancellor and principal, professor Tawana Kupe, said: "Future Africa is a space to create new knowledge in new ways, to address current and emerging complex, often seemingly intractable, challenges that face primarily our continent, but also resonate globally.

"This means that we find solutions to problems from a holistic viewpoint because problems rarely occur in a vacuum. At Future Africa, we aim to transform the world through African research excellence."

Future Africa will focus on promoting academic leadership by developing local and African science leaders. It will also increase the number of researchers on the continent through leadership development programmes such as postgraduate, postdoctoral and research fellowships, and leverage technology to boost academic research results, he continued.

By promoting knowledge development and exchange through the establishment of regional and international networks of scientists, Future Africa will enable research through active engagement, while examining the role of governance and institutions, interrogating the requirements for future change.

Addressing delegates at the launch, science and technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said the campus is a shining example of how Africans can work together to find solutions to the continent's challenges through global collaborations.

"The launch of Future Africa at the University of Pretoria is a timely response to placing science, technology and innovation at the centre of Africa's development."

She noted the Department of Science and Technology is establishing an African Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in partnership with the World Economic Forum. "We are inviting other African countries, academics and the private sector to work with us to maximise the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution. I ask this institute to become an active participant."

From left: chair of council Futhi Mtoba, vice-chancellor professor Tawana Kupe and chancellor professor Lumkile Wiseman Nkuhlu.
From left: chair of council Futhi Mtoba, vice-chancellor professor Tawana Kupe and chancellor professor Lumkile Wiseman Nkuhlu.

In line with the National Development Plan, the African Union 2063 Strategy and the Interim Post-2015 UN Strategic Development Goals, Future Africa's research programmes will be based in areas which underpin its ethos and values, namely: sustainability and equity, according to UP.

UP deputy vice-chancellor for research, professor Stephanie Burton, explained: "This multimillion-rand green facility is a community, a hub, a home for scholars, and a physical meeting place.

"It provides the physical and intellectual environment for transformation-minded science leaders and innovative business leaders, policymakers, civil servants and civil society to interact and take science forward across disciplines, cultures and generations."

Another speaker at the launch, Thierry Zomahoun, president of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, pointed out that in the years ahead, 40% of the global youth will come from Africa, with 11 million young Africans entering the job market annually.

"If we don't know the industries they are going to work in, how will we know what skill sets they require? Initiatives like Future Africa are so important, as we need a new generation of skill sets for the 21st century."

UP is located in the city's scientific hub, close to the Technology Innovation Agency, CSIR, NRF, Department of Science and Technology, Innovation Hub and other research, development and innovation bodies and agencies.

"This means UP is ideally located to engage with the wider scientific society to work across disciplines toward creating innovative solutions to the major challenges facing South Africa and Africa," Kupe concluded.

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