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Skills demand fuels university’s new data science degree

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Stellenbosch University (SU) has introduced a multi-disciplinary undergraduate Bachelor in Data Science (BDatSci) degree programme, as the demand for data scientists continues to supersede the current supply in SA and across the globe.

The four-year BDatSci degree is offered in four faculties: Economic and Management Sciences, AgriSciences, Arts and Social Sciences, and Science.

The first cohort of 46 students who enrolled for the SU programme, which started last month, will gain knowledge of foundational modules in all the focal areas, such as statistics, computer science and mathematics, according to the university.

Graduates will also be exposed to new technologies and concepts in the field of data science. They will be able to continue with a Master's degree in their chosen data-rich field.

Globally, the shortfall for data scientists is projected to be about 10 million. Government and industry commentators alike have stressed SA’s need for data science skills to harness the power of data and come up with predictive models.

The university says with a degree in data science, graduates will be able to put their skills to use to solve real world problems in fields as diverse as genetics, healthcare, e-commerce, finance, government or retail.

Professor Paul Mostert, chairman of the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences and also programme coordinator of the degree, lauds SU for offering the much-needed degree.

“Many programmes in data science exist at many universities, here and abroad, but few are globally focused on undergraduate levels. It is therefore a very novel area of study, especially at undergraduate level, and may be one of the reasons why it is not on the radar of career consultants at school level," explains Mostert.

He adds that much work still needs to be done to educate career advisors at schools about data science and its future in the job market.

“Students are still advised to study the very traditional undergraduate degree programmes in accounting, actuarial science, engineering and medicine, especially if they are good in maths. A lot of work needs to be done to shift that mindset and open the field to include data science.

“The more industry exposes the general public to the application of data science and where it is used in everyday life, the more interest tertiary institutions like us will get. It will eventually require a partnership between industry and academia to promote such a much-needed qualification in data science."

The minimum requirements for admission to the BDatSci programme are: National Senior Certificate average of 80% (based on prospective students' six best subjects, excluding Life Orientation); mathematics 80%; and home language 60%. If English is not the home language, then English First Additional Language 75%.

Michelle Ehlers, who is studying BDatSci with the focus of applied mathematics within the Faculty of Science, says she chose this focal area because she enjoys mathematics and solving problems.

“I felt this focal area was right for me because mathematical methods are used in real life to analyse data, form conclusions and make decisions. Solving problems is also one of my strong points and I thought this new inter-disciplinary data science degree would be the right opportunity for me to make use of this strength," says Ehlers.

For more information on registering for the programme, visit the university’sWeb site.


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