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Energize Innovative hybrid solutions required to provide universal university education
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Innovative hybrid solutions required to provide universal university education

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Innovation is critical when it comes to providing universal university education for all in South Africa, and the tough economic times require this innovation to be both locally relevant and internationally competitive, said Prof. Saurabh Sinha, Executive Dean of the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment. Sinha was speaking at a public lecture held on 10 May 2017 at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) organised by the engineering professional bodies, the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) and the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE).

Sinha cited mobile phone services as a successful example of providing essential services to poor and isolated people by decentralising the delivery of required infrastructure and using a hybrid of existing technologies and roll-out mechanisms. This success points to a potential overlap between decentralisation, sustainable development and decolonisation of knowledge, he said.

He added that engineering innovation to produce low-tech solutions can offer high-impact solutions for water and electricity provision. In this approach, centralisation is not replaced, he said, but the focus becomes the development of complementary and hybrid technological solutions for sustainable development. By doing this, he said it would be possible, at a reasonable cost, to reach those who are most underserved in South Africa and other parts of the continent.

The challenge to provide universal higher education can become overwhelming, and he stressed that action needs to be taken to ensure the delivery of new initiatives through sustainable partnerships. An example of this, he said, is to gradually infuse final year and postgraduate projects with community service components. In this way, research and development can be embedded in society through engineering students implementing projects with communities to meet their needs. The multidisciplinary approach then brings about the development of knowledge from communities and also contributes to contextualised knowledge production inclusive of socio-economic, techno-economic and cultural context, he said.

Further examples cited included: The global EPICS-in-IEEE initiative, cofounded by Sinha and Prof. Kapil Dandekar from Drexel University in the USA, which works with several South African universities. A UJ EPICS project, which provided solar light in the Kathrada Park informal settlement in Johannesburg, and a UJ engineering community engagement project run by lecturers and students which brought solar electricity and pumped water to the deep rural Gwakwani community in Limpopo.

During the course of his address, Sinha also stated that UJ is exploring models for a full range of online courses for undergraduate and postgraduate studies to further develop accessibility to higher education in South Africa.

Contact Therese van Wyk, University of Johannesburg, Tel 011 559-6332, theresevw@uj.ac.za

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