On 28 March 2018, the University of the Western Cape formally launched the Master’s Programme in Data Science at the University’s new interdisciplinary Computational and Mathematical Sciences (CAMS) building. The programme was established as a means of training more data analysts and scientists from previously disadvantaged communities.
“Universities play an important role in the workplace landscape, a landscape that is constantly changing,” says UWC’s Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius. “Data science is an emerging strategic niche area for UWC. With this new programme, we are providing the tools for students to address the challenges of the twenty-first century.”
In 2017, the University began offering Africa’s first Postgraduate Diploma in Data Analytics and Business Intelligence to address the continent’s shortage of talent in analytics – the discovery, interpretation and communication of meaningful patterns in data – in a business context.
Beyond commerce, UWC has also developed expertise in other data-intensive fields like astronomy and bioinformatics.
“Our new master’s programme will give students access to the business world and associated networks,” Prof Pretorius says.
The programme received financial backing from Sanlam and support from the North West University’s Centre for Business Mathematics and Informatics (BMI).
Professor Riaan de Jongh, the director of the Centre for BMI, says the centre wanted to partner with UWC because of the high standard of its statistics programme.
“We have more than 400 MSc BMI alumni working in industry,” he explains, “so the UWC collaboration gives us an opportunity to market the BMI model to academia and grow professional analytical skills among South African students.”
Lizelle Nel, Head of Regulatory Coordination and Advanced Analytics at Sanlam, believes the new programme has great potential for changing the futures not only of the students but for entire industries. “This programme comes at the right time as many data scientists are required, particularly for the financial industry, but for many others as well,” she says. “Understanding data in the workplace impacts on what you believe and what you can achieve, and what we can achieve together.”
UWC’s Prof Renette Blignaut, the statistics professor leading the UWC Data Science Programme, says interest in the new programme has grown significantly in the past few months, particularly from engineers and actuaries who want to change the focus of their degrees and learn to apply their skills in new ways.
“With the launch of this new programme at the University of the Western Cape, we celebrate a new way of doing things,” she says. “We celebrate the potential to create new worlds, new jobs, new lives – things this country sorely needs.”