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New Data Science Programme Develops Future Data Masters

UWC launches Data Science Masters programme: Growing technical and creative expertise for a changing work landscape

Data science is more than just a confusing business buzzword. It’s a field that combines statistics, mathematics, programming and creative problem-solving to develop a new approach to data cleansing, preparation, analysis and modelling - and a new understanding of the vast floods of data available to business and academia in the twenty-first century.

Not sure what that means? Not to worry - the University of the Western Cape’s newly-established Masters Programme in Data Science will teach all of that, and more.

The programme, formally launched at the University’s new interdisciplinary Computer and Mathematical Sciences building on 28 March 2018, has been established as a means of training more data analysts and scientists from previously disadvantaged communities - and providing a skilled workforce to address the challenges of a knowledge economy.

“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 very 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 forms of data-intensive fields, like astronomy (for example, as part of the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy, helping to tackle some of the deepest cosmological mysteries of all) and bioinformatics (UWC’s South African National Bioinformatics Institute has helped decode the genomics of the coelacanth, and develop more effective responses to a variety of diseases).

Data Science: Collaborative Knowledge Creation

“Our new Master’s programme will have many benefits - but very importantly, it will give our students access to the business world and associated networks,” Pretorius notes. “These networks will allow for the collaboration that is necessary to tackle the data challenges of the twenty-first century.”

Without financial backing from Sanlam and support from the North West University’s Centre for Business Mathematics and Informatics (BMI), the programme would not be possible.

Professor Riaan de Jongh, 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 futures - not only for the individual 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 - something this country sorely needs.”