Across Africa’s higher education sector there is an awareness that the fourth industrial revolution is here. Educators now have a tremendous responsibility to prepare the people and organisations of the continent for a time of rapid change.

It can be argued that in the time of Industry 4.0 the stakes are higher in Africa than anywhere else in the world. Africa’s economic development has been accelerated by an ability to harness technology to leapfrog developmental steps in multiple industries. However, in a continent where many places have never seen the benefits of Industry 3.0, there is a danger of many being left behind as the demands of industry no longer match the skills available in the workforce.

Technology has the power to uplift millions of Africa. Similarly, it carries the threat of leaving millions more unemployed and locked out of the global economy.

How is the higher education sector preparing young Africans for an uncertain future? And how can Africa ensure it remains globally relevant in the fourth industrial revolution?


The rate of change means there is going to be huge disruption in multiple industries; higher education is just one of them. The real challenge of our time is to start experimenting now rather than waiting for a complete set of mature technologies and then deploy them.

What we have done most obviously is to reform and think through the curriculum with respect to technology and how it is going to change the professional disciplines. If you go to our computer science or software engineering programmes, there are new courses we have developed in this regard. However, even if you are to go to traditional programmes which you would not see as technologically grounded such as journalism then you would also see huge curriculum reform introducing people to social media, to new forms of distribution, to discussions on the new ethical boundaries we would need to think through.

It is important as we go forward in this new era to not create a new form of inequality in which poor people get online education and rich people get face to face education. That is not what we want to create, we want to create a much more complex and nuanced delivery of educational possibilities. Some people might start online and then move to face-to-face and use all of these possibilities in a complex structure. That is something we will be moving towards in the next twenty to thirty years and that is something we should be experimenting on now. We are one of the few who are at the cutting edge of that experimentation.

Prof. Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand. South Africa.


It all starts with leadership. 

To be successful in the time of the fourth industrial revolution organisations must be able to adapt, be able to innovate, and able to collaborate. This is very important; it all comes down to leadership.

We phrase it as collaboratist leadership. Collaboratist leadership is super transformational leadership. That is what we need in organisations for Industry 4.0

By far the most important things in Industry 4.0 are trust and support.  We call it trustworthy support, and this includes integrity, competence, consistency, and openness. 

Openness is required from leaders for teams to share ideas and information freely when you collaborate. 

Integrity is required from leaders, and this is extremely important as this is where ethics come in.

If you do not have leaders on board who are honest you are going to have problems. They need very good judgement in handling new situations, which is where consistency comes in.

We live now in the time of innovation. The key to this time is collaborative innovation. The collaboratist leader must encourage innovation and must encourage teamwork.

The problem we have is that our students come back to us after they have returned to work and tell us there are serious problems. When they try to implement these wonderful ideas they have learned around Industry 4.0, leadership, changing supply chains and governance there is resistance from the top.

This mindset is the problem. We need to get rid of the old paradigms. If we do not have leaders that can adapt then we are going to be in big trouble.

It seems some leaders are almost scared of Industry 4.0. We can only correct this situation through education.

Prof. Pieter Steyn, Principal and Founder of Cranefield College. South Africa.


The fourth industrial revolution will be all about interconnecting processes, industries, and institutions through new technology.

Bearing in mind that there is a global reduction in higher institution funding, it is prudent to use technology to utilise resources efficiently.

African institutions of higher learning have a duty to create spaces that foster ideation, innovation, and incubation of ideas that will develop into technological solutions.

Prof. Munashe Furusa, Vice-Chancellor of Africa University. Zimbabwe.


How do we work with business to confront and navigate major technological disruption?

How do we do that in a continent where we can’t assume that the demands and challenges of the third industrial revolution have already been met?

If we are not alert to the way that technology is being rolled out globally, then in Africa we will find ourselves only being consumers of these technologies. That would represent a missed opportunity to be part of the global value chains that are associated with actually producing and delivering these technologies.

You can’t set up an insolated think tank to deal with this. You need to embed it across curricula. This is hard in institutions where academia is seen as having the answers, I think the role of academia is to ensure that we are asking absolutely the right questions and to be working towards finding those answers.

Prof. Nicola Kleyn, Dean of Gordon Institute of Business Science University of Pretoria. South Africa.


“Our primary focus now can be described as ensuring better preparation for the future and for the digital world.

This will encompass everything from renewable energy to dealing with data sciences for business to internationalisation.

Obviously, renewable energy is very important for a country like Morocco which doesn’t have a lot of oil and the energy that we produce is expensive. With solar, biomass, and wind power we can save the planet, save the environment and save the economy as well.”

Prof. Driss Ouaouicha, Vice-Chancellor of Al Akhawayn University. Morroco.


Innovation is at the centre of our goals. The University should not be considered the centre of our work, innovation is at the centre and the University is a partner in developing innovation. This is an important mindset shift.

We are working with a significant number of companies to build our business capital and jointly develop research.

The mindset is all about opening up the University and not being in that ivory tower. It is about opening the university to industry and opening the university to the community.

Professor Dhanjay Jhurry, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mauritius


Collaboration is the key to the future of our University and our country.

Our role at present is to create an intellectual atmosphere within the country and attract companies to join us in building this atmosphere.  Now is the time for Unisey to start building capacity for the country as well as the region by creating research that contributes to the main pillars of our economy – tourism, hospitality, blue economy, environment and financial sector.”

Our major strategic goal is making Unisey a national project and building connections both locally and internationally. As an institution that is only 10 years old, we need partners to grow. We need to educate people on the critical role we will play for the future of our nation. It is crucial to spark a conversation amongst businessman, educators and policy-makers as to why they need to fully support this university. Together we can build the local knowledge within the country and make higher education accessible to a larger group of people.

Dr Justin Valentin, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Seychelles


“Technical universities in South Africa do not focus on research. In my opinion, innovation and research should be at the core of universities providing technical education.

The main focus is to put the knowledge into use. We are not interested in essays and paragraphs, but in results. Our strategy is based on the traditional slogan “publish or perish.” We use an improved version known as “collaborate or collapse.”

Being a new-generation university, we have less resources as compared to well-established Universities. We are moving towards the quadruple helix approach. This approach will help establish a meaningful interaction between the government, universities, private sector, and our communities. A real, strategic, and vibrant collaboration between these entities is required.”

Professor Lourens van Staden, Vice-Chancellor of Tshwane University of Technology. South Africa.


There is an acceptance that industry leaders and universities must work together to find solutions and prepare for change.

Now more than ever before, industry is opening up to us and we are opening up to industry. We need to engage with industry captains and find ways how we can have our Ph.D. students embedded in their organisations. We wish to have industry leaders attend our seminars and be involved in our projects and policy briefs in order for us to conduct research relevant to the private sector.  

We must help industry build their staff and research capabilities and we are actively pursuing new partnerships at present. We use our faculty and our alumni to connect with industry. We have a dedicated team to engage with policy response teams so we are able to have an immediate response to any issues that come up in the corporate world.

Professor Justice Nyigmah Bawole, Dean of the University of Ghana Business School.


Any perception that African universities and organisations are completely unprepared for the future is inaccurate.

I think the world doesn’t know about the knowledge and new inventions that are being generated in Africa and we can only blame ourselves for that.  If you look at that new knowledge creation from the public and some private institutions in South Africa, I firmly believe that South Africa is making a significant contribution to the world.”

I believe there are indeed great initiatives in Africa and it is in our hands to show to the rest of the world that we are on par and that there are many unique pockets of excellence in which we are competing and in some cases doing better than the rest of the world.

Professor Henk de Jager, Central University of Technology. South Africa.


There is now a debate around the place business schools have in the world.

Business schools have had a hard time due to a popular misconception that they only serve the agenda of businesses and pursuing profits. African business schools have come to realise that their role is much bigger than just reproducing knowledge and people for the world of work. They also have to add value, therefore it is important for business schools to theorise the role of business and then the role of business schools in their space.

The role of business is a social justice role. Business is the applied economy and all of us participate in economic life. Business must serve toward the prosperity of human beings. Once we understand that, then we can train individuals to become the citizens our world needs.

Dr Randall Jonas, Nelson Mandela University Business School. South Africa.


The fourth industrial revolution will built upon disruption. Technological advancements will also play a huge role. The biggest disrupter though is Africa’s bulging young population. 

Africa is currently seeing a youth bulge similar to the one that was seen in Asia back in the eighties and nineties. We have millions of youth below the age of twenty-five. These youth have needs and aspirations, and we are struggling to meet them. Business schools are trying to figure out what these youth should be learning, and what credentials they need to impact their economies. If African institutions of higher learning fail to draw effective curriculums for the twenty-first century, our relevance will be in question.

Dr. Ahmed Shaikh, Managing Director, Regent Business School. South Africa.


Education is going to be massively disrupted by the rate at which industries are changing. People are going to have to retool constantly after they enter the job market. In the past, you could work a job in your area of training without much need for diversification of skills. Things are vastly different today because industries are continuously demanding new skills. The new skills being demanded are, most of the time, quite different from a professional’s area of training.

Our institution works very closely with Ghanaian industries in several ways. First, we ensure industry involvement in your curriculum design and review processes.

We constantly survey industry to follow up on how our students are doing in their internship and permanent placement jobs. The feedback we get from interns and alumni in corporate Ghana is used to inspire changes in our curriculum where necessary. Our institution keeps up with how automation is changing our industries. There has been a lot of fear that automation may kill jobs. What we may not realise is that automation may lead to the rise of jobs we don’t know of yet.

It would do us good to worry less about automation, and instead focus on research. This research has to be relevant to our situation so that our industries flourish.

Mr Patrick Awuah, Founder and President, Ashesi University. Ghana.


We need a radical shift to keep up with changing technologies in this era of the fourth industrial revolution. 

Often, when it comes to technology in Africa, we find ourselves in the back seat. We must react much quicker in the face of changing technologies, especially where production is concerned. 

This reaction will have to be spurred by policies both at the institutional and government level. In our case, institutional policies are often guided by government policies. This works against us at times because government policies are often behind the curve. Our local regulators, for instance, want to revise our curriculum every five years. This is problematic because we all know that industries are changing at a much faster rate than that. We want to be able to keep up by making changes way sooner.

The fourth industrial revolution is upon us at a time when Africa has an enormous youth bulge. We have to respond to the economic needs of our youth by encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship. We have made those two topics compulsory here at the International University of Management in Namibia, at least for the first two years into all student programmes. Students then decide whether to continue on that path or not. 

However, even as we make efforts to adjust accordingly in the face of the fourth industrial revolution, we must remember that some things will always remain as they are. We will always need food and shelter, so our innovations and research must centre these two key areas. We must emphasise the need for smart farming in rural areas and research ways to improve housing for our people.

Prof. Kingo Mchombu, Vice-Chancellor, International University of Management Namibia.

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