Professor Lourens Van Staden

Vice-Chancellor | Tshwane University of Technology

AfricaLive: What is the main philosophy of the Tshwane University of Technology? What is the University’s role in creating skilled professionals that will contribute to the growth of South Africa?

Prof Staden: 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.

Our universities should primarily focus on the development of human capital. We have to work on creating capital for our region, country, continent, and then focus on the global level. In short, technical universities should be more focused on the development of Africa’s human resources.

At Tshwane University of Technology, we are moving towards this approach with our 2020 to 2026 plan. We will implement this plan once the university council approves it. This plan will primarily focus on addressing the areas of weaknesses in our human resources.

We want to put the knowledge of people to meaningful use. Being a public university, we see ourselves helping people resolve social and economic issues in the country.

The Tshwane University of Technology is also aligning with the vision and goals of the administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa. As a national asset, our role is to turn dreams into reality and address the challenges facing the people of South Africa.

AfricaLive: There is a lack of active working partnerships between industry and higher education in Africa. How does the University intend to address this issue?

Prof Staden: I have worked as a Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Commercialisation)and have already built partnerships with many companies. Let’s take an example of the automotive sector.

We have a lot of manufacturers around Pretoria. Students can get industry exposure by working with these manufacturers. We plan to base their knowledge on the regional economy so that they contribute to the country’s economy and don’t have to relocate to European nations.

In my opinion, time management is an essential skill in industry. Educational institutes are very bureaucratic and have a sloppy timeline. However, industries need timely delivery. From their industrial experience, students will learn to start small and grow over time. They will learn to stick with realistic and achievable goals.

We are also focusing on regional embedment. In Pretoria, you will find science sectors, embassies, automotive, and other sectors offering partnership opportunities. We also have niche areas decided by the national council for the purpose.

Another thing we have employed is technology cluster mapping. We take an area and create a sectional map of the technologies and industries we interact with. It helps to analyse the parts where we can establish connections and create more opportunities.

 

AfricaLive: Can you tell us more about the 2020 to 2026 strategic plan? What are the primary goals and vision behind this plan?

Prof Staden: 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.

In Pretoria, even large universities do not have industrial partnerships. We focus on what we don’t have and overlook the existing valuable resources. We need to optimise and get the best out of what we have.

 

AfricaLive: Africa produces just 3% of global research. How can African institutions accelerate the growth of research and development on the continent?

Prof Staden: We need to establish that Africa has the integrity, work ethic, and all other essential capabilities that the industrial sector demands. In my opinion, it is less about the capabilities, but more about willingness to establish partnerships between universities and industries.

We have to focus and stabilise to deal with the research agenda of the country. Talking specifically of Pretoria, the biggest issue is that universities have resources, but they are not ready to join hands with each other.

 

AfricaLive: How can South Africa and Tshwane University of Technology help in creating more strategic industrial partnerships?

Prof Staden: The South Africa Technology Network committee consists of the innovation agency of the government and partners from many universities, including Kenyan Universities. The number of organisations involved continues to grow.

In this council, we discuss all issues associated with technology or higher education. We are partnering with several different countries for joint projects and other opportunities. We also reached the public to identify the issues they faced and used it to develop a framework in 2007. This plan not only covers common work-related issues but also wider issues such as the impact of colonisation and decolonisation. This plan is ready for future challenges and will be effective for years.

Another issue that hinders Africa from progressing is the patent issue. In Africa, people overlook the potential of patents, even if their researchers are potent. They would simply publish it and then it’s gone.
So we need to familiarise our students with the value of patents from the beginning. Our committees are engaging industries and inviting industries to provide counselling on patents. We are trying to prepare students for entrepreneurship.

AfricaLive: About 80% of startups in South Africa fail within the first three years. How does Tshwane University of Technology plan to foster entrepreneurship in South Africa?

Prof Staden: At the University of Tshwane, we are taking multiple approaches to guide and help our students for entrepreneurship. We are also preparing them for startup challenges.

The Center of Entrepreneurial Development at the Tshwane University of Technology provides studies in entrepreneurship that go up to PhD level. The University of Tshwane is also one of the only African technology universities with a business school.

Our business school studies the central aspect of startups, including failures. I believe that learning is essential. If you have failed, learn why it happened and never repeat it. In case you succeed, learn why and repeat it.

Tshwane University of Technology also holds shares in Tshwane University Enterprise, a private company that provides industrial exposure to students. Here we assist students with business plans, short learning programs and continuous professional programs. The company also acts as a startup and guides students with regional embedment. At the same time, it generates income for the University.

Tshwane University Enterprise encourages students with different expertise and skills to embrace entrepreneurship. The support from the city council helps in research and eases the process of business plan approval. We also have 18 different types of technical centres and service centres that help student transit from theories to the practical world.