29 September 2020 – Pretoria: The head of the United Nations in South Africa and Resident Coordinator, Nardos Bekele-Thomas, was taken on a tour yesterday of the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa Institute and Campus by the university’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof. Tawana Kupe.
The Future Africa Institute and Campus is “a purpose-built transdisciplinary research institute and green campus dedicated to the creation of knowledge that addresses the importance of sustainable futures in Africa,” according to its brochure. In his briefing at the beginning of the tour, Prof. Kupe said Future Africa conducts “challenge-led research”, which means it engages in research “not on what we professors want to do, but what society wants as articulated in SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] and the National Development Plan and the [African Union’s] Agenda 2063.”
It is dedicated to “addressing the complex and complicated long-term challenges that Africa faces. We operate differently from the way universities normally operates,” he said. The institute’s work is driven by research into issues that have a direct impact on societies, not theoretical research that only appears in research papers promoting its authors without changing anything on the ground.
The institute, which has teamed up with several corporate entities, including Microsoft, and other research institute such as South Africa’s Centre for Social Science Research, is made up of “innovations” that include the Engineering 4.0 Complex, the Javett-UP Art Centre and the Innovation Africa@UP. Enrolment is open to students from African countries. It also funds African scholars and scientists from African universities to come and carry out research, but the universities must continue paying their salaries “to prevent brain drain”.
According to Prof. Kupe, his goal is to make the Institute “the most innovative square mile in Africa,” akin to Sandton, Johannesburg’s most affluent business district, which is regarded as Africa’s richest square mile.
In her response, Ms. Bekele-Thomas commended the Vice-Chancellor’s vision, adding that the challenge facing African institutions was how to align their research projects to be relevant to the socio-economic transformation of the continent.
During the tour, the Resident Coordinator was accompanied by the UNICEF Representative a.i., Muriel Mafico and several other UN officials.
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