A glimpse into Africa’s universities and business schools of the future: Q&A with Prof. Zaheer Hamid

Professor Zaheer Hamid, Academic Director – MANCOSA (Honoris United Universities)

Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are rapidly changing the world of work. Higher education institutions need to adapt if they are to remain relevant and offer their students skills that can be applied in the real world.

For a glimpse into Africa’s universities and business schools of the future, How we made it in Africa spoke to Professor Zaheer Hamid, Academic Director at South African higher education provider MANCOSA, which is part of Honoris United Universities, the first private pan-African higher education network. Hamid was also recently appointed as a member of the Honoris Academic Council, with a mandate to direct a diverse range of programmes enabling Honoris faculty and students to benefit from the sharing of ideas, real-world expertise, and multi-cultural immersion.

What will be the most important skills for African leaders and professionals in the coming decades?

Africa’s development will be turbulent in the short run whilst smoothening out over the long term. The challenges that the continent’s leaders and professionals will face in the coming decades are inevitably going to be complex and multifaceted. Furthermore, contexts will change rapidly and this indicates that different skills will be required at different periods.

A well-rounded individual, skilled in many areas will ultimately be required. Having said this, agility, problem solving and critical thinking skills are probably going to be the most important in the coming decades. Africa requires a new breed of managers, leaders and professionals who are skilled in understanding the nuances of the African development agenda, whilst being deeply aware of the forces influencing the global environment.

How will the labour market of the future differ from today?

The changes brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution are wide-spread. The labour market is going to be fundamentally altered and no one is quite sure what it will look like. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics and big data has already changed the way in which organisations employ individuals, how company structures are set up and how businesses interface with customers and suppliers. All of these changes are already indicative of a changing labour market. As technology evolves, so too will the world of work.

We would probably lose many of the menial and basic jobs to robots, but we will be creating higher-end jobs – jobs that are needed in order to empower AI, machines and robots. The effect is probably going to result in a labour market that is characterised by multi-skilled workers and individuals with higher levels of education and training than we have today.

Honoris is intimately aware that the future labour market will require a new breed of managers, leaders and professionals. These individuals will need to be highly agile and multi-skilled in order to succeed. Therefore, at the centre of our initiatives is a strong focus on employability. Training students for a world of work that is still obscure requires deep reflection and accurate projection of the core, generic skills that enable students and graduates to remain flexible and agile. Honoris has placed a strong focus on the three Es – education, employability and entrepreneurship.

The newly built Medical Simulation Centre by Honoris in Tunisia offers sophisticated forms of simulation that present real life scenarios to students through VR headsets.

Are African educational institutions adequately equipping students with the required future skills?

Higher unemployment rates in Africa may not necessarily be indicative of a poor higher education system, as much as it is of tough economic times.

However, a growing call from employers in Africa and around the world, is for higher education institutions to focus more on preparing graduates for the world of work. Traditionally, higher education institutions have not placed a strong focus on the soft skills required by graduates, which make them ready for the world of work. As a result, there is growing criticism that educational institutions are producing graduates that lack skills such as communication, teamwork and the ability to collaborate.

One of the goals of Honoris’ new Academic Council is to equip students with soft skills and digital capabilities. Give us more details about this initiative.

We see the development of soft skills, including digital literacy, as a critical enabler for the Honoris graduate in terms of employability and success. Soft skills will be delivered through curricular and co-curricular activities. The development of soft skills serves as a complementary addition to formal learning and hard skills training, so as to create a well-rounded graduate.

iLeadLAB is a specialist ’employability unit’ within South Africa’s Regent Business School which officially opened in November 2018.

Talk about the 21st-century learning environments Honoris has created.

As part of Honoris’ strategy for developing 21st-century skills for employability, a dedicated Honoris space that encapsulates the Honoris DNA will be implemented across each university within the network under the umbrella of the ‘Collective Lab’. Each Collective Lab will be an open access place to meet, learn, connect, create, share and inspire.

Current Collective Lab examples within the Honoris network include:

  • iLeadLAB is a specialist ’employability unit’ within Regent Business School which officially opened in November 2018. The new unit has been developed in response to the accelerated pace of technological transformation and global labour market disruption. With a focus on developing individuals with strong inter- and intra-personal skills, iLeadLAB empowers participants with the core competencies needed to build a dynamic career in an increasingly competitive marketplace. iLeadLAB places emphasis on preparedness for the digital workspace, with the aim of helping students become fast-learning and flexible professionals with technological capabilities that are in high demand within the corporate world.
  • The newly built Medical Simulation Centre by Honoris in Tunisia was developed in coordination with international experts, using advanced technologies to create an impressive 2,500 m2 site in the heart of Tunis. The centre is equipped to international standards with four simulation types. These include advanced mannequin technologies in a hospital setting, scenario-based simulations, actor-based simulations and cutting-edge virtual reality technologies. These are sophisticated forms of simulation that present real life scenarios to students through VR headsets. This technology will bring complex scenarios like hazardous spills or trauma events in real-time, right into the heart of the Medical Simulation Centre.
  • The SmartiLab in the Moroccan School of Engineering Sciences is a dedicated space for research, development and innovation. In the last three years they have received almost 60 international prizes and awards in this area. This includes, most recently, the 47th Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions and the 22nd Edition of the International Exhibition of Inventions and Technological Innovations in Moscow

Each Collective Lab has a unique pedagogy which combines theoretical elements with hands-on experience, allowing students to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are desired by employers. They are used to cajole graduates at the intersection of higher education and the working world, by developing in them, skills which enhance their employability. These spaces are staffed by academic and technology experts, who work with students to develop innovative solutions to existing problems.