Over the past 250 years, humankind has lived through three industrial revolutions. Now, the dramatic changes in how we work, live and interact are the beginning of the fourth. Industry 4.0, or 4IR, is well underway.

Africa, as a passive recipient of the previous industrial revolutions, has failed to benefit from global progress. Today, as Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) gathers momentum, the continent must ensure that it is an active participant. As one of Africa’s top universities, UJ aims to position and maintain itself as a 4IR leader and contributor, and in 2013, we accordingly adopted our strategy for Global Excellence and Stature (GES).

4IR is based not on a single technology, but on multiple developments and technologies. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, cryptocurrencies and renewable energy are evolving at an exponential pace. Often interrelated, they increasingly connect the digital with the physical world. Substantial disruptions affecting all industries and systems of production, management and governance, will transform all aspects of 21st century life and society.

GES 4.0

Building on the achievements generated by the original GES strategic plan, UJ has embarked on conceptualising GES 4.0 and identifying potential catalytic initiatives. The GES 4.0 vision of the Vice-Chancellor (VC) was discussed by the Senior Leadership Group and by Senate, and endorsed by Senate. Senate tasked each of four teams to address one key area for rethinking and development: Teaching and Learning, Research and Innovation, Communication, and Infrastructure. Their inputs contributed to the major, high-level GES 4.0 catalytic initiative proposal – The 4IR and the University of Johannesburg, which provides a framework for developing an implementation plan for the GES 4.0 initiative. Council approved an associated budget, together with a supporting business case.

Statutory committees added a standing item on GES 4.0, campus visits were thematically configured around 4IR, and in July 2018, the institution as a whole was engaged. 4IR is a highly dynamic, long-term initiative with unpredictable outcomes, and many of the following reports include evidence of the increasing its impact on University activities.

Through the GES 4.0 initiative, UJ is seeking to position itself within the context of the changing social, political and economic fortunes of Africa, as a 4IR leader and contributor in a multi-disciplinary context of inputs and outputs. Importantly, the goal of UJ’s pan-African focus is to ensure that Africa, from its own perspective, provides at least some answers to the challenges raised by 4IR.

GES 4.0 does not change the current UJ strategy, but rather seeks to enhance it.