Academia shaping views at WEF, Davos ’23: Professor Zeblon Vilakazi on jobs, economy for the future

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi says The World Economic Forum was started by Professor Klaus Schwab as an academic to collate different views on the future. Zeblon will be attending the Expert Forum on Higher Education, a think tank focused on jobs and the economy of the future, themes into which every parent with young children desperately wants some insight.

Zeblon Vilakazi on discussing changes in higher education in Africa

I think the World Economic Forum started with an academic, to give a different perspective on how we can achieve solutions to solving global problems. At the heart of that is the higher educational sector. I will be participating here as part of the Experts Forum on Higher Education to discuss, among others, jobs of the future, the economy of the future. It is at WEF that the whole concept of the fourth Industrial Revolution was put together by a group of academics to help coin one single expressive term for this digital explosion. There is an ongoing conversation among directors, presidents and vice-chancellors across the world. It is my privilege to be here representing quite a few associations on the African continent, to have a place at the table where we can express our views regarding how these changes in education, teaching, learning and jobs of the future will impact us in Africa. 

Higher Education to prepare for the future 

Universities haven’t been able to prepare for that future. We knew how to respond to it when, for example, online learning happened because of COVID, but we really weren’t prepared for it. We had to learn on the fly. We don’t know how to prepare people for the industry of the future. So that is one thing we as university administrators have to learn. To manage this exponential and how it’ll impact on how we educate the future generation. That is where we find ourselves wanting because we only say, oh, this is what has happened. It is something we had to learn and see how our peers across the world, who are facing similar problems, are thinking and try to adapt to this new reality.

Universities needing to adapt to the current digital exponential 

Universities, by their very nature, are quite byzantine. They were actually founded as theological seminaries in the Middle Ages. Just like political structures, they have all these policies, rules, procedures and statutes that don’t allow them to move at the rate at which the current digital exponential is moving. There’s nothing wrong with that, because you need to maintain that rigour, that institutional element of respect for the process, but how do you adapt and learn to do things on the fly without compromising the rigour of the entire academic process? So, those are the kinds of challenges we face.

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