Applied research is designed to solve practical problems of the modern world, rather than to acquire knowledge for knowledge's sake. With the 4IR already upon us, we need to align our research to sustainable development goals and use the right technologies to solve practical problems of the modern world.
The Central University of Technology, Free State (CUT) is contributing significantly in terms of the academic research outputs, and as a university of technology, all research programmes are aimed at solving problems in business, industry, and government, to contribute to the socio-economic development of the region.
On 02 October 2019, the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology (FEBIT) held its 6th Annual Research Culture Workshop under the theme “Steering research for relevance and societal impact.” The main objective is to instil the culture of research amongst academic researchers with much emphasis on applied research, to find solutions and develop innovative technologies that will impact on economic development of the city, region and beyond.
Prof. Alfred Ngowi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research Innovation and Engagement, said that he would like to see pockets of world-class research happening at CUT with national and international partners. He also spoke about three avenues for CUT’s research impact which he said includes a balance between basic and applied research, high impact journals and multi-discipline research centres. “We cannot avoid basic research, but we need to focus more on applied research if we want to tackle real issues. Excellent research leads to a better society and the economy. By leveraging the 4IR, we can come up with multidisciplinary research methods that will benefit this region.”
In his keynote address, Dr Mlungisi Cele from the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) presented on the South African Innovation System and the role of universities. He focused on the context in which knowledge production happens, identifying issues that require a sense of agency to make sure that South Africa doesn’t lag.
He said that South Africa is characterised by a non-equal, and non-even development and increasing demand for improving the quality of life and wellbeing of South Africans. In this broader context, he mentioned multiple societal challenges, a concept that is now used globally in the Science, Technology and Information (STI) policy discourse.
He also said that the non-governmental organisations and civil society were not included in research or innovation practice in the past but now they cannot be excluded. “As academics, you can no longer set the research agenda without the inclusion of the beneficiaries or the users. At the heart of innovation policy, it must be what humanity needs and not what we traditionally did to come up with solutions and thereafter go to society and present them with solutions for their problems.”
“It is important for us to think of what innovations or technological solutions we should be developing to transform the situation of our people. As a country, we need to have more Research and Development led industries that may help us to stimulate or generate more resources for economic growth. We also need to improve the competitiveness of industries and firms, and I was happy to see that CUT is doing well in 3D printing.”
Dr Cele also indicated that South Africa is not doing well globally in terms of global innovation competitive index. “Our firms are not competitive and part of the reason is that they are not innovative. The question is, what is it that CUT can do to address these challenges related to manufacturing? We need to use our innovation to support Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises (SMMEs) as the future of our economic growth depends on them to properly function and ultimately produce. We need to improve and upscale the grassroots of innovations, and if you want to be relevant as CUT, you need to have initiatives that are aimed at supporting these innovations which are those found in townships, rural areas and informal settlement. We need to support the government’s decision making so that we are not always criticised,” he concluded.