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    Opening Address by Prof Ihron Rensburg, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg the MISTRA roundtable wtih Greg Olsen

    Date published:01 March  2013
    Article category: Speeches

    Prof Ihron.JPG

    Dr Greg Olsen, Partners and Friends from MISTRA, the Mapungubwe Institute forStrategic Reflection, Colleagues, Friends, Students

    It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the University of Johannesburg. In particular, I wish to express my most sincere appreciation to our colleagues and friends at MISTRA for partnering with us to bring Dr Olsen to the University of Johannesburg.
    University education, intellectual endeavour and world-class educational facilities, as offered by your university, should not be the preserve of the privileged only, but should be enjoyed by all deserving citizens, including the poor and the marginalised. This commitment to educational access is a  proud  cornerstone  of  the  University  of  Johannesburg  and  its founding institutions. So for example, while 38% of our 2013 first year under-graduate class come from South Africa’s wealthiest families, a solid 17% come from our poorest, this latter share being up from 13% in 2011.
    I make this observation since I am reminded that Dr Olsen, having been born in Brooklyn, New York, was the son of a blue collar worker, electrician and member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. That Dr Olsen graduated from Ridgefield Park High School, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, in 1962, and that after being written off as a failure by teachers due to poor grades in high school, Dr Olsen was
    counselled to try college, and that through a Brotherhood Local 3 scholarship, he went to college, kept his grades high, and graduated magna cum laude with multiple degrees from Fairleigh Dickinson University, later graduating with a PhD in materials science from the University of Virginia. 
    UJ’s 48,500 full-time and 6,500 part-time students come from all corners of South Africa. We also have 2,400 international students from 87 countries and we aim to double the number of international students by
    2020. Specifically, 16,000 of our students are enrolled in science, health sciences, and engineering and technology, and their schools and departments are thoroughly embedded within and connected to Africa’s industrial hub here in the province of Gauteng.
    Research remains vital to national and global prosperity and is an important indicator of the stature of a university. At UJ we have made considerable investments in research broadly and within selected research centres, most notably telecommunications, economic geo- metallurgy, sociological research, energy and sustainable development, nanotechnology (in its applications in both chemistry and physics), water and health and aquatic eco-toxicology. Our research outputs continue to rise, having more than doubled in the last five years. Our National Research Foundation rated academics continue to grow, and is already up from 67 to 115, and we continue to invest in developing the next generation of academics to ensure the sustainability of our efforts for the future.
    Importantly, we continue to improve our teaching, learning and research facilities in order to create the very best environment for our academics and students.
    Our graduates in science, health sciences, and engineering and technology, have distinguished themselves locally and internationally. They understand what Albert Einstein characterised as the dialectic relationship between curiosity and creativity, and the relationship between inquisitiveness and wisdom and, therefore, we are confident that they live by the motto that, “The measure of how intelligent you are is by how much more you pose questions that you give answers”. These graduates understand their roles in crafting a modern, free, democratic, inclusive, dynamic and developmentally focused society, and thus they give meaning to the UJ vision: An international university of choice, anchored in Africa, dynamically shaping the future. Equally, our graduates give meaning to the UJ values of: Imagination, Conversation, Regeneration and Ethical Foundation.
    Now, science and technology is a cornerstone of modern society. The world population has grown exponentially and is expected to stabilise at 9  billion  souls.  These  vast  numbers  of  people  will  require  ongoing nurturing so that indeed they are empowered intellectually, politically, socially  and  economically  in  order  to  live  together  freely,  and  in harmony. For us to achieve all of these science and engineering education must be elevated.
    Now, human curiosity has been a significant driver of development. The curiosity that Isaac Newton had when that proverbial apple fell on his head  on  that  pleasant afternoon in  the  17th   Century  at  Cambridge,
    unlocked the secrets, albeit incomplete, of gravitation. And, it was because of this understanding that we now have the basis for modern aircrafts.
    Also, the curiosity of Max Planck led to the discovery of quantum theory and today we are speaking about better and faster computers based on quantum mechanics.
    Dr Olsen was curious and decided to visit the international space station to see how low gravity influences human mobility and consciousness. Of course, this was an expensive trip. Yet, this was not just the act of misguided curiosity. It was to make a very important point which is that we  are  human  and,  therefore,  we  are  curious.  It  was  to  state categorically that space is important and that space exploration is our destiny.
    So then, why is space important? I believe that it is important because it will allow us to observe objects from a different perspective. Thus, when we  perform experiments on  some virus within a  microgravity environment in space we are able to see how it behaves differently, and this can lead to innovative cures.
    Similarly, the study of combustion within a microgravity environment allows us to see combustion from a different perspective and this may lead to better car engines, which are possibly environmentally friendlier than the current technologies. Simply put, space exploration leads to intellectual empowerment, and quite possibly, the liberation of productive forces which can lead to the extensive economic development of societies.
    Last year South Africa and Australia were jointly selected to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope. This split-site arrangement poses many opportunities. Data generated from the SKA will allow us to better understand the universe, where it comes from, and how it is evolving.  It will also spur research in systems, mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as in telecommunications. And, the infrastructure that will be put into place will result in increased communication which will improve connectivity allowing vital initiatives such   as   e-health,   e-education   and   e-government   to   be   greatly expanded.
    Dr Olsen, and colleagues and friends from MISTRA, guests and students, once again please accept my warm welcome, and please accept my very best wishes for a highly successful day.
     I thank you
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