Finding Solutions: Research and Innovation in Education

Research and Innovation by Honoris Staff Writer

In our fast-changing, globalised, and competitive world, it is research and innovation (R&I) that is finding solutions to society’s biggest challenges.

The academic research workforce is leading the fight against COVID-19, for example, generating knowledge to understand the pandemic and develop effective mitigation strategies. It is not only medical research that has shown its value during the pandemic, but research domains as diverse as mathematics and the humanities.

Tertiary education has an enormous role to play in R&I: finding cutting-edge, sustainable and equitable solutions for local, continental and global problems, and nurturing the next generations of innovators.

This next generation will face a world of work where an innovative mindset is a necessity.

“Due to competitive markets and fluctuating demand, innovation has become fundamental for business survival,” says Professor Nidhal Rezg, Dean of Université Centrale, École Polytechnique in Tunisia, an Honoris United Universities member institution.

“Globalisation has encouraged and even forced companies in Tunisia and across the world to innovate.”

Innovation has been built into the heart of École Polytechnique, which brings an ethos of “understanding in order to do” to the engineering sciences.

“A linear approach has dominated the sciences, but we have developed circular approaches to lead students towards real knowledge of the world of research and innovation, of its professions, of its working and thinking methods,” says Professor Rezg.

One of Université Centrale’s projects that uses applied research to train future graduates in using innovation to create value and wealth for broader society is SimCo. École Polytechnique teamed up with the Medical Simulation Center in Tunisia to develop an intelligent decision support system for detecting neurological disorders. Using artificial intelligence (AI), the SimCo system allows physicians to confirm diagnoses for subjects affected by disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

Benefitting from an international R&I collaboration, the LPRI (Multidisciplinary Research and Innovation) Lab at École Marocaine des Sciences de L’ingénieur (EMSI), Casablanca, Morocco, was set up in partnership with the University of Lorraine, France, to structure research and engineer technological advancements. The laboratory has four teams – automation and industrial engineering; energy and sustainable mobility; information and data analysis; and intelligent communicating systems – which file scientific contributions in renowned journals as well as patents for invention each year.

Teams at the laboratory are working on, among other projects, smart solutions for connected factories, integrating the Internet of Things, Big Data and AI, with the aim of improving productivity in the industry of the future. They have also integrated new energies (sun and wind) for optimal energy management in big cities.

“The laboratory supports students with innovative ideas to move on to the first prototype,” says Dr Mohamed Tabaa, Director of the LPRI Lab. “EMSI laureates are encouraged to pursue their careers as future doctors, engineers or researchers.”

While academic career structures and the allocation of funding largely reflect merit-based competition among individuals – which has proven effective in promoting excellence in fundamental research – there is growing concern about the emphasis on individual disciplinary excellence and short-term outputs.

Nile University in Nigeria, also an Honoris United Universities member institution, has partnered with scientific, economic and technological organisations across Nigeria to support research and employability, highlighting the need for research, and research skills, that are of value in the 21st century world of work.

“These collaborations in the field of research will result in outputs that will be innovative and useful for our students, Nile University and the nation at large,” says professor Ebele Amali, Dean of the School of Postgraduate Studies and Professor of Economics, at Nile.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of data-intensive science, in particular, propelling it forward as a critical tool. Roles such as data stewards, software engineers and data analysts are crucial in today’s world.

But R&I is important in realms beyond what we would traditionally consider the sciences – arts and social sciences benefit from research and innovation, too. At the Red and Yellow Creative School of Business in South Africa, degrees in the creative industries include research elements.

“We bridge the gap between theoretical, or academic, study and real-world situations in the market through research – by getting our students to investigate a question or topic. The execution of the research provides a better understanding of an issue,” says Tendai Mbumbwa, BCom Marketing Lecturer at Red and Yellow.

Looking beyond traditional disciplines, tomorrow’s world of work will also require researchers with inter- and trans-disciplinary skills. R&I has perhaps never been so crucial for the next generation.