Recruitment Campaign Attracts Top Students to Specialise in Data Science

A strategic recruitment campaign by UKZN’s Dean and Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS), Professor Delia North, has reaped excellent rewards.

North explained that the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution had produced an insatiable demand for graduates highly skilled in data analytics, resulting in a critical shortage of such specialists nationally and internationally. ‘Data Science is an interdisciplinary field involving scientific methods, processes and systems to extract knowledge or insights from data,’ said North.

In 2018 the McKinsey Global Institute predicted that the demand for data scientists would outstrip supply by 60%!

In the light of this, the SMSCS designed a suite of qualifications in the discipline and last year launched its BSc Data Science degree while a BSc Honours degree in Data Science will be offered next year, along with a Postgraduate Certificate and a coursework Master’s degree in Data Science.

‘The suite of Data Science qualifications is destined to place UKZN in a very strong strategic position nationally to contribute towards alleviating the extreme shortage of high-level data scientists in the country,’ said North. ‘All degrees are underwritten by an international statistics software company, Statistical Analysis Software (SAS), which is the gold standard for data analytics software in banks, government and major companies, around the world.’

Last year North deliberately targeted top performing youngsters with a flair for the mathematical sciences, and exposed them to the exciting field of Data Science as a possible future career path, through a series of targeted outreach activities among UKZN’s feeder schools.

North was delighted when during 2020 registration, nine top-performing Durban matriculants signed up to study towards a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Data Science at UKZN.

The maths whizz kids include two sets of twins – Ms Saurie and Ms Salurie Padayachee, and Ms Timaha and Ms Ashraya Udho.

Their colleagues are Ms Thenuja Pillay, Ms Holisha Chetty, Mr Revlen Ganesh, Mr Callyn Barath and Mr Aaron Naidu.

They are all ultra-high achievers with Naidu being the winner of the 2019 South African Mathematics Olympiad and the Tertiary Mathematics Olympiad, as well as being the top matriculant in KwaZulu-Natal and second in South Africa in the 2019 National Senior Certificate examinations, with an aggregate of 96.71%, including 100% for Mathematics.

At an informal function hosted by the SMSCS for the standout new recruits and their parents, North encouraged the group to network with each other and form a support group.

She thanked the parents for having faith in UKZN and assured them that the Data Science programme had excellent staff as teachers and mentors who would guide their children towards successful future careers.

‘With a Data Science degree there are lots of different directions to go in,’ said North. ‘I want you all to push the boundaries of the field.

‘Young bright minds such as yours are essential if UKZN is to contribute to new theories in Data Science. South Africa will benefit when high-end, data-savvy scientists such as yourselves enter the world of business.

‘The world is your oyster – UKZN will support and grow you in whichever direction you choose to go,’ added North.

Words and photograph: Sally Frost