TUT honours distinguished AI scholar Prof Marwala with doctorate

United Nations University rector and UN undersecretary-general Prof Tshilidzi Marwala was awarded the highest academic award in the history of Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) on Monday.

Artificial intelligence expert

The distinguished scholar is an expert in artificial intelligence. Marwala received an honorary doctorate in engineering in recognition of his academic achievements, leadership, and contribution to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

He is the second person to be bestowed the honorary degree in engineering in TUT’s 20-year history. The first was awarded to Prof Jozsef Karger-Kocsis in 2017.

The ceremony was part of the first-day of autumn graduations held at TUT’s Soshanguve campus, north-west of Pretoria, which is also home of the information and communication technology faculty.

The graduations are also the first to be conducted by new chancellor and business mogul Gloria Serobe.
Prof Marwala’s historic week

Marwala, who has a PhD in AI and engineering from the University of Cambridge, is in the country in what TUT has called “Prof Marwala’s Historic Week”, which forms part of the university’s 20th anniversary celebrations.

On Wednesday, he will deliver TUT’s 20th anniversary lecture titled “AI and universities: Friend or foes” at the main campus in Pretoria West. The lecture will be followed by a masterclass with postgraduate students on Thursday.

Mbilwi Secondary praised

In his acceptance speech, the former University of Johannesburg vice chancellor and principal said it was Mbilwi Secondary School in Duthuni village, Venda, that exposed him to maths and science.

Marwala, who has been based in Tokyo, Japan, since heading the UN University in March last year, added that it was at Mbilwi that his fascination with AI and education was piqued.

“Just a few years later, while at Mbilwi, I entered and won the National Youth Science Olympiad and went to the UK to attend the London International Youth Science Fortnight.

“This marked a turning point in my life.  I learned about climate change, superconductivity, and technologies that were going to change the world. Although my keen interest in engineering developed from my grandmother, Vho-Tshianeo, who was a natural engineer with an acute understanding of how the world worked, London really helped me hone my interests—specifically around AI,” he said.

“This convergence of interests has come to define much of my career,” said Marwala.

Among those who attended the ceremony were Marwala’s mother, Regina Khathutshelo Marwala and former undersecretary-general and executive director of UN Women and UJ chancellor Dr. Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka.

Inclusivity in higher education

Marwala praised TUT for not only being at the forefront of researching cutting-edge technology but also for showing the importance of access and inclusivity in higher education.

“This honour bestowed on me today is not just a recognition of my past achievements, but it is also a fundamental call to action. It is a reminder of the responsibility we all bear to use our knowledge and talents for the betterment of society. This is a clarion call that I do not take lightly. I am truly honoured to share the stage with your graduates today, who represent the hope of tomorrow,” he said.

TUT vice chancellor and principal, Prof Tinyiko Maluleke, said the varsity was proud to count an academic leader of Marwala’s calibre among its distinguished alumni.

“There couldn’t have been a better way for the TUT to mark its 20th anniversary than the awarding of a Doctor of Engineering Honoris Causa degree to one of the most-impactful academics in South Africa over the past 20 years.

“Professor Marwala’s work in AI and its application to engineering, computer science, finance, social science, and medicine not only resonates with the mandate of TUT, but it has earned Professor Marwala well-deserved accolades nationally and globally,” he said.

Visit SW YouTube Channel for our video content

Latest News