Towards an educational model for data scientists in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in South Africa

2019-05-23T12:47:48Z (GMT) by Patricia Chikuni
Scientific research processes are accompanied by burgeoning amounts of research data that serves as findings of the research and provides a platform for the results to be verifiable. Scientific researchers are under pressure to make their data openly available to other researchers for use. Access to scientific data and its curation has become a dominant theme in scientific policy discussions. Besides the funder requirements, researchers are making their data openly available for a number of reasons that include, raising the profiles of their research outputs, to increase their citations, to validate their research outputs and for their authenticity and integrity as researchers. However, not all researchers possess the skills to curate their own data and make it openly available for use in an open environment that is FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable).

The primary objective of this paper is to raise awareness of the strategic role of data scientists in the scientific research process. The study seeks to contribute towards a growing and emergent discourse of data science in HEIs. It also seeks to contribute towards an educational model for data scientists in HEIs in South Africa. In-order to realise these objectives the paper asks the following research questions:How are the emergent roles of data scientists conceptualised in HEIs in South Africa?What is the strategic role of a data scientist in the scientific research process?.This study analysed data science programs offered by universities in South Africa to understand how the role of data scientists is conceptualised and to delineate the scope of this emergent field. A qualitative content analysis survey method is used to analyse courses offered by HEIs in South Africa.

Preliminary findings from the research revealed that data scientists are drawn from fields like mathematics, statistics, information science, and computer science. The practical jobs of data scientists as conceptualised by the majority of universities employs theories drawn from the information science, computer science and statistics. The data scientists are expected to work closely with the researchers where the research is done. Most universities are offering data science programs at post-graduate level as professional courses for learners coming in from diverse backgrounds. The study recommends that the next generation of data scientists in a South African context should possess a cocktail of skills that enable them to conduct data analysis and enquiry to enable others to work with digital data.


Presentation at the UCT E-Research Conference 2019: DataScience4D: Explore the practice, principles and opportunities of data science for development
15 – 18 April 2019 held at the University of Cape Town