With the workplace becoming increasingly data driven, graduates with highly developed data science skills and knowledge are becoming more in demand. In response to this changing work environment Stellenbosch University (SU) launched a new multi-disciplinary undergraduate degree programme in Data Science in 2021.
The BDatSci (Bachelor in Data Science) four-year degree programme, which is offered in four faculties – Economic and Management Sciences; AgriSciences; Arts and Social Sciences; and Science – is the only one of its kind in South Africa. Graduates will be able to continue with a Master's degree in their chosen data-rich field.
The first diverse cohort of 46 students who enrolled for the programme this year will gain knowledge of foundational modules in all the focal areas such as statistics, computer science and mathematics. They will also be exposed to new technologies and concepts in the field of data science.
With a degree in Data Science, these graduates will be able to put their skills to use to solve real world problems in fields as diverse as genetics, healthcare, e-commerce, finance, government or retail.
Prof Paul Mostert, Chair of the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences and also programme coordinator of this degree, lauded SU for offering such a much needed programme.
“Many postgraduate programmes in Data Science exist at many universities, here and abroad, but few are globally focused on undergraduate levels. It is therefore a very novel area of study especially at undergraduate level and may be one of the reasons why it is not on the radar of career consultants at school level."
He added that much work still needs to be done to educate career advisors at schools about Data Science and its future in the job market.
“Students are still advised to study the very traditional undergraduate degree programmes in Accounting, Actuarial Science, Engineering and Medicine, especially if they are good in Maths. A lot of work needs to be done to shift that mind-set and open the field to include Data Science. The more industry exposes the general public to the application of Data Science and where it is used in every-day life, the more interest tertiary institutions like us will get. It will eventually require a partnership between industry and academia to promote such a much needed qualification in Data Science."
Of the cohort of 46 students who started their BDatSci studies this year, the percentage of students who chose subject combinations in the focal areas across the four faculties is as follows: Statistical Learning (44%), Computer Science (31%), Behavioural Economics (23%), Analytics and Optimisation (1%) and Applied Mathematics (1%).
One of those students, Albert du Plessis, said he chose to study for the BDatSci degree because of the high demand for data scientists across the world.
“I also chose it because if you complete the degree you also automatically obtain your honours," he said.
Du Plessis chose to pursue the focal area of Statistical Learning within the Economic and Management Sciences Faculty.
“The Statistical Learning focal area interests me the most because it teaches you how to identify patterns and trends in data. I'll be able to use this information to create statistical models to help make predictions. I'm very excited about studying for the degree and I'm glad that it came along the year I started university. I'm proud to be a pioneer of BDatSci," he said.
Michelle Ehlers, who is studying BDatSci with the focus of Applied Mathematics within the Faculty of Science, chose this focal area because she enjoys Mathematics and solving problems.
“I felt this focal area was right for me because mathematical methods are used in real life to analyse data, form conclusions and make decisions. Solving problems is also one of my strong points and I thought this new inter-disciplinary Data Science degree would be the right opportunity for me to make use of this strength," said Ehlers.
She added: “The study of Data Science would also enable me to help businesses by analysing data and building models so that they can make better decisions and improve their services and products."
- The minimum requirements for admission to the BDatSci programme are: NSC average of 80% (based on prospective students' six best subjects, excluding Life Orientation); Mathematics 80%; and Home Language 60%. If English is not the home language, then English First Additional Language 75%.