Upon completion of a B.Sc. degree at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in 1981, Randall Carolissen started his career at the age of 20, as an industrial engineer at Firestone in Port Elizabeth, and rapidly rose through the ranks. Pursuing his ambition to further his academic studies in Physics, he returned to UWC in 1984 as a laboratory assistant and completed a BSc (Hons). In 1987, he was appointed as a researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and in this period, he completed an MSc (cum laude) in 1989. He was then appointed as a lecturer at UWC and completed his PhD in 1995 in Nano-Physics. Whilst working towards his PhD, he assumed a research fellowship at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania and in this period worked in a team that performed ground-breaking research on Schottky barrier interfaces, and co-authored three publications that remain widely cited internationally. He then assumed a post-doctoral research post at the University of Ghent. He has published his work in internationally peer-reviewed journals.
In 2005, he completed an MBA (cum laude) at the University of Stellenbosch specialising in International Finance, receiving the Old Mutual Gold medal. This was followed by an M.Com in International Tax at the University of the Northwest 2009. Apart from his junior degree, all postgraduate qualifications were pursued on a part-time basis, whilst establishing his career and supporting his extended family.
He left the world of academia in 1999, and as the Managing Director of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) he was tasked with corporatizing the commercial arm of the organisation. The 2005 annual report of the SABS will show that he effected a major turnaround with the organisation moving from loss-making government agency to an internationally competitive, financially stable certification body, independent from government funding. In 2005, he assumed the position as COO of Damelin group of companies.
Prof. Carolissen joined SARS in 2007 as a General Manager responsible for Quality Management. His responsibilities included mapping processes, and drafting policies and procedures to operationalise the SARS modernisation program. A year later he was appointed as a Group Executive and tasked to establish a division responsible for revenue modelling and forecasting. The team he led developed statistical and data analytics models cited by the IMF as amongst the best globally. This application of statistics and the level of precision attained assisted in improving tax compliance and closing of tax gaps, allowing SARS to respond robustly to the 2008 global financial crisis, which in turn ensured South Africa’s (SA) sustainability of its fiscal framework. SARS maintained a tax to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio exceeding 26%, comparable with leading economies, with revenue breaching R1 trillion. This offered the SA government fiscal space for debt consolidation, and containment of national budget deficits.
He initiated, with the World Bank, a reform process of the reporting on trade statistics to reflect the modernisation of the SA economy post liberation. As a technical expert, he has represented South Africa at the BRICS, IMF, World Bank, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the African Bank. He concluded his career at SARS as the head of the Tax, Customs and Excise Institute and was responsible for human capital development research in fiscal economy, tax and trade statistics. His team assisted African counterparts building statistical forecasting models and developing OECD compliant statistics reporting systems. The SA Tax statistics bulletin, published annually, is a highly regarded research resource and was used as a model to launch the African bulletin.
Throughout his adult life, he maintained a keen involvement in social activism. This was first kindled whilst at school by the 1976 uprising against Apartheid, and later sharpened with his exposure to the UWC intelligentsia. He assumed several leadership positions advancing the causes of the poor and marginalised. With his spouse Nadia, and friends, he established a formal settlement for 300 homeless families in Kalkfontein in Kuilsrivier in the early 1990’s. This led to the formation of the Kuilsrivier Residents Association (KRA) of which Dr. Carolissen was the founding chairperson. In addition to the many noteworthy community-building programmes, KRA raised funds internationally to build a childcare facility, which since 1992, prepared more than 100 underprivileged children each year for school whilst also providing food and shelter. Together with alumni from Ravensmead and Florida High Schools, they founded the RUCET bursary fund in 2014. This fund has disbursed close to twenty bursaries over the preceding three-year period. He has served an unprecedented three terms as the chairperson of the University of the Witwatersrand, an institution that has produced five Nobel laureates and is a world leader in producing CEOs of international companies.
Prof. Carolissen has accumulated many prestigious international awards and has established himself as a leading fiscal authority within South Africa, and a thought leader in the higher education sector.
Since August 2018, Prof. Carolissen was appointed as the Administrator of the National Student Fund Aid scheme (NSFAS) with the full powers of the board and executive management. This drastic step by Government was in response to a complete collapse of governance that evinced itself in hundreds of thousands of students not receiving stipends for periods of up to eight months. In 2018, this caused considerable hardship to more than half a million beneficiaries, and brought the Higher Education system to the precipice of collapse. The successful turnaround of the administration and the improved delivery on its mandate drew widespread recognition from all stakeholders. This project was cited by President Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation address as a major success story of the democratic government of South Africa. An independent review submitted to cabinet recognised the significant achievements of this intervention and the attendant stabilisation of the system, inclusive of the recommendations emanating from the administration. Testimony to this turn-around was the unqualified audit received by NSFAS from the Auditor-General in 2021.
On 1 March 2021, he assumed the position Dean of the Johannesburg Business School (JBS), part of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), and in his short tenure there repositioned this institution as the leading digital business school on the African continent. He was recently honoured with his appointment as a visiting Distinguished Professor in Digital Leadership at the University of Woxsen in India.