This article appeared in the National Research Foundation website on 4 May 2016.
South Africa and the United Kingdom have established the first three bilateral research chairs to strengthen research and innovation capacity between the two countries.
The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, and the British High Commissioner to South Africa, Dame Judith Macgregor, launched the research chairs in Cape Town today.
Two of the chairs, at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), will focus on food security, while the chair at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) will focus on political science.
Implemented by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the research chairs form part of the UK-SA Newton Fund science cooperation initiative that the two countries launched in 2014.
The chairs were awarded to Dr Stephen Devereux at UWC, Prof. Michael John Roberts at NMMU, and Prof. Lawrence Hamilton at Wits. The British Council will fund the food security chairs to the amount of R1,3 million each, while the British Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences will fund the Wits chair to the amount of R1,7 million. These funds will be invested for a period of five years.
Through the initiative, South Africa and the UK will be able to increase the quality and production of master's and PhD graduates by supporting research excellence in response to key socio-economic and development priorities.
These three research chairs are part of the already awarded 198 research chairs at South Africa's universities as part of the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), which began in 2006 and is now a R404 million-a-year programme.
However, SARChI is not only supported by public funds; SARChI also leverages private funding. For every R1 of public funding towards SARChI, another R2 is invested by industry. The total cumulative public investment between 2006 and 2014 amounted to R1,5 billion. Furthermore, SARChI holders – when they numbered 154 – were able to leverage an additional R3 billion from foreign sources, government departments, and private and industry funders. That was a huge vote of public confidence in our public research and development programme.
This latest UK-SA bilateral research chairs initiative is the second such initiative after the global environmental health initiative established with Switzerland last year. The third will be in nanosciences and advanced materials with Germany.
SARChI is aimed at supporting South Africa's transformation to a knowledge economy, improving the country's international competitiveness, and strengthening its ability to produce excellence in postgraduate research.
Announcing the new research chairs in Cape Town, Minister Pandor said research chairs were vital to South Africa's future prosperity and would help to encourage the best scientists to work in Africa.
While the best scientists had a global choice of where to work, the Minister said the initiative was one of the best ways to avoid the brain drain to developed countries.
"I anticipate that they will contribute to South Africa's growing importance as a centre of science and innovation excellence, best illustrated by the 2012 decision for South Africa to co-host the Square Kilometre Array giant telescope – one of the largest ever international science projects – and one of the most important partnerships between the UK and South Africa," she said
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