South Africa is fast becoming a global powerhouse of scientific research and development thanks to groundbreaking initiatives that fuse the demands of academia with the needs of modern industry and, in the process, broaden the country’s skills base.
Our universities and science councils have traditionally been the seat of knowledge-based activities, whereas our leading ‘blue chip” corporations have been the moneymakers and the driving force behind research and development.
But finding the skills necessary to sustain economic growth, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem), has never been easy.
In addition, the significant and well-documented ‘brain drain” has seen some of South Africa’s finest academic and corporate minds leave the country’s shores as a result of unprecedented demand for skills in industrialised countries such as the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.
The Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (Thrip) is designed to enable South African industry to access innovative responses to technological needs and to produce highly skilled researchers and technology managers through ‘hands-on” on-the-job training while they are learning.
Thrip is a flagship research and development programme of the department of trade and industry (DTI) and the National Research Foundation (NRF). It partners academics with businesspeople and in the process nurtures the education and training of staff who go on to pursue careers in the private sector, ensuring the future growth of scientific development in the country.
It’s a government-private sector partnership, with the NRF contributing research management and opportunities to leverage national and international research initiatives, so that the technology and industry development aims of the DTI are taken forward effectively.
Established to respond to the shortage of high-level technical skills for industry and to improve the competitive edge of South African industry through the development of advanced technologies, Thrip has become a rare success story, with the various projects it supports on its revolving three-year funding cycles, helping to put South Africa on the global Stem map.
Thrip promotes partnerships in pre-commercial research between business and the public-funded research base including universities and research institutions. It has a specific mechanism for facilitating the transfer of technological skills between industry and the research institutions through the technology and innovation promotion for the transfer of people (Tiptop) incentive.
It also encourages and supports the development and mobility of research staff, students and technology managers in participating organisations. It ensures that projects it becomes involved in have a valuable contribution to make to social development and upliftment, not just of the students and staff involved, but also ultimately in real applications that will improve the lives of people.
To this end the research projects Thrip supports make a real difference to people’s lives, whether it be in improved medical care, helping to improve farming or industrial techniques to create more jobs, or finding ways to help grow more hardy, disease- and drought-resistant crops.
Thrip focuses on projects that specifically promote and facilitate scientific research, technology development and technology diffusion or any combination of these. All projects funded by Thrip have to include human resource development, but the choice of technological focus is left to the industrial participants and their partners.
How Thrip does it
Thrip project funding takes place in the following ways:
- Firms and Thrip invest jointly in research projects in which project leaders are on the academic staff of South African higher education institutions (HEIs).
- Thrip matches investment by industry in projects in which researchers / experts from science, engineering and technology institutions (Setis) serve as project leaders and students are trained through the projects.
- Technology innovation promotion through the transfer of people (Tiptop) schemes promote the mobility of researchers and students between the industrial participants, HEIs and Setis involved in joint projects.
Four Tiptop schemes are available. These are:
- The exchange of researchers and technology managers between HEIs, Setis and industry.
- The placement of science, engineering and technology (SET) graduates in firms while they are working towards a higher degree on a joint research project.
- The placement of SET graduates in small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).
- The placement of SET-skilled company employees within HEIs or Setis.
The DTI’s financial support may be doubled if it supports any of the following priorities:
- To support an increase in the number of black and female students embarking on technological and engineering careers;
- To promote technological knowhow within the SMME sector, through the deployment of skills vested in universities and Setis;
- To facilitate and support the enhancement of the competitiveness of BEE companies through technology and human resources development; and
- To facilitate and support multi-firm projects in which firms collaborate and share in the project outcomes, provided that one of the industrial partners involved is a BEE partner.