/ 27 May 2011

Message from the Minister of Science and Technology

Message From The Minister Of Science And Technology

The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) is a flagship initiative of Government designed to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation at South African universities.

The programme has been successful in retaining leading South African scientists in the university system while also attracting leading foreign and expatriate researchers to the system and strengthening research collaboration between industry, science councils and universities. The main goal is to strengthen and improve research and innovation capacity of universities in producing high quality postgraduate students, research and innovation outputs and transform the research and innovation workforce.

SARChI is intentionally designed to target the established research community with the view to supporting them towards increased research and innovation outputs as well as strengthening the human capital development pipeline of the next generation of researchers and emerging researchers.

Currently, the Department of Science and Technology invests R200 million-a-year, supporting 92 research chairs, with 6 of these co-funded withbusiness. The majority of the chairs are in the natural and agricultural sciences, while the others work in the health sciences, social sciences, the humanities, and engineering. The research conducted includes basic and fundamental research in all fields of science, as well as applied sciences fields, technology development and innovation.

I am extremely pleased that we are now able fund an additional 62 research chairs. The new chairs will again be awarded in all fields of science and technology, with a focus on supporting national strategies for the development of technology platforms, science missions, priority research areas such as global change, health innovation, and biotechnology; science and technology for poverty alleviation; engineering and applied technology; and an open category that includes fundamental disciplines, and scarce and critical knowledge fields.

The 2002 National Research and Development Strategy outlined four technology platforms (biotechnology, information technology, technology for advanced manufacturing, and technology for and from natural resource sectors and technology for poverty reduction); a new set of science missions in areas in which South Africa has an obvious geographic advantage, such as astronomy, palaeontology and archaeology and biodiversity; as well as in areas in which South Africa has a clear knowledge advantage, such as indigenous knowledge and deep mining.

Government has identified the eradication of poverty as a national priority to ensure a better life for all and to consolidate and deepen our democracy and enhance social cohesion. In this regard, particular emphasis is being placed on rural development, food security and land reform; as well as strengthening social and public institutions such as provincial and local governments and building sustainable human settlements and improving the quality of household life. It is important that scientific research and innovation are used to support this national imperative.

The 2008 Innovation Plan created five new “grand challenges” in the fields of the bio-economy, space science and technology, energy security, science and technology in response to global change, and human and social dynamics. A “grand challenge” is a call for a specific scientific or technological innovation that will remove a critical barrier to solving an important scientific problem.

We have already awarded a number of research chairs in astronomy-relatedsciences in order to support our SKA bid. Research chair professors supervise on average eight to 10 postgraduate students (honours, master’s and doctoral degrees) against an average of three for other active researchers. They also publish more papers than other research scientists. The expansion of SARChI means that we will have a total of 154 research chairs by 2014 making this a R428 million-a-year initiative.

This article originally appeared in the Mail & Guardian newspaper as an advertorial supplement