Helping the brightest achieve their goals

The National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) is a non-profit stakeholder body for all science, engineering, technology and innovation (SETI) organisations in South Africa.

“It plays a powerful consultative and lobbying rolein SETI policy formulation and delivery in South Africa,” says Jansie Niehaus, Executive Director of the NSTF. Established in 1995, it is broadly representative of the SETI community.
The NSTF organises the annual NSTF Awards now called the NSTF-BHP Billiton Awards. Says Niehaus: “These are the most prestigious SETI awards in South Africa. One of the strategic objectives of the organisation is to recognise and reward excellence within the SETI sector.”

The NSTF Brilliants programme, run by the NSTF in collaboration with BHP Billiton, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and Provincial Departments of Education, is an initiative linked to the awards and recognises top performers in mathematics and science from the previous year’s grade 12 exams. Eighteen achievers are selected from all the public schools in the nine provinces and acknowledged at a pre-ceremony.

The top 9 Dinaledi schools, identified by the DBE, are also acknowledged through the presence of their principals. The Dinaledi programme consists of about 500 schools selected by the Department of Education because of their maths and science achievement.

“We regard this as an important part of the NSTF Awards effort, even though the Awards themselves are focused on professional scientists,” says Niehaus. “Maintaining levels of excellence at school level is critical for the future of our country, and the NSTF hopes to continue making a contribution towards encouraging such excellence.”

The THRIP Bursary Programme is also linked to the Awards. The Technology Human Resources for Industry (THRIP) Programme is funded by the Department of Trade and Industry and administered by the National Research Foundation. The bursary fund is for undergraduate students in engineering and the sciences with recipients announced and recognised at the NSTF-BHP Billiton Awards.

This year there are two recipients, both in first year at South African universities. “It’s essential we inspire the youth with role models in the SETI community,” says Niehaus. “The Share ‘n Dare programme creates platforms for the NSTF-BHP Billiton Award winners to be interviewed and these are broadcast on campus and community radio, as well as posted on the internet.

The winners are also given opportunities for public lectures and first year orientation talks.” Niehaus explains that the NSTF’s vision is to create a South African SETI system that is responsive to the needs of the nation: “It’s not just about promoting SETI issues or influencing quality delivery on policy—it needs to be done in the context of socio-economic growth.”

While monitoring and promoting the health of the SETI system, the NSTF acts on behalf of its members, encouraging an exchange of views and fostering cooperation on matters of common interest. The organisation represents more than 100 stakeholder organisations and institutions. Members include science councils and statutory bodies, corporates, SMMEs and state utilities, civil society and labour, the higher education sector, Government and professional bodies and societies.

The pre-cursor of the NSTF, the National Science and Technology Initiative, participated in South Africa’s CODESA convention. As a result of the findings and recommendations of this group, Government created the NSTF to oversee the restructuring of South Africa’s national science system and to ensure an integrated approach to science and technology.

“The mandate given to the NSTF by Government was that it should act as the sounding board, communication channel and constructive watchdog of SETI in South Africa,” says Niehaus. Integral to this mandate is the establishment of best practice norms, and the sharing of positive advancements within the SETI field.

“The NSTF is evolving. We are becoming more of a watchdog or custodian, tackling critical issues in the science system. We are also promoting the exchange of knowledge between academia, business and the public—essential if the role of SETI is to move forward and supplement South Africa’s growth even further,” says Niehaus.

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

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