SA, UK join forces to fund research chairs

South Africa and the United Kingdom have established the first three bilateral research chairs to build innovation capacity between the two countries.

Science and Technology Minister 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 -- one at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the other at 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, Professor Michael John Roberts at NMMU, and Professor Lawrence Hamilton at Wits.

The British Council will fund the food security chairs to the tune of R1.3 million each, while the British Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences will fund the Wits chair to an 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 an 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. It 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. -

Source: Government Communication and information System

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