Pretoria: The appointment of 54 new research chairs is expected to strengthen the ability of the country’s universities to produce high-quality postgraduate students, research and innovation outputs.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe appointed the research chairs on Friday as part of the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), which is aimed at retaining excellence in research and innovation in the South African science system. The new research chairs increase the total to 157 research chairs.
Government has invested over R1.1 billion in the programme since its inception in 2005. SARChI is managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF).
The new research chairs would be awarded to various institutions of higher learning across the country.
The institutional distribution of research chairs increased from 16 to 20 public universities across the country hosting these chairs. This means that four new universities are now part of the programme.
Of these institutions, two are Universities of Technology, namely, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and the Durban University of Technology.
The overall tally of research chairs awarded to Universities of Technology has now moved from 2% to 6%, while the award to comprehensive universities increases from 9% to 12%.
Research chairs have been established in diverse disciplines of scientific research, including the natural sciences, engineering, the humanities and the social sciences.
Although research chairs are intended to support scientific research and innovation generally, they also respond to the five priorities of government, namely creation of decent work and sustainable livelihoods, education, health, rural development and the fight against crime and corruption.
Of the 54, four chairs will go into research in education: taking the total to seven.
According to the NRF Deputy-CEO Gansen Pillay, some of these new chairs will focus on the challenges in higher education, while the existing ones will focus mainly around primary and secondary education issues.
“In addition to the 13 existing chairs in health, 13 new chairs were awarded with a strong focus on diagnostics and drug discovery to give effect to, among other things, the recently published Bioeconomy Strategy. Others are in the areas of health policy and rural health development,” he said.
He said the five new chairs in rural development, food security and land reform are a significant complement to the existing three.
The Square Kilometre Array project also received an additional chair, bringing the total chairs associated with the project to ten.
Deputy President Motlanthe hoped that the new chairs will enhance the innovation capacity of universities as well as help the country move into a higher trajectory of development.
“As government we trust that your research outputs will serve to enhance the broader imperative of national development.”
Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, said the chairs will provide a platform for scientific talent.
“It is without a doubt that the expansion of the programme will change the research landscape in South Africa by strengthening existing research capabilities and contribute towards creation of a coherent and vibrant national research and innovation system that will afford South Africa a competitive edge in the knowledge-based global arena while responding to the social and economic challenges of the country,” the minister said.
The first phase focuses on the proposals submitted by the universities to demonstrate their readiness and suitability to host a research chair. Awards are made to the shortlisted institutions during this phase.
In the second phase, the shortlisted institutions present their proposals on the candidates for the research chair positions.
SOURCE: South African Official News