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R1bn UK investment to create skilled SA cohort of researchers

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 24 Jan 2024
Higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande. (Photograph by British High Commission)
Higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande. (Photograph by British High Commission)

South Africa and the UK are enhancing their scientific collaboration, with the UK announcing a R1 billion investment to establish the International Science Partnership Fund.

The new fund aims to support UK-South Africa science and research collaboration over the next two years, including support of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory.

The fund was announced by the UK High Commissioner to South Africa Antony Phillipson, on the occasion of Prince Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh’s working visit to the country this week.

The announcement was made last night at a reception hosted by the British High Commission, with attendance by higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande and Prince Edward.

After 30 years of collaborative research, the new R1 billion fund will see the two countries continue their work to address priorities on climate, health and jobs, according to the British High Commission.

Speaking at the event, Nzimande emphasised SA’s firm commitment to collaboration with the UK to bring peace and prosperity for all.

“South Africa warmly welcomes the launch of the International Science Partnership Fund. Both of my departments − the Department of Science and Innovation and the Department of Higher Education and Training − stand ready to work with their counterparts in the UK to co-design and co-fund programmes to be implemented with the support of the fund. 

“These values of co-ownership and co-responsibility, which also underpinned our successful cooperation under the Newton Fund, is crucial for South Africa, as it ensures alignment with our national priorities,” noted Nzimande.

“I am also delighted that the fund will continue to support our joint efforts in support of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory global partnership, by developing skills for radio astronomy in Africa.”

Phillipson commented: “Rapid, equitable progress against global challenges such as climate change or towards the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved without collaboration on science, research, technology and innovation.

“We need to come together to share expertise and experience, which is why we are grateful for the close partnership we have with the Department of Science and Innovation and minister Nzimande himself and all the partners here tonight.

“We look forward to continuing to work together, to amplify the impacts of our science partnerships over the months and years ahead.”

Prince Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh, meets deputy president Paul Mashatile during his working visit to South Africa. (Photograph by The Presidency)
Prince Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh, meets deputy president Paul Mashatile during his working visit to South Africa. (Photograph by The Presidency)

The UK is the largest foreign investor in SA and the country’s fifth-largest export destination. The two nations have, over the years, established a partnership in the field of science and innovation.

During president Cyril Ramaphosa’s state visit to the UK in November 2022, the UK and SA signed a science, technology, research and innovation memorandum of understanding.

The agreement saw the nations agreeing to further collaboration in research and innovation in mutual priority sectors of emerging technology (including artificial intelligence), agriculture technology, health, oceans, climate and energy, and space.

The British High Commission notes researchers and scientists from the UK and SA have worked together for decades to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges, developing products such as weather warning systems to provide South African communities with the information they need to respond appropriately.

“This new investment will further strengthen the UK and SA’s research partnerships and networks that have been nurtured over the years. It will address the growing burden of non-communicable diseases by connecting experts in the UK and SA through our countries’ Medical Research Councils, harnessing medical innovation and building regional capacity to tackle shared health priorities.

“To tackle unemployment and boost economic growth, it will nurture tomorrow’s talent by building and sustaining a talented and skilled cohort of early-career researchers.

“It will catalyse partnerships between universities, large companies, SMEs and start-ups, to address sustainable development goals; for example, through the Royal Academy of Engineering’s ‘Transforming Systems through Partnerships’ programme and the Leaders in Innovation Fellowships programme working alongside SA’s Technology Innovation Agency.”

According to the commission, the fund will also be dedicated towards better understanding and addressing the impacts of climate change, including improved monitoring and prediction of extreme weather events by continuing joint initiatives.

“It will support the development of research and innovation systems across SA, with the aim of driving economic development and prosperity.”

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