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VIDEO: Centres of Excellence drive to transform post-graduate excellence in South Africa

By Marc Jacobson - Sep 7, 2017
VIDEO: Centres of Excellence drive to transform post-graduate excellence in South Africa

The Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation (DST-NRF) held its annual Centres of Excellence (CoE) directors’ forum at the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) on Friday, upon which to promote research and post-graduate excellence in the fields of science and technology in South Africa.

The CoE’s, tag-lined ‘taking the lead in cutting edge research’, are specifically designed to accelerate the delivery of appropriate human resources and knowledge capacities, with the objective to raise international competitiveness and the esteem of South African science or technology.

With the forum surrounding the thematic approach of transformation in these CoE’s and academic excellence, Honourable Minister Naledi Pandor, who delivered the keynote address, expressed that over the last decade there has been much change and improvements in South African research.

“Research output has increased, spectacularly in some fields like astronomy,” Pandor said.

“The number of science, engineering and technology graduates has grown, not as impressively as required, but the number of PhDs graduating each year has grown impressively to 2,000.”

“There is wide agreement that increasing the number of PhD graduates is crucial not only for equity and transformation reasons but also for creating a new generation of research scientists.”

“In addition, the PhD is an important part of a learning society, the modernisation of our economy, and the improvement of public services,” she added.

Over the last 13 years specifically, recorded statistics captured that the number of students with CoE post-graduate support, increased from 126 in 2004 to 900 in 2016, an astonishing 614% increase.

Masters graduates within CoE’s have grown by 366% in numbers since 2005, and Doctoral graduates by 590% since 2004.

“A strong argument has been made that South Africa is a PhD hub for Africa,” Pandor said.

“Government funding, growing foreign African PhD graduates, and favourable comparative cost, are the key factors.”

“Our research system still has to find the best approach to collaboration across government and not just by the DST or DHET or the DTI alone.”

Regarding the development of transformation of gender or racial imbalances, it was captured that the total black post-graduates within CoE’s have increased from 73 in 2004 to 498 in 2016 (582%), and the number of female post-graduates rose by 404, a 641% increase, in the same 13-year period.

“A major task is to address gender and racial imbalances in the make-up of our science and technology workforce,” Pandor iterated.

“We want to encourage more students to embark on science and engineering studies, and we are also making plans to sustain their ability to pursue research careers. The CoE initiative is designed to undertake basic research.”

“CoEs are located in universities that place an emphasis on attracting research-intensive companies and regional and urban investment. But the CoE’s primary function is education and producing new basic knowledge,” she concluded.

Watch to get a view of Minister Naledi Pandor speaking at the CoE directors' forum