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Research boost for SA

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The SAP Meraka Unit for Technology Development is restructuring its intern and doctorate programmes to create long-term career options for previously-disadvantage academics and to fuel more research in South Africa. 

The restructured unit, which is a partnership between SAP Africa and South Africa’s Meraka Institute and supported by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), will add greater impetus to the process of expanding local research capacity and turning South Africa into a research destination.
The SAP Meraka Unit represents co-investment by the DST and SAP to the tune of R50-million each over the next five years in order to develop South African research capabilities in the area of information and communications technology (ICT).
The aim is to find practical ways of using ICT to alleviate under-development and poverty in South Africa. Research on a number of projects began this year and, in the process, eight six-month internship posts for undergraduate and Honours students as well as six three-year  posts for doctoral students were created.
Director of the SAP Research CEC in Pretoria, Danie Kok, says that although the six-month positions have been useful in giving local researchers hands-on exposure to research projects, there is a need for a longer-term focus on some of the projects.
“Honours and doctoral studies involve people in long years of learning without the support of competitive salaries. So they want positions that will give them an adequate lifestyle and a sense of job security as well as enabling them to run with a project from inception to completion. That’s not only good for their CVs, it’s also good for their job satisfaction.”
The SAP Meraka Unit will therefore, from January 2008, offer interns with Honours qualifications two-year contracts and doctoral students three-year contracts. The contracts will be treated as bursaries in that students must complete their Masters  or doctoral studies within the period of employment with the unit. Also, a portion of the salary – which will be market-related – will be refundable by anyone who does not complete a degree in the agreed time.
The SAP Meraka Unit will also in future make academic appointments to the unit jointly with universities.
“This means that we will not be depleting academic teaching resources by unfairly attracting them into commerce and that students will continue to have the best possible tuition. At the same time, lecturers have the opportunity to broaden their experience by working on the kinds of projects the Meraka Institute  undertakes,” says Johan Eksteen of the Meraka Institute.