No one can dispute that South Africa is currently experiencing an elevated degree of brain drain, resulting in severe skills shortages in various sectors of the economy. Although not a new phenomenon, and certainly not limited to South Africa, various initiatives are underway to turn the “brain drain” to “brain gain”.
In 2006, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) implemented the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), an intervention to support a proficient innovation system.
“The aim of the initiative is to make South Africa competitive in the international knowledge economy," says Nhlanhla Nyide, chief director: Science Communication at the Department of Science and Technology.
"To achieve this, we need to increase the number of world-class researchers in the country, assist in reversing the systemic decline in research outputs, create research career pathways for highly skilled, top quality young and mid-career researchers, with the main objective to attract and retain qualified research scientists back into our higher education sector."
To date, 72 Research Chairs have been awarded, 21 in December 2006 and 51 in September 2007, with a target of 210 research chairs by 2010.
Under the guidance of the original 21 Research Chairs, a total of 59 MSc and PhD students were supported through the DST-National Research Foundation (NRF) bursaries in 2007.
Some candidates come from local industries and science councils, while others hail from countries including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Italy and the Netherlands.
They have been awarded research chairs in various disciplines including Poverty and Inequality Research, Urban Policy, Customary Law and Indigenous values, Migration, Language and Social Change, Astrophysics and Space Science, Nanophotonics and Immunology of Infectious Diseases in Africa.
"Other initiatives aimed specifically at increasing the feedstock of high level researchers and scientist in engineering science and ICT include Masters and Doctorate bursaries and scholarships offered through the NRF, such as the South African Biosystematics Initiative," adds Nyide.
INSITE 2008, the International Science, Innovation and Technology Exhibition will provide the opportunity to learn more about SARChI and the various bursaries available. It takes place from 15 to 17 September 2008 at the Sandton Convention Centre.