The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, has acknowledged the transformation made in the higher education sector in South Africa since 1994, as well as the need for fundamental change experienced in the past two years.

The Minister was addressing postgraduate engineering students at the University of Cape Town yesterday.  The Postgraduate Student Council of the university's Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment launched an initiative titled L.E.A.D. (Learn, Engage, Activate, Develop) to encourage undergraduate students to consider careers in research, to enable them to transform the demographics of the faculty's academic staff.

"We have had a remarkable increase in black participation, black enrolment, and gender equity.  There has also been considerable investment in institutional recapitalisation and in new infrastructure across the system, including student accommodation and two new universities," Minister Pandor said.

However, the severe lack of engineers impacted negatively on the country's infrastructure maintenance and development plans for water, sanitation, roads, airports, railways and electricity.

One of government's solutions is to build institutions that could employ young engineers and technologists.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is the biggest and best-resourced science laboratory complex in the country, accounting for 15% of government expenditure on research and development. Recently, the council adopted water sustainability, health, and safety and security as areas of integrated research and innovation. 

The Minister said that South Africa's young scientists and engineers have played leading roles in many of the areas of building the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), with skills imparted by universities and expertise from SKA partners outside the country.

The Minister warned these positive indicators should not result in the neglect of a number of important tasks in achieving transformed engineering capacity in South Africa. One of the challenges is to increase innovation by both the public and private sectors.

"We need engineers that are skilled in developing new ideas and new products. We need professionals with postgraduate research training able to lead innovation, to lead research teams and research institutions. This requires black and women academics in all universities and engineering faculties," she emphasised.