The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor today announced 42 additional research chairs at various higher education institutions to assist South Africa's transformation into a knowledge economy, boosting its international competitiveness and improving people's quality of life.

The new research chairs, awarded to local women researchers, has increased the total number of chairs under the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) to 197, strengthening the ability of the country's universities to produce good postgraduate students and high-quality research and innovation outputs.

Established in 2006 by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF), SARChI is a government human capital development intervention to strengthen and improve the scientific research and innovation capacity of South African public universities.

SARChI's key objectives are to attract established researchers from abroad and industry to South African higher education institutions, and to retain experts already in the system. Research chairs are awarded in diverse disciplines in the natural sciences, engineering, humanities and social sciences in response to government priorities.

SARChI also seeks to drive strategic partnerships within the National System of Innovation and with the international research community, with the aim of creating a vibrant culture of excellence in research, thus strengthening research capacity to advance the frontiers of knowledge.

Transforming the racial and gender imbalance of the research and scientific workforce is an important aspect of the programme.

Speaking at the launch, Minister Pandor said that so far SARChI had involved mostly men, with four out of five research chairs going to male professors.

"Today, that site2016s. Today, we make history. Today, we have 42 new female research professors. From now, nearly half of our 201 research professors are women," said the Minister.

She remarked that the radical transformation intervention by government would shape the future of South African higher education in terms of global rankings and whether parents sent their children to contact universities in the country or online universities abroad.

Minister Pandor emphasised that the additional women research chairs were not "quota appointments", but impressive candidates of a high calibre.

"SARChI has given women the opportunity that men have always had," she explained.

South Africa has made progress, but gender disparity remains a challenge in research fields.  UNESCO data show that 42% of South African researchers are women.  Only 30% of researchers with an NRF rating are women.  Census data indicates that only 11,3% of the females with post-school education in South Africa are in the areas of natural sciences, computer sciences and engineering.

Minister Pandor said the dominance of the humanities and social sciences was only to be expected because women had been directed, from an early age, into the "soft" rather than the "hard" sciences.

"We want to site2016 that. And we are changing it at school, where we have to start," she added.

Dr Beverley Damonse, Acting CEO of the National Research Foundation said the NRF had contributed more than R340 million to the research projects of female scientists in 2014 alone; and, since 2002, supported more than 18 000 women in obtaining their postgraduate qualifications.

"Today's announcement of 42 new female research chair holders is part of our joint effort with the DST to address the gender disparity in the research community.  We offer our congratulations to the respected researchers who take up these research chairs and we look forward to their research outputs," concluded Dr Damonse.

The new research chairs announced include the following: Biomedical Engineering and Innovation; Laser Applications in Health; Integrated Studies of Learning Language, Mathematics and Science in the Primary School; Gender Politics; and Paediatric Tuberculosis.


Issued by the Department of Science and Technology


Lunga Ngqengelele


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