South Africa and Switzerland are set to deepen their collaboration in science, technology and innovation (STI) following the renewal of a fruitful STI cooperation agreement between the two countries.

 

Signed in Bern last week, the agreement will, among others, see exchange visits of scientists, researchers and scholars, the sharing of scientific and technical knowledge, and the hosting of bilateral STI seminars and courses.

 

The agreement was renewed during the 5th meeting of the South Africa-Switzerland Joint Committee, an intergovernmental structure that was created after the bilateral agreement on scientific and technological cooperation was first signed in 2007.  Its function is to make decisions and review progress in joint work on STI.

 

South Africa and Switzerland have enjoyed a productive relationship in STI for well over a decade. The two countries have carried out a number of joint research projects, cooperated on the Swiss-South Africa Business Development Programme, and established two bilateral research chairs. South African and Swiss universities also have long-standing student exchange programmes in place.

 

Switzerland supports South Africa's objective of establishing a coherent and inclusive national system of innovation to catalyse economic growth and employment, create livelihoods at grassroots level, and strengthen competitiveness.

 

Last week, a South African delegation toured Switzerland to gain exposure to the Swiss innovation ecosystem – which includes industry-to-market mechanisms and innovation clusters – and identify new areas of potential collaboration. The multi-stakeholder delegation included officials from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and its entities, as well as representatives from universities and start-up companies.

 

The "SA innovation mission" visited universities of applied sciences in Bern, Lucerne and Zurich. The Swiss universities of applied sciences play a key role in the innovation ecosystem by conducting both fundamental and applied research, and offering both technical training and traditional university degrees.

 

South Africa's vocational training institutions could benefit from cooperation with these institutions. Last year, the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts signed a memorandum of understanding with Stellenbosch University for the exchange of master's students working in the field of energy. The university has also undertaken to collaborate with the University of Venda on a summer school focusing on energy-harvesting facade systems under the leadership of the DSI.

 

During their visit, the South African delegation also took part in a number of information sharing engagements on innovation and entrepreneurship. Participants learned first-hand how linkages are formed between companies and academic institutions, with the former providing input on curriculum development to promote the nurturing of skills relevant to industry.

 

A visit to the canton of Basel-Stadt revealed a dynamic economic region in which the city authorities have created an enabling environment for entrepreneurship. The region, with a population numbering about 200 000, has over 10 000 start-up companies focused on growing the economy and creating new knowledge for societal growth. Its life sciences industry is headed by renowned companies such as Novartis, Roche, Lonza, Bayer and Syngenta.

 

The participants were unanimous that exposure of this kind is invaluable as South Africa works to build an ecosystem that harnesses science, technology and innovation for sustainable development, inclusive growth and a better life for all South Africans.