Joint statement on bilateral cooperation meeting issued by Portugal and South African Science and Higher Education Ministers

The Portuguese Minister of Science, Technology, Innovation and Higher Education, Elvira Fortunato and the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande had a successful bilateral meeting at Palace of Cascais Citadel, on the 22 June 2022.


The bilateral meeting was held on the side-lines of the XXVII Eureka Ministerial Conference in Cascais, Portugal.




Both sides reflected on the common priorities, including space, the Air Centre as well as the status of the bilateral cooperation. It was agreed that the South Africa and Portugal science and technology cooperation implementation, since the formal signing of the Science and Technology (S&T) agreement in 2015 is progressing satisfactorily well.




The South African National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) signed an “Executive Framework” which gives effect to the implementation of the S&T agreement. Both the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) and the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) plans to Call for Research Proposals to give effect to this cooperation agreement and discussions are currently underway in this regard.




Both the Ministers highlighted the collaboration in the implementation of the Square Kilometre Array project which is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area. The scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering and research & development towards building and delivering a unique instrument, with the detailed design and preparation now well under way. As one of the largest scientific endeavours in history, the SKA will bring together a wealth of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers to bring the project to fruition. Portugal is a founder member of the SKA Organisation, which is valued.




Space cooperation is an area of common priority between both sides.  The meeting highlighted the advance stage of discussions between the South African National Space Agency and the Portuguese Space Agency to finalise a MOU, which is anticipated to be signed by both Agencies in July. The MOU will facilitate further cooperation in areas including Earth observation, space situational awareness (space debris,space weather) and space education.




South Africa formally joined the AIR Centre in 2021 and has been engaged in technical working groups since the inception of the AIR Centre. The AIR Centre is supporting the work of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) especially related to better understanding the ocean, climate and atmosphere interface. “Earth Observations for the Atlantic Region” was included as a Community Activity in GEO's 2020-2022 Work Programme.


South Africa will be hosting the 7th High Level Dialogue of the AIR Centre which is scheduled to take place in Cape Town from 28 November to 2 December 2022.




The Atlantic Constellation of nanosatellites, which is aimed at maritime domain awareness, was also discussed. The constellation will be made up of 16 nanosatellites orbiting the Earth and transmit real time data to the AIR Centre control station in the Portuguese Island of Azores and in different ground stations located at the partners countries. The data from these satellites will be made available to the network member states upon request. The constellation will be made up initially by Portugal and Spain. It is foreseen the potential participation to other network member to expand the constellation. Conversations with countries like Mexico, Nigeria, the UK, Norway, and Brazil are ongoing.


South Africa will explore the potential collaboration to join this initiative, in further bilateral discussions.





Africa remains a priority for both countries. The Ministers recommitted themselves to further strength cooperation among South Africa, Portugal and African Lusophone countries (Angola, Cape Verde, and Mozambique). Specific areas that were highlighted included research and development capacity as well as student exchanges.


The objective of the cooperation is to foster academic and scientific cooperation by creating synergies, in order to achieve common goals, including looking for funding opportunities for research projects focusing on thematic areas of mutual interest, that could be developed by teams from the partnering countries, through funding mechanisms, e.g. the European Union (EU), African Union (AU), Development Bank or through private sponsors that support research in specific scientific areas.




Both the Ministers agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Higher Education and Training by December 2022.


Although currently Portugal and South Africa have no formal relations, both countries participate in the annual South Africa-Portugal Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM) held alternately between South Africa and Portugal.


The Ministers agreed to facilitate the exchange of students, academics and undertake joint research projects on space technology, ocean economy with particular emphasis on the Atlantic Ocean and climate change.  


The Ministers are appreciative of the on-going collaboration between South African and Portuguese universities in various areas as part of strengthening institutional partnerships. The Ministers agreed to increase the number of students studying in both countries in mutually agreed areas of focus to strengthen human capital development in both countries.


The collaborations will also include increasing the number of staff with Doctoral particularly in scarce skills areas, both in undergraduate and postgraduate levels on science, technology, engineering, mathematics, innovation, natural sciences and Human and Social Sciences.


Furthermore, the collaboration will also to explore possible partnerships between the South African Technical Vocational Education and Training Colleges and Universities of Technology in Portugal.


The partnership will also encourage collaboration between Universities South Africa and the Association of Portuguese universities.


The aforementioned activities are an indication that the cooperation with Portugal not only continue to grow but that there are concrete plans to expand the cooperation beyond just the bilateral relationship.


The Statement is issued by both the Portuguese Minister of Science, Technology, Innovation and Higher Education Cooperation, Elvira Fortunato and the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande.





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