South Africa has celebrated its ten-year partnership with the European Union (EU) in the field of science and technology.
Significantly, this partnership, which came into effect in November 1997, was the first intergovernmental agreement signed between South Africa and the EU in the post-apartheid era.
Reflecting on this decade-long partnership, Department of Science and Technology (DST) Minister Mosibudi Mangena comments that one of the benefits that South Africa has enjoyed from this agreement is the opportunity it has afforded local researchers to participate fully in the EU Framework Programmes for Research and Technology Development.
"Thus, ten years of mutually beneficial cooperation under the agreement, together with very successful South African participation in the Framework Programmes, has significantly contributed to enriching the global knowledge base, supporting human resources development, and significantly contributed to improving the quality of lives of our respective citizens," enthuses Mangena.
These Framework Programmes are the European Union's (EU) primary funding mechanism for collaborative research and development projects in the fields of science and technology.
Since the conclusion of this agreement, South African researchers have participated in more than 100 research projects under the Fourth and Fifth Framework Programmes.
More importantly, participation is the Sixth Framework Programme, which covered the period 2002 to 2006, proved to be the most successful with close to 140 South African researchers participating in 117 international projects.
As a result, South Africa is now one of the EU's top international research participants, ranking fourth behind the US, China and the Russian Federation, in terms of successful participation by non-EU countries.
The main areas of cooperation in this particular programme included aeronautics and space, transport, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and global change and ecosystems.
Moreover, through the Sixth Framework Programme the DST launched the European South Africa Science and Technology Advancement Programme (Esastap), which is designed to significantly enhance the support and assistance available to both South African and European researchers to optimally leverage mutual benefits from this partnership.
"Through Esastap we are now seeing increased participation from the private sector in the Seventh Framework Programme, in addition to the traditional participants from universities and science councils," states Mangena.
"This is a promising sign and the DST shall be working very hard to ensure more private sector participation in this area."
South African researchers are currently participating in the Seventh Framework Programme, concentrating on areas such as biotechnology, information and communication technology, nanosciences and nanotechnologies, energy, climate change and aeronautics.
This programme is due to be completed by 2013.