France is actively supporting the development of high-end science, technology and engineering skills in South Africa.
“We are active in several fields,” reports French embassy science attaché Pierre Lemonde. “One of our flagship cooperation programmes is the FSATI – the French/South African Technology Institute. “This operates basically like a French engineering school, with a relatively small student body – around 200 – mainly graduate students in master’s and PhD programmes, just like at French engineering schools. “There is, however, also a small undergraduate programme.” The
FSATI programmes are focused on electronics, robotics, satellites and telecommunications and the institute operates in Cape Town and Pretoria, hosted by the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) respectively. “In the master’s and PhD programmes, there is a strong focus on research,” he stresses. “A lot of research is going on at TUT and CPUT.”
One example – there are many others – is the assembly of a Cubesat at CPUT. (A Cubesat is a very small, or nano, satellite. A typical Cubesat measures 10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm and has a mass of about 1 kg, although some can be bigger and more oblong in form.)
This is the result of a cooperative programme which involved CPUT, the FSATI, Stellenbosch University and a couple of local companies.
“A big part of the FSATI is human capital development at these universities [of tech-nology],” he affirms. “Staff at CPUT and TUT are among the graduates of this programme. “In 2012, six staff from both institutions graduated with PhDs. This corresponds to a [South African] national priority – increasing the number of PhDs and increasing the staff proportion with PhDs. It has strong support from the South African government.”
As part of the FSATI, French tertiary institutions second professors to South Africa, and send others for shorter periods. The teaching is carried out by both French and South African professors, and FSATI students can pursue South African and French degrees in parallel.
There is also a secondary focus on linking to markets and industry. Since the FSATI was started in 1998, it has generated eight companies, set up by its former students. Some of these have since been bought by bigger businesses.
The embassy is also working with the South African government on establishing a counterpart programme to the FSATI for agriculture and agronomy. This, too, would be focused mainly on master’s and PhD students.
“At PhD level, we also promote student mobility – we provide bursaries for South African students to go to France and French students to come to South Africa. “These bursaries are mainly at master’s level but there are some for PhDs. It’s a very successful programme,” states Lemonde.
“The mobility of South African students is very limited. You have about one-million students in South Africa, of whom 6 000 are abroad – around 0.6%. “For France, the proportion of students overseas is about 20%. Student mobility is essential to develop research and uplift capacities. International exposure for students is positive for everyone. In France, in some courses, you have to go abroad to do research or take a course, otherwise you can’t graduate.”
It is not only developed countries like France that invest heavily in student mobility. Emerging and developing countries are doing the same, most notably China and South Korea. Brazil has started doing the same.
“I think there is a paradigm shift in South Africa, and increasing awareness of the importance of mobility,” he avers. “It’s really something we want to develop. We have a bursary programme at the embassy, 100%-funded by the French government. We are looking for local partners. “It could be the South African government, but we are also looking at companies, including French companies in South Africa.”
Separately, the French Ministry of Education is partnering with South African institutions and French companies to provide vocational training in South Africa. Two centres were opened last year, one at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) and the other at CPUT. In each case, the role of the French Ministry of Education is to provide a professor, posted to South Africa full-time, who heads the centre, oversees the research and helps with the teaching. The centre at VUT operates in cooperation with Schneider Electric in training technicians in energy management and electricity.
At CPUT, the centre is run in cooperation with Dassault Systemes, a subsidiary of the renowned aircraft manufacturer. Dassault Systemes is a highly successful dedicated software business, whose Catia design software has become the standard in a number of industries, including aerospace and automotive. This centre focuses on training specialised engineers on software which is aimed at industry and on training academic staff and students. “The companies are contributing to the training of people who could become their staff, or the staff of their customers,” notes Lemonde.
Finally, in the education field, France is offering a programme, developed by the French Academy of Sciences and successfully implemented in France and other countries, including developing countries, to teach science in primary schools. This programme is already used by the French School in South Africa and is being trialled in a pilot programme at ten primary schools in Pretoria. This pilot programme is being driven by the South African Academy of Science, the Gauteng Department of Education and universities. “This is conceived as a South African project, and is adapted to the South African education system,” he explains. “France trains the teachers.”