International cooperation had been most beneficial for the development of scientific capacity in developing countries, and South Africa was no exception. So pointed out South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) acting deputy director-general for research development and support Dr Daniel Adams in his address on the first day of the fourth South Africa-Japan University (SAJU) Forum Conference at the University of Pretoria.
He pointed out that the twenty-first century had been marked by the proliferation of global systems for research. This was happening across many disciplines – in some (such as physics), because of the huge expense of the required experiments, but, in many others, it was because many of the problems needing to be addressed, such as climate change and HIV/Aids, were international.
In parallel, the complexity of many problems required interdisciplinary research programmes. And, increasingly, the results of research programmes were being published in open-access sources.
Regarding South Africa, he reported that the DST oversaw what he described as a “rich and diverse portfolio” of cooperation with some 500 international partners. Such cooperation provided a platform for skills transfer, and helped address the issue of the lack of research supervisory personnel in South Africa, as well as the production of actual research outputs.
He observed that South Africa’s research system was still “very small”, with a limited budget, and had not yet been demographically transformed. These were among the issues that the country’s new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation, approved by Cabinet earlier this year, sought to address.
Other important objectives were the development of the skills necessary for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the development of research capabilities at historically black universities, and the development of a more science-educated and science-informed society. The White Paper also stressed the importance to South Africa of ‘science diplomacy’ and international cooperation.
“International cooperation enhances South Africa’s [scientific] visibility,” affirmed Adams. “International scientific cooperation has tremendous potential to help solve the problems facing mankind.” In fact, such cooperation was necessary to address these issues.
In his address to the conference, Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) chief director Mahlubi Mabizela observed that international cooperation increased the “citation impact” for South African researchers – that is, it increased the probability that their work would be cited by other researchers. He reported that the proportion of joint South African/international partner research papers, as a share of all South African research papers, rose from 34% in 2000 to 52% in 2016. He assured that his department gave importance to international cooperation and was committed to supporting and increasing South African participation in international higher education cooperation.
He also noted that the DHET undertook international cooperation to improve the quality of higher education in South Africa. Its policy was to support the acquisition of knowledge and the maintenance of strict standards of academic rigour. He noted that South Africa’s research productivity compared well with peer countries like Argentina, Greece and Portugal.
Talking about cooperation with Japan in particular, Adams pointed out that the agreement underpinning this had been signed in 2003, and, since then, “many successes have been generated”. In his address to the fourth SAJU Conference, University of Pretoria vice chancellor and principal Professor Tawana Kupe observed that joint research projects between South African and Japanese universities should not focus only on problems perceived to be South African or African. They should also focus on Japanese problems. “There should be a two-way flow . . . What we are doing is the co-creation of knowledge,” he affirmed.
(The DST and DHET now fall under the same Ministry, that of Higher Education, Science and Technology.)