Funding critical to SA science - NRF

2012-07-11 08:20
Radio telescope dishes stand on the site of the MeerKAT near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Radio telescope dishes stand on the site of the MeerKAT near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Funding remains a stumbling block as South Africa races to rollout massive science projects like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.

The SKA aims to link thousands of radio telescopes in SA and Australia after both countries won a bid to host the €1.5bn astronomy project, but it will demand many skilled engineers, scientists and astronomers if it is to succeed by 2024.

Local funding for astronomy and science support needs to be accelerated so that the country will have the people in place to deliver its share of the project.

"This is always the issue among all of us: We're wanting more resources and we have astronomy as an excellent vehicle for delivering real tangible goals that government and society needs to achieve," Professor Nithaya Chetty Group Executive of Astronomy at the National Research Foundation (NRF) told News24.

He said that training scientists had further benefits for society.

Science research

"Firstly it's the quality science, but more importantly it's the collateral benefits; developing quality students and when we talk about students, we talk about students who have the types of skills that are transferable to other avenues."

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) found that SA spends under 1% of GDP on science research.

"Our R&D intensity is very low. In the developed countries, they are basing themselves at around 3% of GDP," said Dr Neo Molotsha operations manager of the Centre for Science Technology Indicators (Cesti) programme at the HSRC.

Chetty conceded that spending was low but said that it was on an upward trend.

"To be fair, one would realise that a decade ago we were hovering around the 0.5% level and over the past 10 years or less we've now achieved 0.9% of the GDP that is being channelled toward supporting research and development."

SADC countries have agreed that they would significantly increase spending on science programmes and Chetty said that SA was moving ahead more swiftly than its neighbours.

"In this context South Africa is way ahead, compared with its neighbouring partners.

"If science is given the support that the scientists are asking for then I think we will be able to make the sort of impact that we need to make on society," he said.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

Simon Radcliffe advertises astronomy in this YouTube video:

Read more on:    hsrc  |  nrf  |  astronomy  |  ska  |  science

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