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SA running out of scientists
Wednesday, 04 July 2012 00:00
Written by Farzana Rasool
SA is running out of its best scientists, warns science and technology minister Naledi Pandor.
Speaking at the 14th National Science and Technology Forum Awards, the minister said this warning had to be issued amid the celebration of winning the majority of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope bid. “We are running out of our best scientists. Or rather they are running out on us.”
She added that the alarming statistic is that half of SA’s professors and associate professors are due to retire in the next decade. “This is alarming, because these over-50-year-olds now produce five in 10 of our scientific papers. Back in 1990, the over-50-year-olds only produced one in 10 of credited publications.”
Pandor said that while the retiring scientists will not be lost to science, they will be lost to the universities and to teaching the next generation of scientists.
“The retirement scenario is frightening for knowledge creation in our universities. We have not prepared adequately for their replacement.”
Improving staff qualifications at universities and science councils forms an important part of developing human capacity for research, scholarship and innovation, adds the minister.
We have to devise creative strategies for attracting young people and women into science.”
“We need tools and strategies that are targeted at providing a firm foundation for expanded success and increased graduation rates.
“In addition, we must create institutions to utilise and absorb the talent we produce. There have been some inaccurate statements about unemployed graduates. Research shows those with degrees stand a better chance of employment and enterprise formation.”
The country needs a larger science infrastructure base to absorb young talent. The department’s internship programme is directed at creating increased opportunity and experience for young scientists and technologists.
For this reason it has set aside R110 million over the 2012/15 Medium Term Expenditure Framework for an internship programme. The R30 million funding for the first two years of the programme will allow it to almost double the number of interns it is currently funding.
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