SKA telescope to turn brain drain in SA into brain gain By Sarah WildDate Released: Wed, 25 July 2012 09:20 +0200
THE multibillion-rand Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope is attracting some of the best brains within and outside SA and is causing an "inverse brain-drain", according to SKA SA director Bernie Fanaroff.
In May, the international SKA Organisation decided that SA would share the R23bn radio telescope with Australia.
While foreign direct investment is an important benefit of the telescope, human capital development, renewed interest in science among the youth in SA, as well as the world class science expertise the project will bring to the country are also seen as crucial gains.
"There is inverse brain drain from the US and Europe," Dr Fanaroff said. "People are saying that they want to come and work in Africa. As the SKA is built, we will see more of that."
Associate director for science and engineering at SKA SA Justin Jonas said yesterday that a large part of this brain gain was because of the excitement surrounding the project, but he added that it was also because of the bad global economic conditions.
However, Prof Jonas was careful to emphasise that the project would not be inundated with foreign scientists.
"We have a commitment to the government to include local candidates … (and) to keep the balance between excellent (world-leading) foreigners and our own candidates," he said.
SA was "attracting very good talent" within the country as well, he said. "In the past, a lot of people applying were second-and third-string candidates, but the people applying are really top class."
Since the South African Research Chairs Initiative was established in 2005 through the National Research Foundation, the Department of Science and Technology has invested R1,1bn in the programme.
There are five SKA research chairs and five astronomy-related chairs. The idea is that these research chairs focus on their research and postgraduate supervision, rather than lecturing.
Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said earlier this year that "since 2005, 398 SKA SA postdoctoral fellowships and PhD, MSc and undergraduate bursaries have been awarded to 70 Africans outside SA".
"To date, R55m has been spent on the human capital development programme. From 2012-17, an additional R200m-plus will be spent," she said.