Square Kilometre Array funding doubled to give big boost to SA science

The allocation to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope would more than double to R2bn, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced in his budget speech in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

The Department of Science and Technology’s budget will increase to R6.6bn in 2014-15 and R7.6bn in 2015-16, from R4.4bn in 2011-12. These increases show a commitment to the National Development Plan, in which science, technology and innovation are seen as critical factors for economic growth.

Last year, the Treasury made R895m available for the 64-dish MeerKAT, South Africa’s SKA precursor telescope. The MeerKAT, and its associated infrastructure, is expected to be completed in 2016-17, and the R1.9bn allocated to the SKA also includes the MeerKAT.

A 42% increase in funding for human capital and knowledge systems over the medium term aims to increase the number of postgraduate bursaries from 8,933 in 2013-14 to 12,920 in 2015-16.

Lack of funding for postgraduates has been a problem for the National Research Foundation, which oversees the administration of bursaries, with the foundation saying that six out of 10 bursary applicants were rejected.

Prof Michael Kahn, professor extraordinaire at Stellenbosch University, said on Wednesday: "The Department of Science and Technology and the Treasury should be commended for what they have done ... to boost the stock of researchers in South Africa and to strengthen the research capacity."

However, Prof Anastassios Pouris, director at the University of Pretoria’s Institute for Technological Innovation, said that while the additional bursaries were a "good first step", amounts disbursed to postgraduate students should also be addressed.

Written by: Sarah Wild

Picture credit: Business Day Live

  • This article was published on Business Day Live.

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