UK, South Africa launch Newton science partnership

The British and South African governments last week announced that they had committed US$46 million over the next four years to a major new research and training partnership promoting science, technology and innovation, the UK-South Africa Newton Fund.

South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor and UK Minister for Africa James Duddridge signed a memorandum of understanding on the fund last Tuesday in Cape Town.

VSA-at-Scifest-5The Newton Fund, administered by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, is part of the UK’s official development assistance. Its aim is to develop science and innovation partnerships that promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries.

The global fund is worth £75 million (US$122 million) per year from 2014 for five years.

There are a number of programmes geared to promote research, innovation and economic growth. In South Africa the fund will support projects in public health, environment and food security, and science and technology capacity building, encouraging research that boosts jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa.

It will accept the participation of other African countries within frameworks of the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.

Pandor said strong bilateral relations in various areas of mutual interest that had emphasis on societal development made the fund possible.

“The fund prioritises human capital development and capacity-building. Without the training of the next generation of scientists and engineers, neither of our countries will achieve their ambitious objectives for increasing knowledge-based scientific activities,” she said.

South African and UK scientists would be able to access the Newton Fund resources to support their cooperation by the end of this year, Pandor said.

Funding of up to R140 million (US$13 million) annually from South Africa and the UK, including from non-governmental bodies and private sector companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, has been committed.

Partnerships agreed for funding

The UK and South African medical research councils agreed to a three-year joint programme, backed by £4 million (US$6.5 million) from the UK and R30 million (US$2.7 million) from South Africa, for research funding to provide evidence for improved strategies for the prevention, detection and control of tuberculosis.

A research partnership established between the medical councils and GlaxoSmithKline will give £5 million to deal with a new set of healthcare challenges in non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer.

Fellowships and grants

Up to £4.5 million in funding for fellowships and £1.1 million mobility funding will be channelled towards 90 fellowships and 150 mobility grants that will be split between the natural sciences and engineering, patient-orientated research and social sciences and humanities.

The UK Academy of Medical Sciences, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society and the South African National Research Foundation will run the Newton Advanced Fellowships.

The programme will support early- to mid-career international researchers, less than 15 years after obtaining PhDs and who have established a research group and have a research track record. The award will be made for one to three years providing a salary, training costs, and travel and subsistence.

The Newton International Fellowship will enable early career postdoctoral researchers from partner countries – with no more than seven years’ active full-time postdoctoral experience – to spend two consecutive years conducting research at a host university in the UK.

Research

Developing very-long-baseline interferometry – VLBI – stations gets up to £1 million of joint funding through the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Square Kilometre Array, or SKA, South Africa office.

This month a call will be published for UK universities to submit proposals to establish a five-year project to bring UK and African astronomy expertise together to support the training of communities that will seek to exploit the African VLBI Network.

The proposals must be aligned with the existing African VLBI Network project and SKA Africa initiatives, and have existing links to South African universities.

Leading weather services in the UK and South Africa will collaborate to combat the challenges of extreme weather and risks from changing climate with a jointly funded allocation of £1,8 million.

A social science research initiative involving the UK Economic and Social Research Council and the South African National Research Foundation, addressing challenges facing a rapidly changing world, has funding of £5 million.

Developing of laser technologies for material classification and medical diagnosis has been allocated up to £250,000 for joint laser research programmes.

Proposed programmes

Seven proposed programmes in the agreement include British and South African research councils receiving £3.5 million for a bilateral research and PhD training programme that will launch this year and start in 2015.

£1 million has been earmarked for an Institutional Links Programme to provide seed funding to initiate and develop new research and innovation partnerships, particularly between the British Council and South Africa’s Technology Innovation Agency, or TIA.

The TIA will also drive a £700,000 project with the UK Royal Academy of Engineering to build the capacity of researchers to commercialise innovations, through fellowships.

The Professional Development and Engagement Programme, with a budget of £550,000, would be run by the British Council and Academy of Science of South Africa to support the research environment by enabling optimal impact from research as demanded by South Africa’s development priorities.

South Africa and the UK signed a bilateral agreement on science and technology cooperation in February 1995, focusing on areas such as climate change, biotechnology, astronomy and global change.

The two countries, their governments said, shared the aspiration to build on world-class research, increase business investment in research and development spending, ensure a strong supply of scientists, engineers and technologists, and raise public interest in and awareness of scientific research and innovative applications.