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Reach for the stars with science

Written by More Matshediso
The Department of Science and Technology says internships are part of South Africa’s efforts to expand the science and engineering workforce.

The department regards youth employment as critical in order to build a stable society and promote and sustain national economic growth.

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said start-ups are the heartbeat of a developing economy and her department offers programmes that create awareness of the value of science and technology, and the critical role these play in ensuring national prosperity and sustainable development.

She said internships provide innovators and entrepreneurs the incentive to build start-ups of their own.

In an effort to create opportunities for youth in the science field, the department has agencies that run initiatives and programmes to support young scientists.

One of these is the National Research Foundation (NRF), which had a budget of about R2.4 billion set aside for student bursaries for the 2017/18 financial year.

Minister Pandor said the bursaries comprised about 13 800 honours, master’s and doctoral students. The NRF also provides research grants for approximately 4 500 researchers.

The minister also said the department has created 34 new science centres in the past decade.

“This growth in science centres is partly driven by community engagement initiatives by the higher education sector and corporate social responsibility programmes,” she said.

The NRF also allocated R500 million in the 2017/18 financial year for the South African Research Chair Initiative to attract and retain established researchers who are recognised global experts.

Inspiring school learners

For school learners, another agency that reports to the department-- the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) -- has a programme that targets about 9 000 learners per year to encourage them to consider careers in space science.

SANSA CEO Dr Valanathan Munsami says the Space Weather Programme reached about 18 000 learners in schools across the country in 2017.

Dr Munsami said through the Space Weather ProgrammeSANSA visits school learners to teach them about exciting jobs they can consider when they finish matric.

“We do experiments with them in their science laboratories to give them a bit of first-hand experience on some of the things we do at SANSA. We also have mobile laboratories for schools that do not have science laboratories,” he said.

Dr Munsami said SANSA has a bursary programme which funds about 80 post graduate students per year to create the capacity that is needed for the country’s space programme and the broader economy.