New science-to-policy Centre of Excellence unveiled

Derek_Hanekom

Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom speaks at the launch of a new research-to-policy Centre of Excellence. Photo by Hennie Rudman

Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom launched a multidisciplinary research centre that will focus on four key areas surrounding science and science-based policies for South Africa.

These four areas are:

  • science, technology and innovation indicators (collectively known as scientometrics)
  • science and technology policy for development
  • human capacity development for science, technology and innovation
  • scientific communication

Stellenbosch University will physically host the centre at its own Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), under the directorship of Professor Johann Mouton. Tswane University of Technology will be a co-host and the University of Leiden, Netherlands, will act as an international partner.

The new centre is officially called the Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Scientometrics and Science, Technology and Innovation Policy.

At the core of its aims is the development of a robust national system of innovation. It will also provide policy-makers with the tools and analysis that they need to move South African Research and Innovation forward into the modern, data-driven age.

This is the second of five new CoEs to be launched this year; the first, The Centre of Excellence in Mathematics and Statistical Sciences, was launched on April 1st at Wits University. Together, this brings the total number of National Research Foundation (NRF) Centres of Excellence to 14.

Hanekom spoke with obvious excitement about the new centre: “This CoE must build on our existing capacity in scientometrics and innovation policy … In a sense, this new CoE lies right at the heart of the mission of the Department of Science and Technology and the NRF.

“This is really a very exciting moment for our National System of Innovation,” he said. The new CoE already boasts more than 40 Master’s and PhD students, who Prof. Mouton referred to as the ‘future research team of the Centre for Scientometrics’.

The NRF’s CoE programme has been extremely successful in growing research capacity in South Africa.  In 2002, a National Research and Development Strategy report said, “Individual research grants … have been shown globally to be limited in creating long-term research capacity, and most developed countries now have strong programmes to establish Centres of Excellence.”

This precipitated the formation of the first seven CoE’s in 2004. CEO of the NRF, Dr. Albert van Jaarsveld, said that these have focussed either on research areas where South Africa has particular expertise, such as the Centre for Biomedical TB at Stellenbosch, or areas in which it is important to grow research expertise, such as the yet-to-be-launched Centre for Child Development and Livelihoods at Wits.

science to policyThe aim of the CoE programme, then, is to establish global research centres with national and international impact in science and technology, and foster collaboration between various national research centres. Dr. van Jaarsveld also highlighted that the CoE’s were selected by an international peer review process, rather than by the NRF.

The establishment of a new CoE for Scientometrics and Science, Technology and Innovation Policy is an important step for South African research, and brings the country in line with global research trends.