Insights from the R&I Dialogue 2021 to inform the RISG’s future action plan

21-06-21 USAf 0 comment

Universities South Africa’s Research and Innovation Strategy Group (RISG) will use its next meeting in 2021 to critically reflect on what transpired at the recent Research and Innovation Dialogue, Professor Thoko Mayekiso, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Mpumalanga and Chairperson of the RISG, told the audience in the final session of the R&I Dialogue on 11 June.

As she made her closing remarks, Professor Mayekiso (left) assured academics, researchers and policy makers that the R&I 2021 had been shaped to tackle topics of priority concern in the RISG agenda for 2021. She said the RISG would therefore draw from insights shared at this event, an action list that would inform the Group’s roadmap for the future. “This was not just a talk shop,” Professor Mayekiso stated. 

The RISG Chairperson said she was encouraged by the presentations made at the Dialogue on cutting-edge research on CoVID-19; by the insights shared on how the pandemic was impacting science and the extent to which the delegates had emphasised the need to collaborate across institutions and science councils, to advance innovation. She added that the emphasis on partnerships, coming from natural scientists, humanities and social science scholars had also underlined the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to research and innovation.

Professor Mayekiso said that by merely attracting scholars of note and an engaging audience, the R&I Dialogue 2021 had proven to be a success. She acknowledged the RISG members who had conceptualised this event, proposed themes and recommended speakers.

She recognised the support rendered by the USAf Office, especially Dr Linda Meyer, Director: Operations and Sector Support and Ms Janet Van Rhyn, Project Manager in Operations and Sector Support. Professor Mayekiso’s appreciation was also channeled to Professor Ahmed Bawa, USAf’s CEO, and Professor Chris Nhlapo, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, who, in their capacities as members of the RISG, had taken turns chairing the two conference sessions. 

Echoing Professor Mayekiso’s words, Professor Ahmed Bawa (right) said, in his opinion, three issues deliberated on at the Dialogue had been escalated to the top of the R&I agenda. The first was the state of post-CoVID-19 National Innovation System and the deep concerns that delegates had expressed over diminishing state funding. He said this issue needed to be discussed vigorously, “otherwise the science system will slowly degrade.”

The second issue concerned ascendance of the next generation of scholars to science leadership. Professor Bawa said emerging researchers would not automatically grow to lead scientific scholarship unless this matter received dedicated attention. In this context, the USAf CEO reminded the audience of the challenge posed by Professor Salim Abdool Karim to South Africa, and Africa, around the need to produce a nobel prize winner from science. He said research excellence was closely linked to the quality of scholarship and its value to society. 

He nonetheless acknowledged the work that the departments of Higher Education and Training, and Science, Technology and Innovation, together with USAf, were already undertaking in this regard.

Finally, Professor Bawa raised the issue of research integrity, that had been the focus of the second session of the Conference. He again recognised the work already being done to protect the integrity of South Africa’s research system and emphasised that the RISG needed to take this matter forward.  

As he wrapped up for the day, Professor Bawa said it was sad that the R&I Dialogue 2021 could not be carried out over the two days that the sector had been accustomed to in the pre-CoVID era. “Today was very useful, nonetheless,” he said, citing, as examples, the inputs received from the likes of Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General of Science, Technology and Innovation, on his department’s Decadal Plan; from Dr Salim Abdool Karim, Director: CAPRISA on CoVID-19: Its Trajectory and Future Impact on Research and Innovation, and, finally, from Professor Rasigan Maharajh of Tshwane University of Technology, on CoVID-19: Future Lessons for the National System of Innovation.

“We thank you, all, for spending time with us today,” the USAf CEO said. “I hope we will continue to have this type of deliberations, going forward.”

Professor Bawa announced that the next big event in 2021 would be the 2nd National Higher Education Conference set for 6 to 8 October and expressed hope that everyone who was at the R&I 2021 would also find time to attend this significant Conference.

The biennial RISG R&I Dialogue was attended by 140 delegates representing academics, the research community and policy makers. The next Dialogue will follow in 2023.

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