4th South Africa-Japanese Universities (SAJU) Forum Conference. Themed The Human Being in the 21st Century in the Context of Global Changes

Research partnerships with Japan must focus on unconventional players who bring fresh perspectives to solving global problems

As universities in South Africa and Japan cement their collaboration on research through partnerships, they must consider focusing on unconventional players who bring fresh perspectives to resolving sustainable development problems. This was said by the then Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Naledi Pandor, at the South Africa-Japan Universities (SAJU) Forum gala dinner last week.

Minister Pandor
"I know that research is international and collaborative..." Minister Pandor, who has since been re-deployed from the Higher Education and Training portfolio to International Relations and Cooperation, said. "...but I want the international to mean from Africa by Africa-based scientists too."

She suggested that the two countries could achieve that by, among other factors:

  • Focusing strongly on women-led research partnerships and business innovation from such research;
  • Recognising new non-state actors such as multi-national companies, who could inform innovative models of public-private partnerships;
  • Paying attention to state actors involved in South-South alliances offering new options for international cooperation; and
  • Allowing international partnerships to be co-owned and co-determined by all their constituents; thus leveraging African scholarship by Africa-based scientists.

The Minister said developing countries today were at the forefront of global scientific discovery as demonstrated, for example, by ground-breaking work undertaken in South Africa in areas such as microbicides for the prevention of HIV-Aids transmission, as well as drug and vaccine development for malaria and tuberculosis.

"The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) - arguably the most exciting global science project for the 21st century - which is being hosted by Africa, provides an important example for future possibilities....Our partnerships with the eight other African nations that will host remote stations of the SKA remain strong and we are developing with them, in preparation for the full SKA, a new African network of telescopes, the African Very-long Baseline Interferometry Network of AVN."

The SKA project is an international effort to build the world's largest radio telescope, with a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area. The scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering and research and development towards building and delivering a radio telescope, and will deliver a correspondingly transformational increase in science capability when operational. SA's partners on the SKA African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network are Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zambia.

MeerKAT telescope
South Africa has already demonstrated its excellent science and engineering skills by designing, constructing and completing the MeerKAT telescope as a pathfinder to the SKA.
Photo: Courtesy of the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO).

Dr Pandor said while conceding that research was international and collaborative, "I want the international to mean from Africa by Africa-based scientists too." She also said while acknowledging that "our friends in Japan" shared South Africa's interest in addressing "our health services, food insecurity, climate change, inadequate infrastructure, low skills development and technology hunger," she argued that these problems should also be addressed by African and African-based researchers.

"We must create partnerships that have a clear purpose, a well-crafted agenda of science-based initiatives and public funding that adequately resources researchers and their institutions... The mandate for our research, development and innovation must be unequivocal - find solutions to our problems, create and respond."

African research needs to be bolstered to catch up with the rest of the world

The then Higher Education and Training Minister conceded that African research lagged behind that of the rest of the world in most science disciplines, the reasons being too little collaboration among African countries; too little public support for sustainable development and too little focus on programmes to mobilise science and technology for sustainable development.

"So we look for international cooperation to support science and technology capacity-building here in South Africa and in Africa," Dr Pandor said.

Also recognising that science was at the heart of the African Union's Agenda 2063, she said it formed a firm basis for collaboration of SA and Japanese universities. While she hoped that a science focus would not exclude research partnerships in fields other than science and technology, she did encourage "collaboration on African initiatives such as the Science in Africa (EASA), an initiative of the African Academy of Sciences and the New Partnership for Africa's Development," especially to help keep African scholars and scientists on the continent, and to expand Africa-based research and innovation.

Listening to Dr Pandor were around 200 academics from Japan and South Africa
Listening to Dr Pandor were around 200 academics from Japan and South Africa
Listening to Dr Pandor were around 200 academics from Japan and South Africa, who also leveraged the gala dinner to network and deepen inter-scholar relations. Other speakers included Professor Tawana Kupe, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, Professor Jun Matsukuma, Vice President of the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and Dr Molapo Qhobela, the National Research Foundation's Chief Executive Officer. Professor Ahmed Bawa, Chief Executive Officer at Universities SA, directed that evening's proceedings.

HE Mr Norio Maruyama

Japan's Ambassador to South Africa, His Excellency Mr Norio Maruyama (left), said the 4th SAJU Forum Conference could not have occurred at a more opportune time. He said 2019 was particularly challenging because it was presenting itself as the year to tackle global challenges.

According to Mr Maruyama, this meeting held special significance to Japan as, first, it was taking place close on the heels of the ascension to the throne, of Japan's new Emperor on 1 May - and the ushering in of a new imperial era of Reiwa (i.e. Beautiful Harmony). Secondly, the SAJU Forum was taking place ahead of the G20 Summit to be hosted in Osaka, Japan, from 28-29 June and, thirdly, SAJU 2019 was preceding the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 7) and would, hopefully, feed into the agenda of that conference scheduled in Yokohama from 28-30 August, 2019.

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