24 October 2008
South African petrochemical giant Sasol is to spend R25-million a year helping the country’s universities develop world-class science and engineering graduates, attract and retain talented academics, and grow the engineering profession.
The investment forms part of a greater R250-million initiative, spread over 10 years, to ensure world-class teaching in the disciplines of chemistry and engineering.
Sasol has already spent R75-million upgrading research facilities and equipment at nine participating universities over the past three years, the company said in a statement this week.
“This is a proactive step to help our universities meet critical research and development skills essential to the future growth and prosperity of our industry and our nation,” Sasol CEO Pat Davies said at a hand-over event in Johannesburg this week.
Developing engineering skills
The initiative will also contribute to the Engineering Council of South Africa’s commitment to growing the engineering profession by increasing the number of engineering practitioners to ensure sufficient future capacity to stimulate the economy.
“Sasol’s investment in research projects, the upgrading of research facilities, the deploying of highly qualified Sasol personnel in participating universities and rotating young South African academics abroad and locally within its plants, helps us to increase resources of research and development better to achieve the goal of modernising the South Africa economy,” Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena said in a video message.
Safeguarding teaching quality
North-West University Vice-Chancellor Dr Theuns Eloff said it was essential for industry as a whole to invest in tertiary institutions to safeguard the quality of teaching and to attract and retain skilled and experienced academics.
He said that the global skills shortage had resulted in many experienced academics opting to work in more lucrative private sector jobs, while ageing equipment and research facilities negatively impacted on the quality of teaching.
“Sasol has established a number of academic centres of excellence and advisory boards, enabling us and students to work with global experts in a variety of science and engineering fields,” Eloff said. “Sasol also provides grants to boost academic salaries.”
“The significance of their science and engineering experts teaching on rotation levels at collaborating universities is immeasurable.”
The natural science and engineering faculties of the universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, North West, Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Pretoria are participating in the programme.
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