SKA ‘driving human capital development’

9 July 2012

A number of benefits are already materialising from South Africa’s selection as the major location for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, Science and Technology Deputy Director-General Thomas Auf der Heyde said in Pretoria on Sunday.

“These spin-offs are in the area of human capital development,” Auf der Heyde said at an astronomy summit hosted at the University of Pretoria.

“There have been new bursaries, a number of them, that have been introduced into the system [towards the study of astronomy],” he said.

“The SKA team can show how international students are taking up these bursaries, coming to work in South Africa. These are huge human capital developments that accrued from our investments in astronomy.”

Auf der Heyde said that South Africa’s selection had also raised awareness of science among the country’s population.

“It’s unbelievable how many people have understood the principle of what the SKA competition was all about. They understood that it was really important and it had to do with astronomy, science and technology,” he said.

“I have been told about the enormous interest from schools who want to understand more about astronomy. Facilities like the Sci-Bono centre in Johannesburg are finding a huge upsurge in the interest in science.”

In May, SKA board chairman John Womersley announced at a press conference at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam that South Africa would share the SKA project with Australia.

Auf der Heyde said the major hurdle to South Africa’s technological advancement was the lack of skilled workers.

“It is obvious to me that the key bottleneck in the more effective use of the infrastructure is not that we don’t have enough scientists, we don’t have enough artisans, engineers and technicians to enable [us] to adapt the instruments from time to time.

“Now, with 2 500 radio telescopes to be build from 2016 until 2034, we have got a need for vocational artisan training in the country that is unprecedented. We have a strong rationale to ensure that the human capital development takes place.”

Auf der Heyde said the SKA project in South Africa had received much support from structures like the African Union Commission, the European Union and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

“I can tell you that strategically and politically, this is a very significant achievement. The South African political machinery has understood the political importance of this,” he said.

Sapa