Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena says there is a need to nurture a new generation of scientists consisting of black and female researchers.
Opening the first ever two day Royal Society-National Research Foundation (RS-NRF) Programme conference in Pretoria this morning, Mr Mangena said investment by the two parties had already produced a number of young, aspiring scientists and researchers who would contribute to the development of science in South Africa.
The idea of the programme arose out of discussions between former British Prime Minister John Major and former President Nelson Mandela in 1994.
The RS-NRF Programme was then founded in 1996 with the aim of increasing the number and quality of black researchers and lecturers in the areas of science, engineering and technology at historically disadvantaged universities in South Africa.
It also aims to improve the accessibility of black staff in the higher education sector to research institutions in the UK.
The minister said there was still too few women researchers in the country and special programmes were required to promote the welfare of disadvantaged people.
"This programme is a step in the right direction and stands to contribute immensely to the country's attempts to increase the quality of black and women researchers and lecturers in Science and Technology in our universities. It is also very fitting for this scientific meeting to take place during a year when our country is celebrating ten years of democracy," he said.
A five-year review conducted in 2001 showed that the RS-NRF Programme had already produced 112 Honours Degrees, 56 Masters Degrees and 23 Phds. The programme has also increased the number of black staff and students with British qualifications and laboratory experience.
"The enhancement of their research capacity has led to an increase in participation and the number of publications in local and international conferences. These activities are creating distinct intellectual hubs in our universities," said Mr Mangena.
South Africa undertakes 0.5 percent of global research. The minister added that given the high rate of knowledge development, it was imperative to connect South Africa's higher learning institutions more effectively with global knowledge systems, expertise and infrastructure in order to provide adequate training for young scientists.
He said building the infrastructure to connect young scientists with their peers and linking them directly to the most advanced global research would make them remain in the country.