SA to attract expat academics in exchange programmes


By Vivian Warby

South Africa plans to attract expatriate academics to share their skills in short exchange programmes and research projects, as an alternative to moving back to South Africa.

"We need to look at repatriation in a flexible and pragmatic way. Repatriation does not only have to take the form of people coming back to live for good,' said Minister of Education Naledi Pandor.

Briefing reporters on the education, labour and sport aspects of government’s programme of action for this year, the minister said intellectual capacity was something that could be exchanged from anywhere.

Government, she explained, would continue to look at different ways to attract South Africans back to the country, even if it was just for short periods.

To this end, government is looking at developing a mechanism to keep contact with skilled professionals from South Africa working abroad so that they could still contribute in the form of ideas and knowledge.

Minister Pandor said the academics living abroad could run seminars, have six-month lecturing programmes and take part in research programmes in South Africa, without needing to stay here full time.

This would contribute to the country’s skills revolution and was a model which had worked well in countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.

Through the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA) the country aims to achieve 6 percent economic growth between 2010 and 2014 and halve poverty and unemployment by 2014.

In order to identify and source the skills needed to achieve this economic growth, the country launched the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA) last year.

Among these critical skills are those of engineers, ICT professionals and people in the tourism industry.

Last year, Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena identified engineering as a skill of prime importance to the economic advancement of all countries, especially in Africa, which has a low number of engineers per capita.

For their part, higher education institutions in the country have agreed to increase the number of engineering graduates by an extra 1000 a year, as part of government's plan to deal with the demand for scarce skills in the country.

Government intends to recruit 1 500 engineers, 1000 educational professionals, 3 500 information technology specialist, 5 450 health and medical specialists and 1 500 agricultural science professionals.

"If we need to import skills to this country, then we must,' Minister Pandor said. "We’re busy training our people, which means that they won’t necessarily have the skills right now. As a temporary measure, I don’t see [importing skills] a problem.'