Since 2004, Centres of Excellence at UKZN have pioneered research in areas of national importance, ranging from HIV and AIDS to biodiversity conservation. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) National Research Foundation (NRF) Centres of Excellence Annual Directors’ Forum, held at UKZN’s Howard College campus, highlighted the impact of research conducted by 15 CoE’s and showcased projects through interactive exhibitions.
Over 100 leading scientists and researchers attended the forum and engaged with learners and post-doctoral students from Higher Education Institutions in KwaZulu-Natal.
Director-General of the Department of Science and Technology, Dr Phil Mjwara, who is responsible for policy development in the science and technology sector in South Africa, delivered the keynote address at the forum.
In his address Mjwara looked at how science contributes to the development of the country. ‘There is a link between science, technology and innovation on the one hand, and socio-economic development,’ said Mjwara.
Mjwara also emphasised the need to fast-track the transformation agenda.
UKZN’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, said: ‘This is a wonderful occasion for the science system in South Africa where the best of the best get together to share ideas, thoughts and experiences … It’s really important that science flies the flag of the ambitions of the nation we aspire to be.’
Professor Salim Abdool Karim, Director of CAPRISA and the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in HIV Prevention, said that the CoE ‘is a global leader at the forefront of AIDS research. It conducts cutting-edge research and innovation, focusing on the development of new HIV prevention technologies, especially for young women in Africa - a high-risk population that is considered by UNAIDS to be the highest priority to reach the international goal of ending AIDS’.
Deputy CEO of the NRF, Dr Gansen Pillay said: ‘Given the current economic climate, the CoEs should now, more than ever before, also strive to become socially, environmentally and economically sustainable, hence the subject of sustainability has informed this year’s theme of Future Sustainability of CoEs: Perspectives and Possibilities.’
Panel discussions centered on “Building a Sustainable Future for CoE’s” and “Beyond 2019: Options and Possibilities for CoE’s”.
Hundreds of KwaZulu-Natal learners were treated to interactive, multidisciplinary exhibitions at the CoE Forum where three jubilant learners won iPads sponsored by CAPRISA.
DST Deputy Director-General Dr Thomas Auf der Heyde told learners that science unites people as it ‘builds bridges between cultures and countries.’ He said this was essential in dealing with global challenges like climate change, ‘where nations must work together to find sustainable solutions’.
A Grade 11 learner at Nkosinathi High School in Inanda, Ms Nelisiwe Mnyandu, was thrilled with the ‘fun and interesting’ displays at the exhibition. With her curiosity in science spiked, Mnyandu said she had learned remarkable facts about the flights of eagles!
The DST-NRF Centres of Excellence Annual Directors’ forum was hosted by UKZN, the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), DST and the National Research Foundation (NRF).