A number of benefits are materialising from the selection of South Africa as the major location for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, a government official said in Pretoria.
“These spin-offs are in the area of human capital development. There have been new bursaries, a number of them, that have been introduced into the system (towards the study of astronomy),” Department of Science and Technology deputy director-general Thomas Auf der Heyde 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.”
He told delegates at an astronomy summit hosted at the University of Pretoria that South Africa’s selection had also raised awareness of science amongst the country’s population.
“Its 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.
“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 2500 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 the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, 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.”