SA-UK Collaboration to Strengthen Research Capacity in KZN

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A collaborative project between the United Kingdom (UK) and South Africa (SA) has been awarded a R5 million grant from the British Council’s Newton Fund.

The project will see the development of a world-class masters and doctoral training programme through a joint partnership between UKZN, Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) and the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) in South Africa and University College London (UCL) in the UK.

South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) proposes that the annual number of PhD graduates, which stood at 1 421 in 2010, be increased to 5 000 by 2030. This calls for more academic staff in Higher Education to hold PhD qualifications and it is envisaged that the number should increase to 75% of academics by 2030.

The UKZN, MUT and UCL – Staff Development Programme (StEP) project aims to equip academic staff to become leaders in their fields that are capable of conducting excellent research, competing at an international level and providing quality supervision to future students. The project will thus not only build capacity among academics, but will also grow future scientific leaders in South Africa and on the African continent.

The grant will initially support 10 MUT and UKZN staff members who work in the fields of infection and immunity, public health, chemistry, drug discovery and pharmacology to enroll for PhD and master’s degrees. They will be registered at UKZN that, together with AHRI, will provide critical local infrastructure for the research projects. UCL will provide support in supervising students and in mentoring junior or less experienced primary supervisors. The University will also host students in London for periods of training that will be tailored for each individual student, depending on the nature of the project. UCL will provide access to critical technology such as next generation sequencing, single cell transcriptomics, high resolution imaging, high throughput and high content screening. A key goal will be strengthening research and supervisory capacity through visits to UCL for both students and supervisors from UKZN and MUT.

‘We are thrilled to have received this grant,’ said project lead Professor Michelle Gordon (UKZN). ‘The ultimate goal is to produce researchers capable of solving the major health-care challenges in our country and internationally.’

Applications will open on 1 March 2020 and qualifying UKZN and MUT academics who are eager to pursue either a master’s degree or PhD, or are already registered for one, are encouraged to apply.

Words: MaryAnn Francis and Hannah Keal

Photographs: Supplied