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South Africa has a history of inequality that has left an indelible mark on its people predominantly along racial lines, which has affected and manifested in their social and economic lives. The impact thereof is visible across all spheres of society, including the academic and science workforce.

An article contained in an in-depth report called State of the World's Science (2014), for example, noted that the largest percentage of the South African population in 2011 and between the ages of 20 and 64, consisted of Black African females (39.9%), but they only comprised 12.7% of the Research and Development (R&D) workforce. Conversely the R&D Workforce  was  dominated  by  White  Males  (30.9%)  whilst  only  comprising  4.7%  of the population.

This report also found a strong correlation between socio-economic background and pursuit of a science-related field in the United Kingdom. The link was so strong that it could be described as a gradient, just as the relationship between socioeconomic background and a child's educational achievement is often described in the literature as a gradient.

In the Eastern Cape, which is the location for the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and National Research Foundation (NRF) Centres of Excellence Directors Forum 2017 (CDF2017), statistics indicate that more than 4 out of 10 youths are unemployed. Economic status and poverty are apparent hurdles to entry into the sciences.

It is within such context that this year’s DST-NRF Centres of Excellence Directors Forum (CDF2017) – to be hosted at the Nelson Mandela University Business School from 31 August – tackles transformation under the theme “Triumvirate Transformation in the CoEs”.

The 15 Centres of Excellence were established 13 years ago, and housed at various universities across the country, to broaden the country's science, technology and innovation capacity in human capital and quality research.

They pull together existing capacity and resources to enable researchers to collaborate across disciplines and institutions on long-term projects that are locally relevant and internationally competitive in order to enhance the pursuit of research excellence and capacity development.

While not housing a dedicated CoE, host institution Nelson Mandela University is actively involved in three of the national Centres of Excellence – Strong Materials, Food Security and Mathematical and Statistical Science – and plays a central role in the Renewable Energy “Hub and Spoke” model for South Africa.

The University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Engagement Prof Andrew Leitch said: “It is indeed an honour for Nelson Mandela University to host the annual Centres of Excellence Directors’ Forum this year. The Centres of Excellence play a vital role in bringing together world renowned researchers and scholars in focused areas of strategic importance for our country.”

The two-day gathering of some of the country’s eminent experts in research areas critical to addressing societal problems – such as health, food security and energy and mineral resources – will zoom in on the three pillars of people, knowledge enterprise and engagement with society.

The first pillar, which is at the heart of transformation, relates to equitable participation in research, development and innovation (RDI); representativeness; and inclusiveness in terms of demographics – gender, race, nationality, age and class – at all levels from leadership to students.

Nelson Mandela University Vice-Chancellor Prof Derrick Swartz will open the second day of the conference, on 1 September, with Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor to deliver the keynote address. Renowned academic Dr Mamphela Ramphele will share thoughts on whether South Africa can afford a knowledge enterprise without a transformed science workforce, while lawyer and theologian Professor Nyameko Barney Pityana will focus on the role of universities and CoEs in the creation of a knowledge enterprise in South Africa.

CDF2017 will have dedicated sessions for problematising and debating the theme spread across the three pillars with a view to finding workable solutions for Centres of Excellence (CoEs) and, by extension, the higher education sector.

The forum sessions will table and tackle pertinent issues stemming from the above theme, where speakers and panellists will discuss and debate current trends and thoughts on the knowledge enterprise and the role that universities have therein.

For media enquiries and RSVP, please contact:

Veronica Mohapeloa at  or

Thabang Setlhare at, or

Palesa Mokoena at (NRF) or

Zandile Mbabela at

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777