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New building boost for African research

Resource type: News

West Cape News | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Caitlin Ross.  A state-of-the-art Life Sciences building – the best of its kind on the continent – was officially opened on Tuesday at the University of the Western Cape.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, attended by an illustrious guest list including figureheads in education and government and the first-ever UWC black female graduate Eleanor September, Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian O’Connell called on those in attendance to recognise the development as a groundbreaking landmark for research in Africa akin to the lost Library of Alexandria and University of Timbuktu.

“Education is the new citadel,” said O’Connell, and knowledge would allow homo sapiens to make sense of current societal inequalities in South Africa and the world, and enable us to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

In a broadcast address, UWC Chancellor Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said it was through scientific research that we could “find the answers to the challenges that face us as a species”.

Tutu said the Life Sciences building symbolised how far UWC had come to being “a global participant in international research”.

Each of the speakers reiterated that education lay at the heart of the solution to Africa’s numerous problems, and how the university’s contribution to scientific research has been gathering momentum over recent years.

Between 1987 and 2004 the number of academic papers published per annum grew from 5000 to 8500, and the new building that places six scientific departments in a single collaborative space was being lauded as a facility that will allow scientists to successfully break new ground without infrastructural constraints.

Significant in South Africa, UWC also lays claim to producing the highest number of black and female postgraduate science students in the country.

The impressive structure houses 500 research stations for postgraduate students and staff, with many more for undergraduates, and boasts faculties at the forefront of scientific research and development.

“You cannot talk of a cleaner, more efficient “green” building,” said Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, herself a UWC graduate.

She said while there has always been a focus on teaching, research at UWC is “fast taking centre stage”.

“Several important programmes will be run here; the Bioinformatics Research Group, Water Research Programme, South Africa’s only Male Fertility Research unit, as well as pioneering work in geographical information systems, geological monitoring and South African Herbal Science and Medicines Institute. You’ll all agree this is a very impressive list of programmes,” Pandor said.

Pandor is responsible for having organised for the Department of Education to match the R200 million donated by the project’s initial funder – Chuck Feeney, founder of Atlantic Philanthropies.

Further funding was sourced bringing the total budget for the building to R500 million.

The department’s funding commitment to UWC in 2006 broke a 15 year moratorium on government spending on higher education infrastructure.

Since then, over the 2007/2008 and 2009/2010 financial years the department invested R3.6 billion, said special advisor to the Minister of Higher Education and Training, John Pampallis, and have committed a further R3.2 billion to be spent over the next two years.

And the increase in funding and development is attracting students from around the globe.

Pampallis said he and Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande visited the campus in April and was impressed with the “large number” of African students from outside South Africa working in the labs.

“Our own future and development is intimately tied to the rest of the continent. A contribution is being made and UWC is playing its part,” said Pampallis.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Ramesh Bharuthram said while South Africa is proud to have produced Nobel Laureates for Literature, Peace and Science, there has never been one received in the life sciences for research conducted on the African continent.

“One day you will be able to tell your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren, that on 3 August 2010, ‘I was at the opening of the building where that Laureate earned his prize’,” said Bharuthram. 

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