That sentiment was echoed by many of the speakers at the Unisa BRICS symposium on Energy Materials and Innovation on 13 March. The seminar was held with South Africa’s BRIC partners to try and formulate a roadmap for research on the world’s current energy needs. It was also used as a networking sessions between delegates on the issue before the official BRICS summit on 26 March. The university is lobbying to not only become the leading higher education research institute in Africa but forge closer links with other universities among the BRIC nations. The symposium forms part of Unisa’s 2nd annual Research and Innovation Week, which has been spearheaded by Vice-Principal of Research and Innovation, Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng.
Discussing the strategic importance of BRICS context and Unisa’s innovation strategies and role, Phakeng drew attention to the success of last year’s Indo-South Africa symposium on nanotechnology. The collaboration between Unisa and Indian researchers was one of the primary reasons for hosting the BRICS symposium this year. She revealed that the university had made significant inroads in this regard. “Since the nanotechnology symposium we have initiated the Mahatma Ghandi Inspired student exchange programme with the University of Mumbai, through which Unisa students visit India every year and vice versa. The second group of our students had interacted with students and staff there on common areas of research, which include nanotechnology, leadership, intrepreneurship as well as education,” she said. Furthermore, Phakeng and a delegation from Unisa recently visited Brazil to observe how the various technology transfer models are implemented by universities there and plans are underway to also visit China and Russia.
Taking the baton from Phakeng, High Commissioner of India, Virendra Gupta praised the university for its efforts in hosting the symposiums on nanotechnology and energy. He thought the seminar would promote cooperation between scientists for developing renewable power sources. Gupta divulged that South Africa had also entered into commercial ties for collaboration on energy research. “Sasol is currently working on a large project in the state of Orissa that will amount to about 9 billion dollars. These are the kind of projects that we need to promote between our countries,” he said.
Head of the Science and Technology group of the Russian Embassy, Konstantin Dmitriev, said that his country was paying more attention to scientific relations with South Africa in the fields of nano-, info-, bio- and nuclear technologies.
Counsellor at the Chinese Embassy, Zhang Zhixiang, spoke about implementing innovation policies which would be critical to scientific and technology processes. “All of us need technology innovation and through this innovation we can explore more cooperation,” he said.
Principal and Vice-Chancellor Prof Mandla Makhanya discussed the fact that Unisa was working closely with the Department of Science and Technology to promote new and exciting research and that the institution would not shirk its responsibilities. “We are serious about research and innovation at this institution and we will do whatever ever it takes to leverage all available resources to ensure that Unisa takes pride of place in the research community in this country and abroad. I believe that under the dynamic leadership of Professor Phakeng, we are being really innovative in our approach, and judging by the truly fantastic response and turnout this week, we are succeeding,” he said. Executive Dean in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, Prof Gugu Moche, explained that the symposium would also engage with other disciplines to try and find answers to the energy crisis. “We have academics from law and other fields because we believe the solutions can come from other disciplines,” she said.
*Written by Rajiv Kamal
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Where does BRICS come from?
BRICS, originally “BRIC” before the inclusion of South Africa in 2010, is the title of an association of emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. With the possible exception of Russia, the BRICS members are all developing or newly industrialised countries, but they are distinguished by their large, fast-growing economies and significant influence on regional and global affairs. As of 2013, the five BRICS countries represent almost three billion people, with a combined nominal GDP of 14.9 trillion dollars, and an estimated four trillion dollars in combined foreign reserves. Presently, India holds the chair of the BRICS group.