RISE: Science fosters a new generation of leaders

It was inspiring to see the next generation of African leaders beginning to emerge through science, said Philip Griffiths, chair of the Princeton-based Science Initiative Group, SIG - leading scientists who share a passion for fostering science in developing countries. He was speaking at the close of a four-day Regional Initiative in Science and Education conference held in South Africa this month.

Congratulating the many students who had made research presentations, Griffiths said: "RISE is showing early signs of being a great success and a model for regional progress in training and research in science and education. Naturally there is room for improvement and growth. RISE is a work in progress."

In 2008 SIG proposed and now helps administer the Regional Initiative in Science and Education, to support capacity building through regional networks of universities.

RISE aims to strengthen higher education in sub-Saharan Africa by increasing the population of qualified faculty teaching in Africa's universities. There is strong emphasis on preparing PhD and MSc scientists and engineers through university-based research and training networks in selected disciplines.

Starting with the recruitment of 51 students in April 2009, the number of students in the networks has since grown to 89: three post-doctoral students, 47 PhD candidates and 39 MSc students. Implementation of RISE has also been helped by the involvement of the African Academy of Sciences.

Griffiths said SIG was there to help and work hard to generate partnerships to strengthen RISE.

"Our preeminent focus is in the United States, but as an African-designed initiative we need your help to continue engaging African universities. It appears there has been much progress on this front in the past three years," said Griffiths.

He said there remained much work to be done with governments, and that increasing private sector involvement was also a project for the future.

Only two governments, Tanzania and South Africa, had a presence at the workshop despite being invited. Griffith said this was disappointing, given that governments had openly declared their support for science, technology and innovation.

While acknowledging the pressures on governments in Sub-Saharan Africa Griffiths said their no-show at the conference indicated a gap between their public statements and their actions.