SOUTH AFRICA: Young scientists' academy launched

An early-career scientists' academy aimed at nurturing the development of top young academics and unlocking their collective potential to tackle national and global problems, has been launched in South Africa. It is the latest offshoot of the rapidly growing Global Young Academy.

The South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS), with 20 founding members, was inaugurated recently by the Department of Science and Technology and the Academy of Science of South Africa.

Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said there was recognition worldwide of the importance of engaging young scientists on issues of science development and the impact of science in society. But there had been few mechanisms in place to engage young scientists in a focused manner and so their voices were often absent from policy discussions.

The Global Young Academy was born out of meetings among young scientists from around the world, convened by the InterAcademy Panel and the World Economic Forum in 2008 and 2009.

It was established in Germany in February 2010 as an initiative aimed at bringing together young scientists to solve global problems requiring interdisciplinary expertise, encouraging young people into scientific careers, promoting a culture in which research excellence is highly valued and supporting researchers, especially in developing countries.

'Young' is defined as an average age of 35 years, and members are excellent young scientists several years beyond PhD studies who are nominated by senior scientists and national societies or themselves, alongside a peer review process. Each scientist is limited to a four-year membership term.

The Global Young Academy now has around 150 members in some four dozen countries across five continents, and has encouraged the creation of national young academies to mobilise young scientists to tackle issues of national importance.

There are national academies in Germany, Netherlands, Pakistan, Sudan, Sweden and Thailand, and in Africa there are young academies in Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda and now also South Africa.

The goals of SAYAS include contributing to the career development of emerging scientists, providing mentoring and role model services, promoting science awareness among the youth and society, fostering links between local young scientists and others in Africa and the world, fostering links with business, and providing evidence-based policy advice.

Bernard Slippers, a founding member of SAYAS, said it would "provide the first platform for leading young scientists to speak as a unified and representative voice on matters that concern the careers of young scientists and issues of importance to South African society in general where science has a role".

Slippers, who won the 2011 African Union-TWAS young scientist national award and is co-chair of the Global Young Academy, said the group would provide a crucial platform for young South African scientists to engage with their peers elsewhere in the world.

The founding 20 scientists, he added, represented a diverse group of science leaders of the future. "I believe that SAYAS will become a very valuable resource for government and other policy-makers who are searching for ways to increase capacity and transform the face of South African science," Slippers told University World News.

He said the body would offer the new generation of scientists opportunities to engage directly with other scientists, governments, business and society, "to stimulate and steer changes that are necessary to the science system to deal with the complex challenges facing South Africa and the world today.

"The immediate priority of SAYAS will obviously be to establish the academy as a credible and effectively-functioning organisation that can deliver on the high expectations that are placed on it," said Slippers, an associate professor in the department of genetics at the University of Pretoria.

SAYAS has taken its first steps by electing an executive committee, co-chaired by Professor Jerome Singh of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Dr Caradee Wright of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, approving a constitution and brainstorming first projects.

Slippers said one of the most important objectives would be to secure longer term funding to sustain the work of the Young Academy. For now SAYAS is being supported by the Academy of Science of South Africa to help it through the establishment phase.


The SAYAS appears to have started well with the South African government's involvement and a proposal for long term funding backed by a constitution. These crucial factors are lacking in the Nigerian Young Academy(NYA), which was established in August 2010.

Surprisingly, the NYA incurred debt during its recent workshop on research output, although the workshop was a huge success. Only members of the NYA are aware of the debt and each of them has been mandated to reimburse the academy, albeit in contrast to its constitution. The bottom line is that the NYA's present financial mess would have been averted if the Nigerian government had provided necessary support for the academy.

The SAYAS should learn from the NYA's case of indebtedness. Also, the Nigerian Minister of Science and Technology should emulate the political will of his South African counterpart in encouraging African youth's contributions to scientific breakthrough in the world. I pray the NYA get enough money to defray its debt.

Dr Akeem Ayofe Akinwale