Canadian scientists were the perfect partners for their South African peers in physics and space exploration and the two countries had only begun to scratch the surface of what they could share and achieve together.
This was the contention of David Johnston, Governor-General of Canada, in his keynote address at a recent UCT panel discussion on international education and science collaboration.
The panel was comprised of Dr Bernard Fanaroff, project director of SKA (Square Kilometre Array) SA; Professor Eugene Cloete, deputy vice-chancellor, Stellenbosch University; Professor Ramesh Baruthram, deputy vice-chancellor, University of the Western Cape; Dr Amit Chakma, chair, World University Service of Canada and president and vice-chancellor of the University of Western Ontario; and Paul Davidson, president, Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. The master of ceremonies was UCT acting vice-chancellor, Professor Thandabantu Nhlapo.
Johnston said South African and Canadian schools should forge alliances so that their teachers, researchers and students could work, study, share and learn together, regardless of their disciplines.
"Only then can our countries unleash the true power of the diplomacy of knowledge."
He said the panel discussion should be used to start building these vital partnerships.
"Our two countries have already laid some valuable groundwork. Four Canadian universities have struck partnerships with schools, foundations and campaigns in South Africa. One of these South African partners is this wonderful place of learning, discovery and innovation - UCT."
Johnson invoked the words of Nelson Mandela that "a good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination" and said, like Mandela, he believed in "the formidable power of keen minds and kind hearts".
"Let's put our good heads and hearts together and uncover new insights about the vast expanses of space. Let's also put our good heads and hearts together and create the smart and caring world we all dream of right here on Earth."
Cloete told the panel South Africans were fortunate to have a science and technology ministry that had made several positive interventions in recent years. These included the launch of the Centre of Excellence Programme, which initially involved ten such centres, with five more to be established soon.
Fanaroff said the SKA had some 150 young engineers and scientists working in various parts of the project. These were outstanding young people, who had rapidly become world leaders in the extremely high-tech areas in which the project operated.
"Quite a lot of these young people have come to us from overseas, and they have been attracted by the fact that government has shown very strong support for the SKA programme and has invested heavily in it. We are creating a critical mass of young people who have expertise in next generation technologies of science."
Chakma referred to a project called Grand Challenges Canada which, he said, supported at least 11 projects in South Africa, most headed by South African scholars.
He said institution-to-institution relationships were very effective and one way to achieve these was to explore the possibility of joint-PhD programmes between South African and Canadian universities.
Davidson told the panel one of the benefits of co-operation programmes between universities was that they gave students the opportunity to learn problem-solving and project-management skills.
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