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South Africa and EU plan joint funding pot

Initiative to target shared threats such as pandemics and food security

South Africa and the European Union (EU) are in negotiations to set up a joint funding pot for collaborative research projects.

The initiative would be similar to ERAfrica, a multi-million dollar project involving 12 institutions from Africa and Europe to mobilise funding for joint research.

It would focus on shared challenges including climate change, pandemics, and food and energy security.

Mmboneni Muofhe, chief director of international research at South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology (DST), says negotiations for the “joint programming” are at an early stage. If the initiative goes ahead, it could take off in 2014, he says.

The initiative is also meant to ensure South Africa maximises its benefits from Horizon 2020, Europe’s next funding instrument for research, which starts in 2014.

South Africa and the EU expect to contribute equally to the pot. The DST is negotiating with South Africa’s treasury for its share of the money.

“We expect to put tens of millions of Rands to get into this collaboration with the EU,” says Muofhe (R10m=US$1.56m).

Mixed response

However, the proposed initiative has met mixed reactions from South African researchers.

Lorenzo Fioramonti, an associate professor of politics at the University of Pretoria, thinks it could lead to South Africans winning more EU-funded grants.

At present, he says, few South African universities provide the technical support researchers need to compete for EU grants. “Researchers working with EU funding are often not supported by their universities, which are mostly concerned about domestic funding,” he points out.

But he thinks universities would be more likely to support researchers to apply for a funding pot earmarked for South Africans. This would help open up the eyes of the university administrators to what is required to win international funding, he adds.

Anita Michel, an associate professor at the University of Pretoria, hopes the proposed new fund would be easier to access and manage than EU-funded projects.

She would like the initiative to support smaller groups of researchers with fewer members than the projects funded under the seventh framework programme (FP7), the EU’s current funding programme for research.

“EU projects require a large number of collaborators, which means a huge administration load. We want flexibility. If that doesn’t change, this initiative will not make a difference,” says Michel, who is involved in two FP7 projects.

She also hopes that South African researchers would be able to receive funding directly from the initiative and not through EU institutions, as is the case with FP7 funding.