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Registration delays put science careers ‘on hold’ in South Africa

Image: Willie B Thomas, via Getty Images

Professional body apologises but blames bottlenecks on “unprecedented increase” in applications

The body charged with certifying professional scientists in South Africa has admitted that it has struggled to meet an “unprecedented increase” in demand, leaving some applicants waiting years for registration.

The South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions was created in its current form in 2003 to set standards for the training and recognition of natural scientists in South Africa. The government encourages all scientists in the country to register with the body, and many science jobs require applicants to be registered.

However, a number of people have complained of long waits—some say years—for their applications to be processed, with many still waiting.

Pending status

Last month, more than 20 science professionals voiced their displeasure with delays on LinkedIn after Richard Graeme Horn, a geologist working at the Angolan diamond-mining company Endiama, called out the council.

“I’ve been emailing and calling them for the past month but I am still waiting for someone to respond,” he wrote on the social networking site, adding: “People’s careers can effectively be put on hold while waiting for certificates.”

The council quickly replied to the post, and Horn later provided an update to say that the issue had been resolved. However, many people had by then commented on his post citing similar experiences.

“I have spoken to multiple people at the office over and over again, and no progress for over a year. It is an absolute disgrace and I don’t even know what to do any more,” wrote Sandhya Moodley, a terrestrial ecology specialist.

“My application took two years to finally be processed and status granted,” wrote Fathima Ally, a scientific data specialist.

Overwhelmed system

In a statement sent to Research Professional News this week, the council said it “acknowledges” the frustrations expressed by applicants. “We’ve extended our sincere apologies to those affected and appreciate the opportunity to address these concerns,” it said.

Acting science communications manager Tobi Mzobe said the council’s recent challenges “stem, in part, from a significantly positive development”.

Government and industry are pushing for professionalisation of their staff, he said, and this “has led to an unprecedented increase in the number of applications, which, unfortunately, has overwhelmed our current systems”.

“In response, we are implementing a comprehensive project aimed at addressing these backlogs,” he said, adding that the council would reach out to all those who had posted on LinkedIn.

The body is also updating its application process to make it more user-friendly and streamlined, Mzobe added. “Our goal is to resolve all outstanding applications as swiftly and efficiently as possible as we embark on this new financial year.”

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe