The first seminar of the South Africa-Sweden University Forum (SASUF) was hosted by the University of Pretoria at its Groenkloof Campus. This was part of SASUF’s Research and Innovation Week which included over 30 different seminar sessions in 12 South African cities. The delegates comprised approximately 130 researchers, university leaders and senior management staff from the majority of South Africa’s universities and 67 representatives from Swedish universities.
Prof Stephanie Burton, Vice-Principal for Research and Postgraduate Education at the University of Pretoria welcomed the delegates to the conference, which focused on synergies research in the higher education sector between South Africa and Sweden. Researchers from both countries were invited to discuss how the higher education sector can contribute to research and innovation, with a specific focus on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and improving the lives of citizens across the globe.
The conference also encouraged the forging of links between key researchers in South Africa and Sweden in order to engage in robust research collaborations, established in a sustainable manner, to contribute to knowledge generation and research capacity development.
The conference highlighted parallels between the two countries in presentations made by equivalent higher education bodies of both countries. Funding for the higher education sector in both nations remains a distinct challenge despite the different social contexts under which the countries find themselves. Part of the purpose of the conference was to help connect researchers in seeking collaborative funding for projects, to internationalise research, to build research capacity and to respond to government and international policy as a sector, from a background of sound research-based evidence.
Some of the key addresses on the issues, highlighting the importance of funding and research collaboration, were given by Prof Stephanie Burton; Dr Neville Arendse from the Department of Science and Technology; Her Excellency Ms Cecilia Julin, the Swedish Ambassador to South Africa; Dr Ahmed Bawa, CEO of Universities South Africa (USAf); Dr Anna Wetterbom, CEO of the Young Academy of Sweden; Prof Eva Åkesson, Vice-Chancellor of Uppsala University; and Prof Cheryl de la Rey, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria.
Representatives from other organisations who participated in panel discussions included the Executive Director of the Swedish Science Council, Ann Fust, Johanna Jeppsson from the Swedish Institute, and Hans Pohl from the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education. The Executive Director for Knowledge Fields Development from the National Research Foundation, Andrew Kaniki, and the Chief Director of Policy and Development Support in the Department of Higher Education and Training, Mohlabi Mabizela, represented the South African research landscape.
The main research themes and topics under discussion for the conference focused on research clusters in the areas of climate change, natural resources and sustainability, transforming the higher education sector and doing research for the benefit of society, social transformation and developing society through knowledge, the impact of disease on public health and wellness, smart cities and urbanisation, and digital technologies, big data, privacy and cybersecurity.
Gustaf Cars, International Office, Uppsala University; Prof Eva Akesson, Vice-Chancellor, Uppsala University and Setsipane Mokoduwe, Department of Research and Innovation, University of Pretoria.