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Four new SARCHi chairs for Wits

- By Wits University

Wits is proud to announce that Professor Laetitia Rispel, Professor Mary Scholes, Professor Penny Moore and Associate Professor Sehliselo Ndlovu have been named as new South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) chairs.  Wits is now home to 25 SARChI chairs.

On Wednesday, the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor announced 42 additional research chairs at different higher education institutions throughout the country.

The new research chairs, awarded to local women researchers, has increased the total number of chairs under the SARChI to 197.

Pandor said now nearly half of South Africa’s 201 research professors are women with the 42 new female research professors. "SARChI has given women the opportunity that men have always had," she said.

SARChI, a government intervention to strengthen and improve the scientific research and innovation capacity of South African public universities, was established in 2006 by the Department of Science and Technology and managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF).

Professor Rispel – Research on the health workforce for equity and quality

The Chair will generate new knowledge and expand scientific capacity on health workforce planning, production, performance and dynamics in South Africa, contribute to capacity strengthening in health workforce research, and provide evidence to strengthen the development and implementation of national health workforce policies.

The Chair will also make an important contribution to international knowledge, by leading cross-country studies (particularly the BRICS countries) that draw lessons beyond the specifics of national contexts and are useful for other countries embarking on similar health sector reforms. The Chair focusing on the health workforce will provide for theoretical and methodological innovation in this area, thus enhancing international debates in the academic disciplines that it spans – public health, health.

Professor Scholes – Global change and systems analysis

The research focus of the Chair will firmly be aligned with the focus of the research plan and the Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute as it will investigate “Systems thinking, involving equal partners, in order to improve human and social wellbeing and to protect the environment”. Research methodologies are being developed to explore these areas and South Africa has data, but only limited expertise, in conducting the analyses. The Chair’s close association with International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, who are at the cutting edge of developing these technologies, will allow Scholes to bring these skills to South Africa.

Professor Moore – Virus-Host dynamics for public health

Moore studies the dynamic interplay between HIV and host immune responses. Her current focus is on HIV broadly neutralizing antibodies, likely to be required for an HIV vaccine. These antibodies only develop after years of chronic infection, in an ongoing “arms race” between virus and antibodies. Understanding how the changing virus initiates these antibodies, and drives them towards breadth is a key research question. Future research will extend platforms and technologies developed for HIV to other viral pathogens of public health significance.

Associate Professor Ndlovu –Hydrometallurgy and sustainable development

The research focus of the Chair will be on the extraction and recovery of mainstream metals such as base metals and the critical metals such as cobalt vanadium and tungsten which are essential for manufacturing and fabrication of different components that are a necessity in a world with ever increasing demands for advanced technology and renewable and sustainable energy generation for economic development and growth. Hydrometallurgy in Africa remains largely geared to the recovery of metals from natural raw ores.

Each Chair will receive a grant of either R2.5 million or R1.5 million a year for a period of 15years.

The NRF explained that the aim of establishing the Chairs is to enable research professors to create world-class centres of research by undertaking frontier research themselves and by training a new school of researchers.

“Each research professor supervises 10 postgraduates, on average, more than the honours, masters and doctoral students supervised by other established researchers rated by the NRF or holding research grants. The SARChI programme began with 21 research professors in 2006 and has grown to 157 research professors in diverse disciplines across the natural sciences, engineering, humanities and social sciences. It's now a R470 million-a-year programme,” the NRF said in a statement.