South Africa and Britain have established the first three bilateral research chairs at South African universities to build innovation capacity between the two countries.

South African Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor and British High Commissioner (ambassador) to South Africa, Judith Macgregor, launched the research chairs in Cape Town, Wednesday.

Two of the chairs — one at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) here and the other at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth in Eastern Cape Province — will focus on food security, while the chair at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg will focus on political science.

Implemented by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the research chairs form part of the Britain-South Africa Newton Fund science co-operation initiative which the two countries launched in 2014.

The chairs were awarded to Dr Stephen Devereux at UWC, Professor Michael John Roberts at NMMU, and Professor Lawrence Hamilton at Wits.

The British Council will fund the food security chairs to the tune of 1.3 million Rand (about 88,800 US dollars) each, while the British Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences will fund the Wits chair to an amount of R1.7 million. These funds will be invested for a period of five years.

Through the initiative, South Africa and Britain will be able to increase the quality and production of Master’s and PhD graduates by supporting research excellence in response to key socio-economic and development priorities.

These three research chairs are part of an already awarded 198 research chairs at South Africa’s universities as part of the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), which began in 2006 and is now a 404 million Rand-a-year programme.

However, SARChI is not only supported by public funds. It also leverages private funding. For every one Rand of public funding towards SARChI, another two Rand are invested by industry. The total cumulative public investment between 2006 and 2014 amounted to 1.5 billion Rand.

This latest Britain-South Africa bilateral research chairs initiative is the second such initiative after the global environmental health initiative established with Switzerland last year. The third will be in nano-sciences and advanced materials with Germany.