Ambassador for the Year of Science
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Interview with Cay Etzold from the German Academic Exchange Service
Cay Etzold is the Head of Department for Eastern and Southern Africa at the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst – DAAD). Previously, he worked there as the Head of the Alumni and Partnership programmes.
1. How is the DAAD involved in South Africa, and what is the significance of the German-South African Year of Science 2012/2013 in this context?
For the DAAD, South Africa is one of the focal countries in southern Africa. In particular, German students, graduates and scientists enjoy benefiting from the various research possibilities there. The DAAD has been working in South Africa for several decades, and awarded grants to South Africans of all colours even before the end of the apartheid era. The exchange has consistently become more and more intensive over the last 10 years.
The German-South African Year of Science makes it clear once again just what possibilities are available for academic exchanges and presents a whole series of interesting examples that could well be worth imitating in one way or another. So, on a quite personal level, I hope that it will give me, too, new inspiration for the German-South African scientific cooperation.
Which DAAD activities are taking place in this context?
The DAAD has taken and is taking part in the Year of Science with a wide range of initiatives, such as a major alumni seminar organised together with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) to start everything off, through to a series of public lectures on selected research topics, and even webinars about the South African university system, to name just a few examples.
2. What exactly is the nature of the research exchanges and university cooperations between Germany and South Africa that are supported by the DAAD?
German scientists and students really appreciate the possibilities for research on site in South Africa, so at the moment the exchange is stronger in that direction. In specific terms, 395 Germans and 205 South Africans received new support in the past year. In total, however, 465 Germans and 421 South Africans were receiving support in the year 2011, as this figure also takes into account long-term support for South African scholarship students studying for Masters or PhD degrees.
The cooperation with the NRF (National Research Foundation), which is now enjoying considerable success, was expanded in recent years. At the end of last year, the DAAD worked together with the NRF to adjust its rates, which has definitely made the joint grant programme for Masters and PhD courses even more attractive.
I am particularly delighted that we have seen an increase in the level of exchange in the projects supported by the DAAD. This clearly shows that South Africa is a desirable partner country when it comes to university cooperations. The DAAD is now supporting 24 such university cooperations and specialist centres in an extremely wide range of programmes. They include six research cooperations in the new BMBF-funded programme, "Welcome to Africa", which is based on a sustained research cooperation with African partners and is aimed at least partly at improving the African expertise of young German scientists.
3. In the context of the German-South African Year of Science, the topic of "sustainability" is particularly significant. In your opinion, how do research grants contribute to sustainable developments in the research landscape?
The programme that you mentioned, "Welcome to Africa", is partly about the development and expansion of sustainable research structures. However, they can only be created if there are qualified specialists and scientists available.
I believe that research grants are an excellent tool for training such experts, and a tool that must not be neglected. Researchers don’t appear overnight or sealed away in an ivory tower, but rather they have to develop their research field successively, constantly comparing notes and taking new findings into account. It is specifically for this sort of constant and sustained exchange that grants are necessary.
4. Previously, you were the Head of the Alumni and Partnership Programmes at the DAAD. What significance do you think that these networks have, particularly with regard to South Africa?
In conjunction with the AvH, the DAAD organised a large-scale alumni conference at the start of the Year of Science. The topic "Higher Education and Research Transformation in South Africa and Germany" clearly showed the challenges being faced in South Africa and Germany, and that the alumni can make a contribution that cannot be underestimated. They are established in their own country, they are part of a wide range of networks and in some cases they have kept up contact with their German partners. The value of refreshing their contacts and using them for new cooperations is clearly well worthwhile.
In the last decade, South Africa has experienced many changes in the university sector due to transformation, etc., and also in Germany there have been and there are many different experiences to communicate in relation to the Bologna process and the competition for excellence. It is precisely this sort of mutual exchange of your own experiences that plays a huge role for networks and guarantees progress in terms of research cooperations.
5. What advice would you give to interested students and scientists who would like to take part in a research exchange with South Africa? What sort of experiences can this type of bilateral cooperation provide?
First of all, you need to be open to new challenges. Of course, that is not only true about South Africa, but I do feel that it is particularly important precisely in that case to take a close look at the challenges that the country is facing. And my own personal experience has shown how important it is to find out a little about the recent history beforehand. This may perhaps make it clear just how great a burden has been placed on the shoulders of the scientists, lecturers and teaching staff in terms of training future generations. I think it’s particularly important to encourage students and graduates from South Africa from the very outset to come and visit Germany, as this may possibly give them a new insight into their own country.