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11 November 2015

Initiative launched to encourage South African top researchers to join ERC teams in Europe

A new initiative has been launched to provide South African early-mid career researchers with research opportunities in Europe. The agreement has been signed by European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas and the South African Minister for Science and Technology Naledi Pandor.

The ERC/DST initiative - the sixth in a string of similar agreements with non-European counterparts - is open to active holders of South African National Research Foundation (NRF) grants. They can undertake research visits (e.g. for joint experiments), becoming part of teams led by ERC grant holders in Europe.

This contract takes the form of an 'Implementing Arrangement' under the umbrella of the Science & Technology Agreement between the EU and the Republic of South Africa. South African researchers who will come to Europe on scientific visits will continue to receive remuneration from the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The objective of the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) is to promote and support research through funding, human resource development and the provision of the necessary facilities in order to facilitate the creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all fields of science and technology, including indigenous knowledge, and thereby to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of all the people.

Set up by the European Union in 2007, the European Research Council (ERC) is the first European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run five-year-projects based in Europe. The ERC also strives to attract top researchers from anywhere in the world to come to Europe. To date, the ERC has funded some 5,000 top researchers at various stages of their careers. On average, ERC grantees employ around six team members during their ERC project. An estimate shows that some 18% of these team members are nationals from countries outside Europe. The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council, and, since January 2014, the ERC President is Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon. The ERC has a budget of over €13 billion and is part of the EU research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, for which European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Carlos Moedas is responsible.

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Policy Dialogue

The Trade, development and cooperation agreement (TDCA) constitutes the legal basis for the overall relations between South Africa and the EU. The TDCA covers political dialogue, the establishment of a free trade area over an asymmetrical twelve-year period, development co-operation, economic cooperation, and cooperation in a whole series of other areas. The agreement was signed in October 1999 and it entered into force in 2000.

The EU and South Africa have also established a Strategic Partnership, and adopted an Action Plan for its implementation in May 2007. The Action Plan has two strands: enhanced political dialogue and cooperation on regional, African and world issues, and stronger cooperation in a number of economic, social and other areas.

The Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement was concluded in 1996 and entered into force in November 1997. Scientific collaboration between South Africa and the EU is monitored and facilitated by the Joint Science and Technology Cooperation Committee (JSTCC), established under the Agreement. The last meeting took place in Cape Town on 6 November 2012.

Agreement  PDF icon 758 KB

Flagships of S&T Cooperation between South Africa and the EU are

  • The European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnerships (EDCTP) was founded in 2003 to focus work of the European Commission and several EU Member States, in collaboration with African countries, into developing and testing of new medicines against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The European Commission and South Africa have been very active in making EDCTP a success story. EDCTP currently supports 196 research projects; these include 57 clinical trials involving more than 100.000 patients. It has also helped train more than 300 African scientists.
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  • The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) is coordinating efforts to build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS. GEOSS will provide decision-support tools to a wide variety of users. International collaboration is essential for exploiting the growing potential of Earth observations to support decision making. South Africa is co-chairing GEO and also co-chairs together with the USA and the EC a working group on GEO post-2015.
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  • Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is an iconic radio telescope array that will transform the way we see the universe, as well as being a driver of science, technology and innovation on an industrial scale. It is one of a few truly global facilities that will be built by a consortium of countries around the world. The EU and several Member States, in cooperation with South Africa, Australia and other non-European countries, have invested significant resources in the development of the Square Kilometre Array during the Sixth and Seventh Framework Programmes. South Africa will host the mid frequency part of the Array.
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ESASTAP Plus (2013-2016)
Strengthening Technology, Research and Innovation Cooperation between Europe and South Africa. ESASTAP Plus is a dedicated platform that will support the deepening of scientific and technological cooperation between South Africa and the European Union with a special focus on innovation. This will be achieved by supporting South Africa's participation in Horizon 2020, but also by promoting reciprocal European participation in South African programmes. Specific input will be provided to enrich the bilateral policy dialogue, notably to identify priority areas for mutually beneficial cooperation. A major focus will be to target coordination of Member States and Associated Countries' research policies and programmes vis-à-vis South Africa, encouraging the development of new joint initiatives implemented by several countries. Synergy between different EU cooperation initiatives will also be encouraged, e.g. between development cooperation and research programmes.

RINEA (2015-2018)
The project "Research and Innovation Network for Europe and Africa" (RINEA) proposes three specific objectives:

  • Strengthening the quality and quantity of partnerships between research and innovation stakeholders in EU Member states, in Associated Countries and in countries in Africa
  • Encouraging transnational coordination of programmes and policies for international cooperation in STI for greater coherence, joint ownership and resource efficiency
  • Supporting and enriching formal and informal processes of bi‐regional STI policy dialogue between the EU and Africa

CAAST-Net Plus (2013-2016)
The Network for the Coordination and Advancement of sub-Saharan Africa-EU Science and Technology Cooperation (CAAST-Net) will continue as CAAST-NET Plus with a special focus on food security, climate change and health. The aim is to increase the quality and quantity of STI cooperation between Europe and Africa in areas of mutual interest and benefit. The network consists of 22 participants (11 European and 11 African participants).


Success stories: FP7 projects with participants from South Africa



Framework documents

Background documents


European Commission
DG Research and Innovation
Nienke Buisman
Policy Officer STI relations with Africa
Unit RTD C.3 - European Neighbourhood, Africa and the Gulf
Telephone: (+32) 229 98917

Nienke Buisman