Major public universities in South Africa can expect to be running top-class broadband connectivity to the high-speed South African National Research Network (Sanren) by the end of this year.
This is according to Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s science and technology minister. Pandor was speaking at the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) budget vote debate in Parliament, Cape Town, in May.
In a bid to garner more support from Parliament for science, the debate covered the progress made by DST in the last year as well as the importance of science in building a knowledge-based economy.
The Sanren project is designed to give local students and researchers access to global research networks, but will also provide internet connectivity. The Meraka Institute, a communications development organisation, is in charge of Sanren’s planning and deployment across the country.
Pandor said that support for postgraduate studies and senior researchers must be increased and that a more stable funding model for all research performing institutions should be established.
Of the R4.4-billion (US$650-million) allocated to research and development, R217-million ($32-million) will be used to expand broadband access to Sanren. The sum is made up of a R74-million ($11-million) allottment from the DST, as well as R55-million ($8-million) from last year’s funding.
Minister for Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande added a further R28-million ($4.1-million) while the Square Kilometre Array project donated R60-million ($8.9-million).
Not only will main campuses be receiving connectivity but major satellite campuses as well.
Faster access at low cost
The Walter Sisulu University (WSU) in the Eastern Cape province and its larger satellite campuses are due to go online soon.
WSU’s director of information communication technology Courtney Walker said that there is already a Sanren connection node in East London, at the University of Fort Hare.
Sanren will establish new nodes at WSU’s rural campuses in the Eastern Cape towns of Butterworth, Mthata and Potsdam, to get these campuses connected too.
“The bandwidth is incredible and it provides better performance at a lower cost,” said Walker, adding that Sanren users can download at 60MB per minute, a speed that most universities do not possess.
For WSU, the main benefit of joining to Sanren is the establishment of a private network that will connect all their Eastern Cape campuses to each other.
DST furthering tertiary education
According to Pandor, university students are to benefit even more in the near future, as the DST has allocated R100-million ($15-million) to improve the value of postgraduate bursaries awarded by the National Research Foundation.
These funds, she said, will be used to increase the number and equity profile of postgraduate students, and to support emerging female researchers and academics from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.
The rest of the money will be used to retain and maximise the role of established researchers in increasing productivity and supervising the next generation of researchers.
Additionally, said Pandor, 25 postdoctoral fellowships – worth R540 000 ($80 000) over three years – will be awarded.
The Research Chairs Initiative is also set for a boost, with a R914-million ($135-million) investment to establish 62 new chairs by 2014. The DST currently funds R200-million ($29.5-million) a year for 92 chairs.
Sanren shaping universities
Conceived by the Department of Science and Technology, the Sanren initiative began in 2006, when then-minister of science and technology Mosibudi Mangenar announced its conception in his budget speech.
Thereafter, the Meraka Institute at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research was responsible for planning and implementing the project, while the non-profit Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa operates the network.
By 2007, 204 sites across the country were connected to Sanren and had access to a further 3 000 research and education institutes from around the world.