A NUMBER of benefits are materialising from the selection of SA as the major location for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, a government official said in Pretoria yesterday.

“These spin-offs are in the area of human capital development. There have been new bursaries, a number of them, that have been introduced into the system (towards the study of astronomy),” department of science and technology deputy director-general Thomas auf der Heyde said.

“The SKA team can show how international students are taking up these bursaries, coming to work in South Africa.

“These are huge human capital developments that accrued from our investments in astronomy.”

He told delegates at an astronomy summit at the University of Pretoria that SA’s selection had also raised awareness of science among the population.

“It’s unbelievable how many people have understood the principle of what the SKA competition was all about.

“They understood that it was really important and it had to do with astronomy, science and technology.

“I have been told about the enormous interest from schools who want to understand more about astronomy. Facilities like the Sci-Bono centre in Johannesburg are finding a huge upsurge in the interest in science.” In May, SKA board chairman John Womersley announced at a press conference at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, that SA would share the SKA project with Australia.

Auf der Heyde said the major hurdle to SA’s technological advancement was the lack of skilled workers.

“It is obvious to me that the key bottleneck in the more effective use of the infrastructure is not that we don’t have enough scientists, we don’t have enough artisans, engineers and technicians to enable (us) to adapt the instruments from time to time.

“Now with 2 500 radio telescopes to be build from 2016 until 2034 we have got a need for vocational artisan training in the country that is unprecedented. We have a strong rationale to ensure that the human capital development takes place.”

Auf der Heyde said the SKA project in SA had received much support from structures like the African Union Commission, the European Union and the Brics countries.