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The Meraka Institute derives its mandate as a national strategic initiative from President Mbeki’s 2002 State of the Nation Address, where the concept of an ICT University was first announced. A large-scale intervention in the ICT space to address challenges in both the first economy (well developed and integrated with the global economy) and the second economy (characterised by informal economic activity and poverty). As such, human and intellectual capital interventions are required that address both advanced technical research challenges (“wealth creation”) and urgent developmental challenges (“quality of life”).
The establishment of the Meraka Institute in accordance with President Mbeki’s call in February 2002 will address three critical areas:
- Human capital development in ICT forming a critical thread throughout the Institute’s activities and ensuring continued development, growth and sustainability.
- Innovation in ICT leading to applications that address development challenges facing South Africa, the Continent and the developing world thereby directly contributing to addressing the challenges faced by the second economy.
- Advanced technical research enabling indigenous ICT leadership, through a critical mass of high quality research and development.
The Institute will have a strong African character and will collaborate with peer institutions in the developing South as well as the developed world.
The Meraka Institute will have three main strategic axes, promoting the three major objectives of:
- Human capital development, where the objective will be to contribute to the training and development of a broad stream of people with high level ICT skills, through provision of bursaries, internships, and the availability of challenging employment opportunities in the various research and system delivery projects. The institute will complement and work with higher education institutions (HEIs) in its human capital development programme.
- Application innovation, through innovation in ICT contribute to and facilitate the research, development and implementation of ICT application that address ‘Digital Divide’ related problems in South Africa and other developing countries. The institute will focus on the pre-competitive space and areas of market neglect with strong emphasis on co-operation with end-users and industry players. A number of application domains have been identified with stakeholders and implementation of R&D and innovation programmes are being prioritized in consultation with stakeholders
- Advanced technology research, where the objective will be to conduct world-class research in specified technology domains, in accordance with DST’s ICT R&D strategy. As well as conducting research programmes itself, the Meraka Institute will coordinate research carried out at HEIs in ‘Critical-Mass Research Units’, and vigorous co-operation between the Meraka Institute and HEIs will be promoted. Co-operation with international research institutes and companies will also be pursued. A number of technology research domains have been identified through national strategic processes. Implementation of research programmes are being prioritized in consultation with stakeholders.
The three programmes of the Meraka Institute are interdependent and effective interfaces and mechanisms for cooperation between the different functions are being implemented.
The Human Capital Development programme will cut across both the Research and Innovation programmes, as these will be the programmes within which the human capital development will take place. This will ensure that people development is tightly interwoven into Institute’s activities and that academic training provided by Universities is complemented by experiencial learning and the technological and intellectual leadership provided by the Institute staff. Figure 1 illustrates interaction between the three programmes
Figure 1: Interaction between the different programmes in the Meraka Institute