Those opposing the South African bid for the SKA liked to claim that an african SKA would be nothing but a development exercise, as if that were some sort of Bad Thing. Yet here we are, with the project already managing to employ 80% south africans in technical roles (scientists, engineers) – not because the poor backwards africans need a helping hand, but because we have some of the best people on Earth to get the job done. And the development and social upliftment aspects? Well that remains important, since these top people are still a privileged minority. The South African higher education system is taking full advantage of SKA to not only train up future engineers, scientists and operators, but to grow science in Africa and tap into the millions of bright intelligent minds that only need teaching.
This article details some of the contributions already made by South African universities. The physics department at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth have been researching optical fibre telecommunications and plan to assist and advise in the construction of the high speed network required to link up the component antennae of SKA. The University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg has a chair on the SKA research council, and is using this to provide its astrophysics and cosmology students with access to valuable research opportunities. The University of KwaZulu-Natal is hosting a bursary programme for undergraduate students, and has already seen a masters student recruited by SKA to work on KAT-7 (a 7-dish radio telescope array built as a precursor project). Rhodes University, which has been active in radio astronomy for more than 50 years, also provides bursaries and was instrumental in the development of both KAT-7 and MeerKAT (a larger array, still under construction, also a precursor project). The site manager for the SKA project, Adrian Tiplady, is a Rhodes alumnus.