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Educating Talented Scientists for Africa

Interviewee: Neil Turok
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson
June 13, 2008

Science and technology education in Africa lags behind that of the rest of the world. Brain drain means that the few skilled graduates often leave the continent. A new nine-month postgraduate course aims to create talented science graduates that remain in Africa to help spur economic development. Neil Turok, physicist and founder of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in South Africa, says that he started the institute to expose talented African students to the breadth of fields that one can enter as a scientist or mathematician. One of the "biggest deficiencies of the academic community in Africa" is that students are unable to see the variety of fields they can pursue, he says.

Turok believes that skilled Africans should be implementing development programs. "It should not be done by Washington consultants or British consultants. It's the only route to long-term economic growth for the continent," he says. Though the institute has only graduated 160 students thus far, Turok contends that even small numbers of graduates can make a significant impact. "They can be enormously helpful in contributing not only to the good delivery of aid, but the well functioning of businesses in Africa." By educating students on the continent instead of overseas, Turok says the institute will reverse the brain drain trend, bringing top minds from the West to teach in Africa, instead of sending the best African students to Western universities.

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