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CSIR’s rental pool programme enables productive science and innovation environment in South Africa

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Since its inception, the Rental Pool Programme has been supporting laser-based research at South African universities through the Rental Pool Fund, which has been supporting laser-based research programmes in the National System of Innovation (NSI) for 18 years.

Since its inception, the Rental Pool Programme has been supporting laser-based research at South African universities through the Rental Pool Fund, which has been supporting laser-based research programmes in the National System of Innovation (NSI) for 18 years.

“The Rental Pool Programme encourages collaboration between research groups at universities and science councils. The programme is focused on supporting laser-related research in the natural, engineering and health sciences fields. The fund primarily allows access to equipment for use at the host institution of applicants, as well as to equipment housed at the CSIR National Laser Centre (NLC),” says Hardus Greyling, Rental Pool Programme Manager.

In 2014, a conference held in Ethopia themed Knowledge and Innovation Transformation for Africa contextualised some of the challenges that Africa faces in the Knowledge and Innovation System. According to the findings, the lack of high-quality laboratories and scientific equipment was one of the key areas of concern that undermine the growth potential of developing African nations. Additionally, some of the challenges faced by the scientific and innovation industry in developing countries are the lack of access to scientific equipment or infrastructure, and the cost of buying equipment and maintaining it. As a result, these hindrances affect the regions ability to produce a quality scientific knowledge pool and innovation system that addresses Africa’s challenges.

As a national programme, the Rental Pool Programme addresses this challenge by making state-of-the-art and high-value equipment available, in order to support research and human capital development at local universities. Part of what the Rental Pool funding covers are costs relating to:  

  • The upgrading of existing laser equipment to ensure suitability for the proposed project;
  • Charges for delivery and set-up of equipment received on loan from the NLC at the university’s facilities;
  • New equipment, including smaller diagnostic equipment, and consumables, like optics and materials to support a research project;
  • Maintenance costs of NLC-owned equipment placed at the university's facilities and;
  • Research and Technical support provided by the CSIR NLC in support of an approved application.

“On average, we support about 32 projects per year. This has been consistent over the past 10 years. In the early years, we started by supporting seven projects, and they gradually grew to where they are now. The CSIR owns approximately 120 laser systems and other ancillary equipment that is made available to researchers at the local higher education institutes to support their research programmes”

Annually, the Rental Pool Programme sends out a call for proposals. The process is managed via the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) online submission system. All universities are alerted of the call via the NRF. The CSIR also distributes the call via its database to university research offices.

“The Rental Pool Programme has an established peer review and proposal evaluation system. The programme is dependent on a panel of experts who are appointed annually to serve on the peer review panel. All proposals, as well as progress reports submitted, are evaluated by the peer review panel. The CSIR Rental Pool team decides on which of the applications are funded, after considering all the recommendations from the peer review panel,” added Greyling

In 2017, the equipment provided to the universities supported approximately 300 students, with more than 80% of the students at Master’s and PhD levels. In 2017, more than 250 publications were produced, based on the equipment placed, and 29 Master’s and 19 PhD theses were directly linked to the programme. Outcomes for 2018 are currently being finalized, based on reporting done by the researchers during the two-day report back meeting held on the 28 and 29th of January.