Scottish and South African researchers to share mountain knowledge

The University of the Highlands and Islands is embarking on a new project to help develop mountain research in southern Africa.

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Professor Martin Price

Academics have been awarded a grant of over £264,000 from the British Council and the South African Department of Higher Education and Training to help mentor and co-supervise a group of South African doctoral candidates. The funding will be used to support academic staff from the University of the Free State and the University of Venda to complete PhDs on topics related to the sustainable development of mountainous regions and biosphere reserves.

Mountains are vital for the production of water in the drought-prone region of southern Africa. With projections on the impact of climate change and population growth, experts have indicated that the area’s mountains will become increasingly important for water security. Despite this, they are among the least studied parts of South Africa.

Academics from the Centre for Mountain Studies at Perth College UHI and other University of the Highlands and Islands’ research institutes will work with colleagues from the University of the Free State and the University of Venda to co-supervise ten new doctoral students.

The aims of the four-year project are to increase South African mountain research, to develop future research capacity at the two universities and to foster ongoing collaboration between the three partners.

The project will have a particular focus on increasing the number of young, female and black researchers at the University of the Free State and the University of Venda.

Speaking about the funding award, Michael Rayner, Dean of Research at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said:

“This is a tremendous opportunity for each of the three universities involved in this special collaboration. We will be able to bring together doctoral candidates and active researchers to address highly important matters for institutions like ours and the largely remote and rural locations in which we operate in our respective countries. We aim to explore issues together, to uncover new knowledge and, thereby, to find creative and effective answers to the big questions that face our communities in these areas in genuinely sustainable ways.”

Dr Ralph Clark, Director of the Afromontane Research Unit at the University of the Free State said:

“Increasing mountain research expertise in southern Africa is essential for long-term social, economic and political viability in our region. If we lose our mountains to unsustainable activities, we lose our future. We are greatly encouraged that this South-South-North relationship will boost a community of practice that understands southern African mountains systems and can drive a science-policy-action interface for their sustainable development.”

Professor Martin Price, Director of the Centre for Mountain Studies, added:

“The Afromontane Research Unit at the University of the Free State is becoming the leader for research in the mountains of southern Africa. I am glad that my years of involvement with the unit are now leading to stronger interactions between our universities, which will enhance research capacity in South Africa and provide University of the Highlands and Islands staff with opportunities for collaborative research there.”