On Monday, 28 August 2023, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Peter Mbati paid a courtesy visit to ency, Mr. Ushio Shigeru, Ambassador to South the Embassy of Japan. Prof. Mbati was accompanied by Acting COO, Prof. Patrick Demana and Director Internationalisation, Dr. Carlien Jooste. With more than 30 years of full diplomatic ties between South Africa and Japan, the SMU delegation was welcomed by the Ambassador in his chambers. The purpose of the meeting was two-fold. Firstly, the aim was to re-introduce SMU to the Embassy of Japan researchers and staﬀ in attendance and secondly, to explore areas of engagement, infrastructure development, research, and other possible mutually beneﬁcial opportunities.
Ambassador Shigeru shared his knowledge of SMU and indicated that he is aware of SMU through his predecessor. He commented that: “We, Japan, are not that strong in pharmacology, but we can share our knowledge in pandemic preparedness as this has become one of our strengths.” Prof. Mbati indicated to the Ambassador that Prof. Patrick Demana, while being Acting COO is also the Dean of the School of Pharmacy and that the School can in turn assist with work around pharmacology as well as the development and manufacturing of vaccines.
Before the presentations began, Prof. Mbati commented that: “SMU would like to extend an oﬃcial invitation to you, Ambassador Shigeru and your colleagues to visit our campus and to observe the work being done in our various Schools.” This invitation was welcomed by the Ambassador. Prof Mbati then proceeded to open the presentation section of the meeting with a brief presentation, which not only focused on SMU, but also highlighted various
strategic focus areas that SMU would like to explore with Japan-based entities.
Prof Mbati further discussed infrastructural development needs with a speciﬁc focus on a SMU Biomedical Sciences Research Laboratory and Centre for Pandemics to be established at SMU. As there are currently approximately 160 Japanese companies operating in South Africa, Prof. Mbati also focused on the need for collaborations which would enhance entrepreneurship within SMU’s incubation centre. The discussion concluded with a focus on SMU’s research activities and the various centres and units within SMU.
In their response, addressed by the Embassy’s Researcher in the Economic and Development Section, Mr. Takehiro Yamada, focused on international research cooperation opportunities available to South African higher education institutions. Mr. Yamada discussed the impact of AJ CORE (the Africa-Japan Collaborative Research) and SATREPS (Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development Progress). Both these research collaboration entities are based in research collaboration that will contribute to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
AJ CORE speciﬁcally focuses on realizing the SDG goals through Science, Technology and Innovation (STI’s). Prof. Mbati commented that AJ CORE is indeed an opportunity for SMU to not only build multi-lateral partnerships but enhance its research footprint. Mr. Yamada commented that: “As a new multi-lateral research framework, AJ CORE connect three (or more) countries: Japan, South Africa and at least one other African country.” The Japanese teams will be supported by their Japanese Research Foundation and South African teams by the NRF. A new joint call for proposals is set to be announced in February 2024, which SMU is looking forward to participating in.
Mr. Yamada further discussed SAJU, the South Africa-Japan University Forum. The Forum’s aim is to provide a structured framework for collaboration between the higher education institutions of the two countries. Its goals are to:
1. Increase mobility of researchers and students;
2. Increase join R&D collaboration;
3. Establish exchange programmes among universities; and
4. Institutionalize cooperation among universities of the two countries.
He indicated that SMU researchers should familiarize them- selves with SAJU as a new call for participation and attendance of a SAJU Forum Conference is imminent.
Dr. Carlien Jooste invited members of the Japanese Embassy team responsible for cultural exchange and studying in Japan to SMU’s International Scholarships Information Session to be held on the 14th of September 2023. Mr. Ryan Keet, respon- sible for the JET programme, MEXT Scholarship and Cultural Events will be visiting SMU to oﬀer more information on these programmes. MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology) oﬀers scholarships to foreign students who wish to study at Japanese universities under the Japanese Government Scholarship, while the JET Programme is the teaching English in Japan opportunity.
In conclusion, both parties acknowledged their support of one another and a need for continued sharing of information to grow South Africa-Japan relations within higher education.