Visitor funding for disadvantaged Southern African PDRAs to the UK

Lead Research Organisation: The Open University
Department Name: Faculty of Sci, Tech, Eng & Maths (STEM)


There is an urgent unmet economic need for skilled STEM workers in South Africa, but majority non-white participation in higher education is more than four times lower than among white South Africans, exacerbated by the fact that still more than 86% of full professors in South Africa are white. We propose to address this with a programme of visiting research fellowships from disadvantaged Southern African postdoctoral researchers to UK institutions partnering in the Southern African Large Telescope, addressing the following UN Sustainable Development Goals: (4) Quality Education (10) Reduced Inequalities (17) Partnerships for the Goals. This project is spectacularly cost-effective: with the fellows' salaries generously being paid directly by South Africa, and UK institutions waiving the estates/indirect costs, this project leverages more than a factor of ten more funding than the size of the STFC grant award.

Planned Impact


We follow the philosophy of the International Astronomical Union's Office of Astronomy for Development (IAU OAD) in Cape Town, "to build developmental interventions on what is known to work, improve those projects over time, and to avoid interventions that have unintended negative consequences". IAU OAD advice is that overseas development interventions are prone to running into unexpected barriers and there is the possibility of producing unexpected negative, as well as positive, impacts. We have therefore designed our monitoring and evaluation plans to maximise the impact in the LMIC by feeding back into the tailoring of the fellowship placements and mentoring during the course of the project. Note that our ODA project is primarily intended to achieve specific human objectives, not specific scientific ones, though in this section we will also present the pathways to impact of the blue-skies science.

Fellows will be offered explicit opportunities at six-monthly intervals to provide confidential feedback to either the project PI or the institutional project representative during the funded phase of the project. This will allow the project to take and record corrective actions and improvements responsively without compromising project objectives.

Two years after the start of the funded phase of the project, we will begin algorithmic evaluation of the long-term collaboration impact over five years between UK-SALT and the fellows using through joint publication statistics via the NASA Astrophysics Data System: as an example, shows the publications co-authored by research fellow Negrello collaborating with The Open University, which Negrello left in 2011. We will set up a website at the start of the funded phase of the project to highlight the fellows' research (see Gantt section), with links to these bibliometric success evaluation metrics. We will also keep track of the fellows' subsequent career progress, and if possible make comparisons with other similar members of their peer group cohort who did not participate in our project. With the help of these data, with final end-of-project questionnaires, and with information gained in the monitoring phase on best practices, we will report on the project under the following quantitative and qualitative criteria informed by IAU OAD best practice: (a) Process: was the project implementation effective? How did project stakeholders experience it? (b) Feasibility: is the project scalable and replicable? (c) Impact/Outcome: What quantitative long-term changes followed, and how were they valued by the stakeholders? (d) Economic: was the project cost-effective? Could alternative approaches have achieved the same outcomes at lower cost? (e) Summative: What lessons have been learned? How can future projects build on this project? Which questions require further research? We will present evaluation conclusions on the project website.

By deploying the fellows in astronomical research groups hosting world-leading space instrumentation, there is a realistic prospect of industrial knowledge exchange resulting from these fellowship placements, through the research groups' external, industrial and commercial partners. For example, in the PI institute's long-established collaboration with imaging specialist Teledyne-e2v, the detectors are not just deployed in astronomical observatories but are also used widely in remote sensing. There is also a strong likelihood of collaborative interdisciplinary data mining development with many potential applications beyond astronomy (e.g. CNNs, supervised/unsupervised classifications). We will also work closely with the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development public engagement task force to ensure our pubic engagement is appropriate to local cultural contexts.


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Brown R (2019) Modelling the observable behaviour of SXP 5.05 in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Brown R (2019) Modelling decretion discs in Be/X-ray binaries in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Corbet R (2019) Discovery of the Galactic High-mass Gamma-Ray Binary 4FGL J1405.1-6119 in The Astrophysical Journal

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Monageng I (2019) An X-ray and optical study of the outbursting behaviour of the SMC Be X-ray binary SXP 91.1 in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Ng C (2019) X-Ray and Radio Variabilities of PSR J2032+4127 near Periastron in The Astrophysical Journal

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Zezas A (2019) On the geometry of the X-ray emission from pulsars: the changing aspect of the Be/X-ray pulsar SXP348 in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Description improved representation of under-represented groups in STEM
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Other
Impact Types Societal