DARA Big Data: 2019 Extension

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

DARA Big Data is building research capacity around Big Data and the fourth industrial revolution in Southern Africa through high quality education and research. These high-value technical skills are applicable not only to scientific research but also to the space sector, as well as numerous other industrial and commercial sectors where diversification, technological upgrading and innovation are key drivers of economic growth. Moreover the key research areas of DARA Big Data are well-aligned both with the UN Global Goals and the African Union 2063 vision for advanced technologies, in order to improve welfare at the same time as targeting economic growth.

DARA Big Data provides bursaries for students from the partner countries of the African VLBI Network (AVN) - Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia - to study for MSc(R) and PhD degrees at universities in South Africa and the UK. These degrees are in the three data intensive DARA Big Data focus areas of astrophysics (Astro Big Data), health data (Health Big Data) and sustainable agriculture (Agri Big Data).

In addition to providing studentship bursaries, DARA Big Data also works in partnership with South African SKA project (SKA-SA), now incorporated into the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), on the broader Big Data Africa program. Big Data Africa provides training workshops in machine learning, big data techniques and data intensive methodologies across the three DARA Big Data focus areas. These workshops and training courses take place in South Africa and other AVN countries, and are open to students from across the AVN country network who are currently in the honours year of their undergraduate degree or who are already pursuing a masters or PhD level research degree in those countries.

Planned Impact

This proposal requests an uplift to the existing Newton Fund DARA Big Data project, which is building research capacity around Big Data and the fourth industrial revolution in Southern Africa through high quality education and research. These high-value technical skills are applicable not only to scientific research but also to the space sector, as well as numerous other industrial and commercial sectors where diversification, technological upgrading and innovation are key drivers of economic growth. Moreover the key research areas of DARA Big Data are well-aligned both with the UN Global Goals and the African Union 2063 vision for advanced technologies, in order to improve welfare at the same time as targeting economic growth.

The primary legacy value of the DARA and DARA Big Data programs is the establishment of a network of skilled researchers who can underpin the future operation of the African VLBI Network and ensure scientific return for the African partner countries of the SKA as part of the stable data intensive research and education system required to enable data driven economic development for the fourth industrial revolution (Activity 1). Whilst this primary legacy creates a data intensive research community using radio astronomy as an existing source of big data in Africa, other aspects of the program act to increase the effectiveness and reach of that community. The multi-disciplinary nature of the DARA Big Data program ensures that the translational nature of data intensive skills is not neglected and that as Africa builds new databases addressing different priorities, including healthcare and agriculture - both ambitions under the African Union vision 2063, these skills can be propagated into those new areas.

The training in policy engagement (Activity 2 & Activity 3) provided through DARA Big Data is creating a cohort of young scientists who can effectively communicate with government about data-driven development. The legacy value of this training is the improved definition of policy in the 4IR going forward and the increased engagement of researchers with policy stakeholders.

Finally, to increase the reach of the program into the informal education arena, Activity 4 will provide resources that can be used beyond the program itself. These resources will be available to support the activities and growth of the tech sector beyond the tertiary education system, they will also promote engagement with STEM in Africa and beyond.

Publications

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