Page last updated at 09:53 GMT, Saturday, 18 April 2009 10:53 UK

African aid 'needs science focus'

Julian Siddle
Science in Action, BBC World Service

Turok says higher education is key to Africa's development
Higher Education is key to Africa's future says Turok

Neil Turok, chair of mathematical physics at Cambridge University, says governments are following the wrong policy when it comes to African aid.

Focusing on basic healthcare and primary education is stopping Africa developing, Professor Turok suggests.

The founder of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) says investment in higher education is key.

He says Africa needs its own science and technology skills base to become an equal partner in the global economy.

In a wide ranging interview with the BBC World Service's Science in Action programme, Professor Turok describes his love of theoretical physics, but also talks of his dismay at what he sees as the lack of access to quality higher education in Africa.

He says this is holding back development across the continent.

"If Africa doesn't have its own scientific and technological community, there is no way in which it can ever be an equal partner in the economy of the world," he observed.

"It will just be subject to the whims of western countries, who will continue to take advantage of Africa as long as Africa remains ignorant of the driving forces of the modern economy, which are all about technology and science."

Turok would like to see more AIMS style centres across Africa.
Turok would like to see more AIMS style centres across Africa.

Professor Turok, chair of mathematical physics at the University of Cambridge and director of Canada's Perimeter Institute, was instrumental in setting up the African Institute for mathematical Sciences (AIMS).

Based in Cape Town, South Africa, the institute accepts students from all over Africa.

"I helped start the AIMS project out if a deep commitment to Africa," the leading academic told the programme.

"We saw these students come in, from the Congo and Sudan and Liberia, many countries we tend to think of as disaster areas.

"But we recruited students from these countries and what we saw was they absolutely thrived in an environment that was focused on high-level science."


Born in South Africa, Professor Turok left the country in the 1960s with his parents, who had been in prison for their opposition to the apartheid regime.

He added that he has always felt a strong attachment to Africa, but takes issue with current international aid strategies.

"One trillion dollars has been given in aid to Africa over the last 40 years, but that money has not reduced the need for aid in Africa, you have to ask yourself was it invested wisely?

"I would say it has done more harm than good.

"It has been used to created dependency, I think it's time for a rethink and at a very minimum I think a fraction of a percent of all the aid going to Africa must be dedicated to creating skilled people in Africa."

Professor Turok says a tiny proportion of the continent's aid would be enough to set up of a series of AIMS-style high level institutes across Africa.

"To fully endow one AIMS centre forever costs ten million dollars; to create three of these centres every year would 30 million dollars - that's 0.1% of the aid budget currently being given to Africa, a tiny fraction."

He is currently in negotiations with the Senegalese government about starting an AIMS-style institute there.

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