South African Minister Pandor Opens Interdisciplinary Science Diplomacy and International Development Symposium
27 February 2018

On February 27, South African minister and Leiden honorary professor Naledi Pandor opened the Science Diplomacy and International Development Symposium at the Leiden University Campus of The Hague. This event also officially finalised the EU Space Awareness project by Leiden University Observatory.

Having received the honorary Oort professorship in Astronomy for Development at Leiden University the day before, minister Pandor announced that she had just been appointed as Minister of Higher Education for the new government of South Africa. The newly appointed professor started the symposium with a strong opening speech about the role she wants South Africa to play in the development of science and society in the African continent. “We must set out an agenda, in partnership, to manufacture our own means. This will stimulate science, small businesses, jobs and society in Africa and beyond.”

Instead of revolving around aid, the focus of partnerships of South Africa with countries in Africa and Europe should be on sustainable development of science and scientists, according to professor Pandor. Big projects like the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) have supported the manufacturing of science capital in South Africa, but that support goes beyond SKA: “The development of open science in Africa allows more scientists to work and grow in South Africa.”

The speakers at the symposium agree that international collaboration is vital for reaching UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goals and tackling these global challenges in the future. These are not just societal challenges, but scientific as well. According to Carole Jackson from ASTRON, we are at the limits of electronic processing and information sharing. “With the upcoming radio telescope arrays, petabytes of data will be produced daily, monthly. Only by using distributed data processing software, will we be able to expand on science.”

In conclusion, international collaboration is needed, but “science diplomacy needs more than science”, according to Vanessa McBride (OAD). “In order to design focused strategies to attain sustainable development goals, networks of people are needed to impact government policy, says Sjoukje Heimovaara from AWTI. Wim van den Doel (NWO) agrees: “Networks do not just bring people together, but implement strategies for educating children and underprivileged communities.”

Conclusion of the EU Space Awareness project

The symposium also marked the conclusion of the EU Space Awareness project, an educational programme that strives to inform children and young adults about current research and issues related to space sciences and the numerous career opportunities offered by space, and to show that space science can be fun and inspiring. Educators benefit from the project by taking advantage of the large array of free high-quality resources, selected according to EU and South African curricula requirements, which are adaptable to different disciplines and countries.

EU Space Awareness is a joint project by Leiden University, European Schoolnet, Haus der Astronomie, Ellinogermaniki Agogi, The Open University, ECSITE, Nuclio, IAU and Ciência Viva, developed in collaboration with ESA, GTTP, Scientix, Al Akhawayn University. Space Awareness was established on 28 February 2015 by funding from the European Commission's Horizon 2020 Programme under grant agreement nº 638653.

About the symposium

The Science Diplomacy and International Development symposium was organised jointly by the European Commission Space Awareness project, Leiden Observatory, the Leiden African Studies Centre, the Leiden University Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs and the Leiden University Hague Campus.

About Naledi Pandor

As Minister of Education in 2004-2009, Naledi Pandor reformed South Africa’s Outcomes Based Education system. During her time as Minister of Science and Technology in 2009-2012, she was the driving force in South Africa to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in the Karoo. Minister Pandor was Minister of Home Affairs during 2012 to 2014 and as of May 2014, again assumed the position of Minister of Science and Technology. On 27 February 2018, minister Pandor was appointed Minister of Higher Education by president Cyril Ramaphosa.


Leiden University:                                 

LU Campus The Hague:                       

EU Space Awareness:                          

IAU Office of Astronomy for Development:




Contact information

Pedro Russo
Leiden Observatory
Phone: +31 6 54 37 26 58

Michael de Korte
Leiden Observatory
Phone: +31 6 23 02 31 96