“I think many people realise these days that science and technology are the motors for driving economic growth and enhanced wellbeing and helping us to solve some of the world's most pressing problems, Helga Nowotny, president of the European Research Council (ERC), told CNBC Africa on Friday.
While governments also realise the need for technology, science and innovation, they seem to not invest enough funds in these sectors.
“Governments have always been aware that science and technology are important but they are not aware that you need to continuously invest in it,” said Nowotny
She explained that investing in innovation and research means that you have to invest in sub sectors that are linked to it such as the educational system.
“It’s not only about money but you also need to invest in the educational system because research is done by people and they need to be trained. You need a well educated population to be able to make the most of what science and technology has to offer,” explained Nowotny.
For instance, she added, mobile phone applications or even antibiotics for sicknesses would not have been possible to find without fundamental research being conducted.
According to Nowotny, it is essential that the researchers they fund do not limit themselves because in many cases, they find breakthroughs where they least expect to find them.
“In research, we speak of the serendipity factor which means you find something that you have not been looking for but you recognise its importance therefore you have to have a very broad range of new ideas coming in,” she said.
While the European Research Council only funds independent researchers that are based in Europe, she pointed out that a keen interest has been taken to fund young African talent.
“We want to attract the very best researchers who apply to us so from this point of view we have no barriers of nationality but we expect successful applicants to work in Europe at least 50 per cent of their time,” she added.
“Nevertheless I also think it would be nice to nourish young African talent because talent you find everywhere.”
However, there have been very few successful applications from African countries to the ERC and Nowotny believes that this could be due to the fact that Africa suffers from too many serious issues that the kind of research the ERC focuses on may not seem as significant to African researchers.
An example would be that the ERC funds projects in field such as quantum optics or cosmology whereas Africa would require research in healthcare, water purification or preserving the environment.
“There are a number of topics that are important to Africa. The health field is one of the most pressing, such as Malaria which is still an epidemic. Also in terms of water purification and preserving the natural environment in which Africa is unique,” Nowotny explained
“So these are some of the topics that if breakthroughs occur, it would be very important to Africa.”