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  • African centres hope to produce top mathematicians


[CAPE TOWN] Senegal hopes to begin producing world-class African mathematicians with the first of three Africa-based mathematics training centres, which is due to open in September next year.

The Senegalese government has committed around US$1.3 million and donated a plot of land near Mbour on the country's coast for the centre, SciDev.Net was told last week.

Two other centres will be set up in Ghana and Ethiopia, according to an announcement by the Canadian government this month (6 July). Canada will provide US$19 million in funding for all three centres, to be channelled through the Ontario-based Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

The Perimeter Institute's director, South Africa-born Neil Turok, founded the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), in Cape Town, seven years ago and the new centres will be based on the same model.

AIMS in Cape Town has already trained over 300 mathematicians from across Africa bringing recent graduates to a level where they can compete for postgraduate degrees at the world's top universities within the duration of a year-long course.

More than half of AIMS alumni went on to do postgraduate degrees at South African universities, while others secured places at institutions in Europe and the United States.

Teaching is provided both by local researchers and visiting lecturers who often donate their time for free.

"One of the reasons AIMS works is that people are prepared to contribute for the good of the cause," said Barry Green, the director of AIMS in Cape Town. He said his institute had a surfeit of willing lecturers. He anticipated few problems attracting foreign lecturers to less developed parts of Africa.

AIMS Senegal will draw on the country's own academic linkages, particularly with France, to attract teachers, said Mamadou Sangharé, director of AIMS Senegal.

"We have a partnership with many French universities including Paris VI, Paris XI and the École Normale Supérieure, in Paris. In addition, we will employ local teachers. So it is not only foreign teachers who are coming," Sangharé said.

Patrick Dorey, a mathematician from the UK-based Durham University, who has returned to Cape Town several times to lecture at AIMS, said the students' enthusiasm made teaching at AIMS "a very rewarding experience".

If this is replicated at the new centres, "I don't think there will be a problem in finding lecturers to attend and to return," he said.

The centres are the brainchild of Turok, who wants to see a generation of top-class scientists hailing from Africa.

The aim is to have 15 AIMS centres across the continent by 2020 — a vision entitled the "NextEinstein".

The Senegalese centre's first intake of around 35 students will be for the 2011–12 academic year.

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