Launch of “Facing the Facts” booklet: Briefing by SET4W, SAWISE & Minister for Science & Technology


24 Aug 2009

Hon Naledi Pandor, Minister for Science and Technology
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General of the Department of Science and Technology
Dr Romilla Maharaj, Member of Science, Engineering and Technology for Women (SET4W)
Prof Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan, Chairperson of South African Women In Science and Engineering

Dr Phil Mjwara, Director General, Department of Science and Technology, noted that the Department and the Ministry had huge expectations about the role that science and technology should play in the economy, and this would require a large number of people to drive the knowledge based economy. Human capital development plans were being finalised. It was hoped that the launch of the Facing the Facts booklet would sharpen some of the science and technology initiatives already in place to ensure that more women were driving research technology and innovation.

Hon Naledi Pandor, Minister for Science and Technology, said South Africans must realise that science really mattered. She hoped the media would help to transmit the message that if innovation, scientific research and development as well as technology activities were approved, then the economy would grow exponentially. The Facing the Facts booklet spoke about women's participation in science, engineering and technology. During 2004, the National Advisory Committee on Innovation (NACI) had realised the need for more women in all sectors of the country, and therefore commissioned a study on women in science and technology sectors. The first report was released in 2004, indicated that women participation in these identified sectors was weak and needed focused attention. This prompted the formation of the Science, Engineering and Technology for Women (SET4W) subcommittee of NACI, and development of a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) framework that aimed to benchmark the performance of women.

Dr Romilla Maharaj, Member, SET4W subcommittee, NACI, provided some background to the SET4W. saying that this initiative aimed to provide advice to the Minister on how to achieve equality between the genders in the areas of science, engineering and technology. It recommended the integration of a gender equity perspective into policy making and programme implementation. SET4W had successfully commissioned several studies over the years. This current booklet gave an indication of the numbers of women participating in various areas. At undergraduate level, numbers of women were equal to or exceeded those of men, but less women graduated at senior levels. In the fields of engineering and technology, female representation was as low as 20%. The majority of women were being employed in higher education. However, more women than men served as lecturers and junior lecturer, but not at senior levels. Women researchers lagged behind men regarding publication output.  The majority of A and B-rated researchers were men. Research grants, bursaries and scholarships still showed under-representation of women in the engineering and applied sciences, and although National Research Foundation grants to women had increased by 6% over the last five years, the amounts awarded to women generally remained lower than those awarded to men. 
Prof Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan, Chairperson of South African Women In Science and Engineering (SAWISE), commented that the booklet also displayed race breakdowns, noting that black men and women remained poorly represented in the science sector. It was important to identify the problems that women faced at postgraduate level, whether there was an enabling work environment for women, and what was being done by Government to ensure that women graduates were employed. She agreed with the Minister that the media could help to spread information about what was contained in the booklet. There was a need still to develop more mechanisms to support women in science. SAWISE held workshops that helped women and encouraged them to publish their work, but more needed to be done had higher levels, including a serious interrogation of the data.


Q: A journalist asked why there was a decrease in women at the postgraduate level and what the barriers were that women faced.
A: Minister Pandor stated that there were several barriers. The numbers of female students emerging from the school system with the appropriate passes in science and mathematics were low. More male matriculants passed maths and science than females. This needed more attention. Academies needed to retain young people in the Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) fields for postgraduate purposes. Bursary support was also fairly low. More needed to be done, such as ensuring that the milieu in which students studied had adequate infrastructure and enthusiastic lecturers and academics. Another challenge was that the remuneration and rewards for academics was not high, and needed to be made more attractive. Support for academic competencies was an important area that needed to be attended to. She thought that insufficient attention was paid to identifying the barriers that women faced. Many reports that were published over several years showed the facts without the analysis, although the latter was vital. She had asked NACI to probe more thoroughly the figures, statistics and indicators that were presented to her. The indicators did not talk to the issues.

A: Prof Chinasamy-Turan added that the decline of women from undergraduate to postgraduate studies could be due to many factors. She thought that the causes included social and cultural factors. There was always the problem of being able to balance one's family life and career. Drop-out rates generally happened at the time when women started thinking about marriage and having a family. More focus should be placed on women who had managed to balance family life and their career. This would help to show that there were successful women in the sector.

She stated that another barrier could be that there were some institutions that were really hostile towards women. Workplace ethics needed to be inspected.
Q: A representative from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) acknowledged the National Research Foundation (NRF) contribution in supporting women academics at higher education institutions. For example, one of their initiatives, Women in Research, was directed to supporting women to write publications. Women in Research was a sub-programme of the Thuthuka Programme. Thuthuka has been running for a number of years and many female academics benefitted widely from the initiative. She hoped that the NRF would continue to provide this kind of support.

A: The Minister stated that the Thuthuka programme would continue to be of importance. She was glad that positive comments were made about it.

A: Dr Maharaj added that the Thuthuka programme enabled academics to obtain PhD degrees. She added that the NRF had to look at ways to improve the programme and to ensure that there were more black women involved in it. The programme assisted and guided academic researchers so they could be independent researchers.
Q: A journalist noted that the Minister had indicated that there was a goal of having 3 000 PhD graduates by 2018, and asked if this target was likely to be reached.

A: The Minister answered that the Department and the Ministry believed that they set targets that were achievable. She would have liked to have set larger numbers, but Government had to be careful about the targets in view of their limited capacity. She regarded the target as modest and achievable, through collaborations with all government departments that supported higher education and tertiary studies and initiatives.

A Dr Maharaj stated that the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the NRF were working together to achieve the targets that were set. The programme called the South African PhD Project was initiated. This envisaged having three modes for training people, although at present there were not enough suitably qualified supervisors and mentors to train people. The first modality was full-time PhD studies in South Africa. The second modality was split-time programmes, where the student would spend a third of his or her doctoral programme outside the country. The third modality was full-time doctoral training abroad. The NRF wanted to launch a project known as the PhD Project International. The DST, with other government departments, would be working to mobilise resources to create an enabling environment and to train students. The DST and other initiatives in the country were driving towards building a national system of innovation. The pace at which this would grow would be limited by the resources available.

Q: A journalist noted that a Principal Researcher at Council for Scientific and Industrial Research had expressed the view that young women scientists with great potential were promoted too soon, before completing their studies or properly establishing their careers. This reinforced the misperception that women were not good scientists. She asked how this could be avoided.

A: Dr Maharaj stated that premature promotions were a serious issue. It was easy to be lured by an increase in salary and an offer of a senior position. The reality was that there was a very small pool of people, and everybody was competing for the same pool. This was why it was important to train more researchers, academics and doctoral graduates. By increasing the pool, there were less people who were likely to be lured in to management positions.
Q: A representative from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) stated that the idea of “appropriate” promotions had to be highlighted. There was a tendency to take younger, black, talented women and push them ahead of where they should be. For example, if a young scientist was made an editor too soon, it detracted from her ability for them to focus on her own publications. This was an important part of scientific progress. She thought that women with potential needed to be advised to stay away from some of the administrative tasks for a while, until they had established substantive research areas.

The same representative also noted that there was sometimes difficulty in spending Thuthuka money, as there were always research and administration issues that came with it. Women complained that there was too much administration involved for the small amount of funding that they would receive. If there was a significant research fund, then women would know it was worth the time put in to administration duties. She noted that statistics in the booklet were disaggregated further. The statistics were disaggregated by sex and by race. She asked for the extent to which the statistics were reflecting the regional intake of women students.

A: Dr Maharaj stated that Thuthuka was a partnership programme with the universities. She wanted to see more commitment from universities for the sake of monitoring and evaluation. The partnership required the university to provide 50% of the funds in the programme from its own money, thereby ensuring that the university took an interest in students' success. It also allowed the programme to fund more people.

She understood the issue the HSRC representative had with funds and administration. She said that she would prefer to fund a cohort of people.

A: Prof Chinsamy-Turan added that women who were employed at junior level for management duties never got the time to do research. Women needed to be empowered so they could speak out and say they needed time to do research.

A: The Minister added that postgraduate students needed to be alerted to what was rewarded in postgraduate studies. Support was also needed for research activities.

Q: A representative working for the HSRC stated that one of the barriers that women faced at tertiary level was waiting for responses from supervisors. Delays meant that time and money were wasted. There was also an issue of accountability. No one was held accountable for how they spent their funds.

A: Prof Chinsamy-Turan stated that there were some universities that had good supervisors. At University of Cape Town (UCT), a Student-Supervisor Agreement was signed, which stipulated how many hours per week a supervisor would have contact time with its students. A progress report had to be given every six months. This meant that there was accountability on the part of the student and the supervisor. However, she conceded that this was a problem that many students in the country faced.

A: The Minister added that it was the Government's responsibility to put together accountability measures, and indeed closer attention would be paid to issues of accountability. She thought that the government must be looking more closely at funds given to institutions and what was done with these funds. The advisory bodies should probe beyond the numbers and talk about the experiences that academics and students had.

Q: A representative from the University of Cape Town stated that career development was the most important aspect for scientists coming out of the SET sector. The Facing the Facts booklet was invaluable. It showed that men were much better funded than women. She noted that there were no female mentors and women were not encouraged to be mentors. She suggested funding women senior researchers to mentor young scientists.
A: The Minister stated that there were some institutions who did well in supporting young students. In some institutions, mentoring was a part of the research performance requirements. Senior researchers were required to assist young academics.

Closing Remarks
Dr Maharaj stated that there was a study commissioned by SET4W on the changing perceptions of women. A seminar was held the previous year with women from various areas of SET, who gave presentations on the various challenges that they faced. A key factors that emerged was that there were barriers when it came to funding, the workplace and discriminatory practices in some environments. A woman's environment enabled her to be ambitious and taught her how to move through a male dominated environment. SET4W would be looking at more supportive mechanisms for women. She supported the suggestion of having more women mentors.

Dr Maharaj also noted that the SET4W Committee was in the process of working on a code of good practice. This would speak to a lot of the issues raised in the media briefing, such as what it was in the work environment that limited women in the SET sector. She noted that women tended to have to balance family responsibilities and their career. It was often at this stage that women were disadvantaged and this resulted in them lagging behind men.

Dr Maharaj expressed the hope that the media would take the information and help to educate society in the broader sense, so that a more enabling environment could be created that would advance women in the country.
Dr Mjwara stated that he and the Minister had heard the comments, and, in shaping policy, would do their utmost to incorporate relevant recommendations. He agreed that something had to be done about women's role in the SET sector. He thanked the Minister for supporting science and technology and for promoting women in the sector.

The media briefing was adjourned.

Address by Minister Naledi Pandor, at the launch of National Advisory Council on Innovation’s (NACI) updated Facing the Facts booklet, Parliament, Cape Town

25 August 2009

Director General Dr Phil Mjwara
Dr Romilla Maharaj, member of the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) Science, Engineering and Technology for Women sub-committee
Members of the Science, Engineering and Technology for Women Advisory Committee
Staff members of the NACI secretariat
Representatives of all the public and private sectors

It’s a great pleasure to welcome you to this launch of the updated Facing the Facts booklet. A little background: a need to encourage women’s participation in the science, engineering and technology (SET) sector prompted the Science, Engineering and Technology for Women (SET4W) committee of NACI to commission a study on women in science. Out of that study NACI release a report called Facing the Facts in 2004. The report indicated that the participation of women in SET sector was weak.

The report’s publication was followed by the development of a monitoring and evaluation framework in 2005, with an aim to benchmark the performance of women in SET. Today we release an update of Facing the Facts. I’m going to leave the technical presentation to NACI, but I want to make three points about women in higher education in general.

First, there has been an expansion of participation in higher education by black and female students.

A decade ago one in four students was black; now three in four students in higher education are black. The government policy of expanding access to study at higher education institutions has been successful in attracting first generation black and female students into higher education.

Moreover, there was a remarkable gender reversal in the number of graduates. In 1995 there were more male graduates than females. However, by 2003 there were more female than male graduates. This means that during that period the growth of female graduates was faster than the growth of male graduates. This has positive implications for the promotion of equity in employment, as the pool of tertiary qualified women continues to expand.

However, this is less of a success than appears at first sight. White enrolments have fallen in numbers, most of the student increase has taken place at universities of technology, and African students are overwhelmingly represented in distance institutions. Moreover, the majority of black graduates are in the social sciences and not in the engineering sciences and technology. And the participation of 18 to 24 year olds has not increased beyond what it was a decade ago. Overall, the participation rate has risen most sharply for the affluent and not for the poor.

Second, we need more PhD graduates.

South Africa produces 1 200 PhD graduates a year and we have set ourselves a target of 6 000 a year. In 2005 half of those PhDs were in SET and we estimate that we need 3 000. To put this in international comparison: Australia produces about 7 000 PhD graduates per year, Germany produced more than 20 000 in 2005 and China is on a vertical climb with an estimated 35 000 or so in 2005 (The Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Science alone has about 60 percent of the number of PhD students in the entire Australian sector).

Third, women have been increasing their share of SET graduates (as NACI will show you in a moment) but we need to do more and we need to be innovative in encouraging women to take up careers in science.

In 2006 the total number of SET graduates was 35 562 or 28 percent of all graduates. In developing countries in Asia–take South Korea-over 50 percent of tertiary graduates are in SET disciplines. That is a clear measure of where we need to be, and an indication of the role that women can play.

The updated Facing the Facts booklet is an important contribution to our efforts to mainstream women in the SET sector. I recommend that the public makes use of this booklet to inform strategic decisions in respective academia and workplaces.

I thank you



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