The Committee was addressed by Professor Tebello Nyokong, Professor of Chemistry at Rhodes University, who was the recipient of the L'Oreal Unesco for Women in Science Award for Africa and the Middle East for her work in photodynamic therapy. She briefed the Committee on her current research and supervision of postgraduates. She also set out the statistics of her students, noting that of the graduate students in Masters and doctoral programmes, 84% were black; 58% female and 75% were South African. The publication output had generally increased, and this could be attributed in part to increased funding, although hard work was also an important factor.
The National Research Foundation (NRF) briefed the Committee on its Annual Report. The mandate noted the key objectives of promoting and supporting research through funding human resource development, the provision of necessary resources and facilities to support creation of knowledge across all fields of science and technology, including indigenous knowledge. The NRF indicated that research could address a number of national challenges, and that its work was aligned to the work of the Department of Science and Technology. 25% of its resources were directed towards its own research, while the remainder was in the form of grants. The NRF had received an unqualified audit and had shown a surplus in the financial year of R20 000. Salaries remained relatively stable, but there was a decline of income from some sources. The work with schools was outlined and the numbers of students supported was given. National Research facilities provided platforms for South African research, the provision of unique equipment and large databases, as well as running science awareness, communication and education campaigns. The research output was described.
Members asked about the problems between Telkom and the South African Large Telescope (SALT), but NRF explained that it was not directly involved, and this led to further questions about the involvement of NRF in SALT, income from SALT and what the corporate structure was for it. Members also asked why the Environmental Observation Network was not recognised as a National Facility, why the number of rated scientists was so low, who could access research funds, whether overseas funding was received and if this compromised the type of research being undertaken. Questions were also asked about the scarce skills and what NRF had done to address them, what were the barriers to study, and Members sought clarity on the numbers of graduates produced in other countries, where the funding for this emanated, and how South Africa compared.
Briefing by Prof Tebello Nyokong
The Committee was addressed by Professor Tebello Nyokong, Professor of Chemistry at
Prof Nyokong outlined several projects in which she was currently involved. The first involved developed a handheld gadget to test water for pollutants and the second was in the field of renewable energy, developing solar cells directed for use in rural areas. The third was photodynamic therapy, using light to treat cancer, and the fourth involved developing eye protection against laser warfare. She said that she was approached by ARMSCOR and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) for the latter, after reports of 20 attempts to blind landing pilots with light sources in the
Prof Nyokong set out some statistics about her students. Of these graduate students for Masters and doctoral degrees, 84% were black; 58% female and 75% were South African. Most South African students were from the
She said that all of her students were expected to venture overseas, with the
Finally she summarised that she had received the Shoprite / SABC Woman of the Year 2004 in the Science category, as well as receiving the Order of Mapungubwe from former President Thabo Mbeki.
Ms N Nyama (ANC) said that there were some gaps in the presentation, and asked Prof Nyokong where she had studied in her early years.
Prof Nyokong replied because of the South African situation, she had attended primary school in
Mr L Mkhize (ANC) said that it was encouraging to speak with a person like Professor Nyokong, who was willing to work towards addressing the many challenges faced by South Africans.
National Research Foundation (NRF) Annual Report 2008/09 Presentation
Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, CEO and President of the National Research Foundation, briefed the Committee on the Annual Report presentation. He said the mandate of the National Research Foundation (NRF) was to promote and support research through funding human resource development and the provision of necessary resources and facilities, in order to facilitate creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all fields of science and technology, including indigenous knowledge, and thereby to contribute to improving the quality of life of all South Africans.
He identified a number of national challenges to which research could contribute, including poverty alleviation, spatial planning aimed at undoing the damage done by apartheid development patterns, demographic trends such as health and wealth distribution, human resource development, food security, the energy mix, biodiversity, migration and infrastructure development.
He said the NRF was aligned to the grand challenges raised by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) which included sustainable energy, global change and human and social dynamics.
Dr van Jaarsveld said that 25% of NRF’s resources were directed towards its own research, while the remainder was in the form of grants.
He identified the core competencies of the NRF as being the issuing of grants, establishing research benchmarks, science and technology management, and providing state of the art research platforms. He then provided a table showing citation intensity (which he explained was calculated on the number of times a scientist was cited in peer reviewed material) by country, noting that
He then provided a brief comment on the finances of the NRF. It had received an unqualified audit. Income and expenditure were closely aligned, with a R20 000 surplus. Turnover had increased from R1 billion to R1.3 billion and grant expenditure had grown by about 21%. He said salaries had remained relatively stable, but although income had grown, there had been a decline of income from all sources.
He said the NRF had also engaged with schools. 15 Dinaledi and 4 Historically Disadvantaged (HDI) schools had participated in National Science Week and 115 Dinaledi Schools had participated in the National Science Olympiad. Media round tables had been held on issues such as stem cell and cloning research; biotechnology in medical research and DNA profiling.
7 351 students, mainly Masters students, were financially supported by the NRF. 411 students were in posts at NRF facilities. 3 570 active grants were in place in 2008. 2650 were funded by the core government grant made to the NRF, and out of those 2 650, 10% were black females; 16% were black males and 27.9% were white women.
Dr van Jaarsveld emphasised the need for people with skills, saying that all the artisans in the world would not make a difference if higher level skills were lacking. Over 50% of employed staff could be considered highly skilled.
He said that key services rendered by National Research Facilities included providing platforms for South African research, the provision of unique equipment and large databases, as well as running science awareness, communication and education campaigns.
The scientists allied to National Research Facilities had published 80 articles, 1 book, 17 chapters for books and had attended 94 peer reviewed conference proceedings. External grant holders had published 5 354 articles, 146 books, had contributed 568 chapters, and attended 1 405 peer-reviewed conference proceedings and had registered 14 patents.
He said that
Internships were provided and had proved invaluable in providing work experience. However, he conceded that bursary values were too low and that an R300 million injection in core grants was needed.
Ms M Shinn (DA) wanted to know what the NRF was doing regarding the recent spat between Telkom and the SALT telescope over the need for a faster high-speed data link.
Dr Gatsha Mazithulela, NRF Vice President, responded that the NRF and SALT telescope were the recipient of a service and were not directly involved in negotiating a contract with Telkom. He said that would have been the responsibility of the Department and other shareholders. He said that he had noted press reports on the issue and that he would consult with stakeholders before adopting an official position on the situation.
Ms Shinn asked why the Environmental Observation Network was not recognised as a National Facility even though it appeared, from the Annual Report, to meet all requirements.
Dr Mazithulela replied that it did meet all requirements and the NRF had requested that it be registered. He said the problem was that there was no legislative framework for the declaration of national facilities, and currently only the Minister, through proclamation, could do so.
Ms Shinn noted that rated scientists numbered below 2000, yet there at least 40 000 to draw upon. She wanted to know why the number of rated scientists was so low and whether it was necessary to be rated in order to access research funds.
Dr van Jaarsveld responded that rated scientists were those people considered by their international peers to be producers of scientific output of a quantity and quality that had an international import. He said that of 7 000 peer-reviewed articles published last year by South African scientists, all were produced by less than 3 000 scientists. He said many were employed as scientists but did not produce scientific output in an international context and thus did not meet international benchmarks.
Ms Shinn asked if the lack of scientists could be attributed to an inability to make a living doing research.
Dr van Jaarsveld stated that salary levels were too low, at about 20% lower than comparable jobs in industry, and that many moonlighted as consultants.
Ms S Kalyan (DA) asked if the NRF received any overseas funding, and if so, from where.
Dr van Jaarsveld replied that a considerable amount was sourced overseas. He cited as an example the provision of 50 scholarships made available by the German government, and further stated that a large number of relationships and links existed with
Ms Kalyan asked if the reference to black women and men in the report included so-called coloured and Indian persons.
Dr van Jaarsveld responded that “black” included these persons.
Ms Kalyan noted that the NRF had recognised the topic of scarce skills needed urgent attention and asked what the NRF had done to obtain scarce skills.
Dr van Jaarsveld said that the NRF was concerned about scarce skills and constantly engaged with the DST on this issue. It was also negotiating with the Department of Home Affairs to facilitate the registration of foreign individuals who possessed scarce skills. He said NRF was also concerned about the definition of scarce skills and was in exploratory talks on the issue with the Minister of Higher Education and Training.
Ms Kalyan asked what, besides funding, did the NRF consider to the major barriers to further study.
Dr van Jaarsveld replied that funding definitely played a part but that he thought that the problem was more systemic. He said that there was a rapid decline of numbers of students from Bachelors to PhD level and that the honours degree could act as a barrier. He said that a study on this was undertaken under the aegis of Dr Jonathan Jansen, which should be available within the next two months. Part of Dr Jansen's mandate would be to provide recommendations.
Ms Magda Marx, NRF Corporate Secretary, added that because of the problem of funding, people would work on PhDs whilst also trying to hold down jobs, and as a result many of the PhDs never were completed.
The Chairperson stated that many degreed previously disadvantaged individuals were expected to help support an extended family and could not study further. He suggested that the equivalent of a salary ought to be given, not just a bursary to cover the cost of studies.
Ms Kalyan asked how funding received from South African Large Telescope (SALT) operations was reported in the financial statements and what it was used for.
Dr Mazithulela said that SALT was a significant income stream and that parties to SALT were charged an operating levy of R16 to R22 million, the total amount dependent on operations for that year. Money generated by the operation of SALT was not considered profit as it was not a profit-making operation. He said that monies received for this were listed under SALT levies in the Annual Report.
Mr Bishen Singh, Chief Financial Officers, NRF, elaborated, saying that SALT was run by a propriety limited company, which was separate from the NRF, and that the annual report would only reflect NRF shareholding.
The Chairperson sought clarification on this issue, asking why it would fall under the Department if it were run by a private entity.
Mr Singh responded that it was a separate entity which would be responsible for its own financial statements.
The Chairperson asked who owned SALT.
Dr Mazithulela responded that the NRF owned 32% of the company responsible for running SALT. How much access each party had to SALT was determined by a formula based on the amount put into the project. Approximately a third of its use was on behalf of the South African scientific community.
Mr Ngcobo stated that there was a scientific institute in
Mr van Jaarsveld replied that the NRF tried to avoid a perception of bias and did not sit on any university or organisational boards. He stressed that this did not mean that it would not want to work with such organisation, and was perfectly happy to provide advice and guidance, but that the NRF tried to avoid the issue of formal representation.
The Chairperson said that the statistics presented suggested that
Mr van Jaarsveld said the table represented the number of graduates per million of the population and not the total output. He said that in the past two years,
The Chairperson expressed concern about the R20 000 surplus listed in the report.
Dr van Jaarsveld replied that it frequently occurred that resources were allocated, but were not taken up, that money was returned and the NRF then tried to reinvest it as soon as possible. Sometimes, amounts were carried over to the next financial year. He said that they would have been re-allocated, but that no report-back was received and thus this was reflected as a surplus. He said the point was taken, but he did place the R20 000 surplus in the context of a budget of several billion rands.
Ms Shinn asked how
Dr van Jaarsveld said that
Ms Shinn stated there was a danger that if money was sourced from overseas, the research would be dictated by the needs of the founders. She said that she assumed the NRF would be aware of this possibility, but asked whether any conditions were placed by the NRF on funds received.
Dr van Jaarsveld replied that this was a possibility, but that the challenges faced by
Mr Mkhize referred to the Dinaledi schools, asking if the 15 schools that participated in the National Science Week were also included in those that wrote the Olympiad.
Dr van Jaarsveld replied that he could not be certain, but that his guess was that those 15 schools were a part of those that wrote the Olympiad.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Briefing by the National Research Foundation (NRF) on Annual Report and Audited Financial Statements 2008/09
- National Research Foundation Annual Report 2008 /2009; Prof Tebello Nyokong briefing
- Briefing by the National Research Foundation (NRF) on Annual Report and Audited Financial Statements 2008/09
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