Department of Science and Technology Strategic Plan and Budget 2011

Science and Technology

12 April 2011
Chairperson: Mr. N Ngcobo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and, briefly, by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) on the strategic plan and budget for 2011. It was noted that the main focus lay in increasing innovation capacity, knowledge generation capacity and human capital development. The Department had provided undergraduate support for 100 students and National Research Foundation (NRF) internships to 365. It supported research from honours level through to post-doctoral level, and sought to increase funding to research to 1% of gross domestic product, and to boost its own doctoral and post-doctoral capacity still further. It also sought to position South Africa as a world research and development partner.

Some of the achievements were outlined. The National System of Innovation had been reviewed, and DST hoped to build on this by further coordinating industrial and institutional scientific efforts, and had adopted a sector-based approach. The Technology Innovation Agency had been established, whilst a unit for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) was in the process of being established. Centres of Competence and Partnership, where research was undertaken by a number of partnered institutions, had been set up, for example to research fluoro-chemicals and titanium, both of which had the potential to create jobs and capture a segment of the world market. DST also formed inter-governmental partnerships with other departments. It urged that there should continue to be substantial investment into Research Chairs, of which there were currently 92, producing research output of a high standard. Further outputs, including the Square Kilometre Array developments, were noted. The challenges included the need to increase research and development investment. The budget was R4.4 billion, rising to R5.5 billion over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework. Much of this related to transfers to other entities.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research achievements in designs for low-income housing, pilot projects and rollout of rural broadband, were outlined. The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) then briefly set out its budget of R336 million for 2011, which included staff costs of R160 million. It was noted that only about half was funded by the State, and that external funding provided R140 million. The HSRC had cash flow problems, and its building infrastructure desperately needed renovation. In addition, the designation of the head of the institution was not commensurate with other international bodies. It was seeking adequate funding to host the 2015 World Social Science Forum in South Africa.

Members noted that they would like the CSIR to brief the Committee on fracking. Members asked about the apparently discrepancy in funding allocations, but were informed that this was due to delays in the Department’s ability to spend on the Square Kilometre Array, so that some funds had been deferred by National Treasury, at the request of the Department. Members also asked about the progress of legislation, the current status of Bio-Tech, asked for a breakdown of the numbers of rural students, the types of jobs offered, and their provinces. They also asked whether it was the intention to roll out the Western Cape required on the strategic plan of the HSRC.

Meeting report

Department of Science and Technology Strategic Plan and budget 2011
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director General, Department of Science and Technology, briefed the Committee on the strategic plan and budget for 2011. The Department of Science and Technology (DST or the Department) aimed to increase innovation capacity, knowledge generation capacity and human capital development. It had provided undergraduate support for 100 students and National Research Foundation (NRF) internships for 365 people. Internationally, it sought to position South Africa as a strategic R&D partner.

He noted that the National System of Innovation (NSI) had been reviewed and DST wanted to build on this by coordinating industry and institutions. It had adopted a sector based approach. The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) had been established and a unit dealing with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) was in the process of being established.

Dr Mjwara also noted that the DST had established Centres of Competence and Partnerships. He gave examples of the research being conducted at some of these. He highlighted that research was being done into fluoro-chemicals, involving the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa), PELCHEM (Necsa’s chemical division), the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and the University of Pretoria (UP). It was directed towards South Africa seeking 5% to 25% of market share in this field, which would translate into 1 000 jobs and R1 billion in exports. Another example of research involved titanium, with research being conducted at UP, the University of Cape Town (UCT), UKZN, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), and the National Laser Centre (NLC). This was directed towards South Africa being able to provide 10% of the global market for titanium. Other projects were Unmanned Aerial Systems, Intelligent Nano-particle Systems and the Hydrogen South Africa Centres of Excellence (HySA), which were located at North West University, UCT and University of the Western Cape (UWC).

The Department also fostered inter-governmental partnerships with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) on the green economy, with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) on agricultural research, and with the Department of Health (DOH) on the technical capacity of the national Health Laboratories (NHL).

Dr Molapo Qhobela, Deputy Director General: Human Capital and Knowledge Systems, DST, said that the number of South African Research Chairs had risen to 92, and that these were producing 4.23% of total research output. He then noted the percentage figures for students supported, at honours, Masters, PhD and post-doctoral level, indicating that the highest numbers were at post-doctoral studies. However, he indicated that the figures remained a challenge and needed to be increased (see attached presentation for full details).

Dr Qhobela outlined some of the outputs and achievements of the DST. These included the hydrogen fuelled tricycle, the Tenofovir microbicide gel and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). It had prepared and completed the prototype KAT-7 Array and had been a signatory to the SKA board, comprising nine member countries.

The CSIR had developed a new design for low-income housing and a pilot project of 412 houses had been completed in Kleinmond, Western Cape. It had developed cell phone based applications to deliver educational information to pupils. The rollout of rural broadband connectivity had benefited 150 schools in the Nkangala district, Mpumalanga.

He then outlined some of the current challenges. The DST needed to look into increasing its research and development investment. It was targeting to have 1% of GDP dedicated to research. He noted that the budget for 2011 was R4.4 billion, rising to R5.5 billion in the outer years. However, a substantial part of the budget related to transfers to other entities.

He noted that the post of Chief Operating Officer was vacant.

Dr Olive Shisana, Chief Executive Officer, Human Sciences Research Council, and recently-elected President of the International Social Science Council, spoke about the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). Its budget for 2011 was R336 million, and this included staff costs of R160 million. Parliament gave a grant of R180 million, and external funding provided R140 million. Dr Shisana urged that social science research should not be forgotten. She noted that the HSRC had cash flow problems and its building infrastructure was desperately in need of renovation. She requested the Committee to take up the issue of the designation of the head of HSRC. She was described as a Chief Executive Officer, yet in most other countries her counterparts held the position of President of Council. She noted that this discrepancy placed South African officials at a disadvantage internationally. It was most important that South Africa should be well-placed to influence the development of the global agenda and ensure that South Africa contributed towards it.

Dr Shisana added that in 2015 the World Social Science Forum would be held in South Africa, and urged that adequate money must be made available to host the conference.

Ms M Shinn (DA) said that there was a discrepancy of half a billion rand in the budget figures, and she called for an explanation.

Dr Mjwara responded that this deficit had appeared because of the review of the design of the SKA. The rollout of the 64 dishes had been delayed by this review, and the timeframe of the rollout had therefore needed to be extended. The DST had requested National Treasury to reschedule the amounts in respect of the rollout, and National Treasury had done so, with half of the money being made available in 2012, and the other half in 2013.

Ms Shinn asked what progress had been made on the Science Law Amendment Bill.

Dr Mjwara responded that the Science Law Amendment Bill had received certification from the State Law Advisors and the Department was ready to take it to Cabinet and then to table it before Parliament.

Ms Shinn asked what could be done to boost the number of young researchers produced.

Ms Shinn asked what had happened to BioTech.

Dr Mjwara replied that Biotech had not vanished, it was finalising a bio-economy strategy document.

Ms Shinn noted her concerns that the tabled strategic plan of the HSRC was inadequate to allow the Committee to monitor its progress.

Dr Shisana said that the HSRC had received unqualified audits for eight successive years and that clear targets had been set out in the strategic plan, referring the Members to page 23. She added that the Department had diligently passed on its budget requests for building infrastructure improvements to Treasury but to no avail.

An ANC Member wanted a breakdown of the number of rural students, asking from which areas they were drawn, and whether the jobs that were created were part time or full time.

Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) asked if the Western Cape pilot would be broadened.

Dr Mjwara noted that the Western Cape had been chosen as a pilot site, but all the pilot projects could be rolled out at a later stage to other areas.

Ms Shinn wanted to know why salaries had increased by R27 million over two years.

The presenters then elaborated on a couple more points.

Dr Mjwara noted that one area to which the Department perhaps had not paid quite enough attention was the area of monitoring and evaluation.

Dr Qhobela said there was a need to continue to invest in Research Chairs because of the efficiency of delivery that resulted. He noted that because of the proven results, the Minister would be making an announcement on continuing the investment. The Department’s new targets were to attain 5% Honours students, 10% Masters Students and 18% Doctoral students.

Dr Thulani Dlamini, Group Executive: R&D, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, said that the CSIR would still be a user of information from national and international sources. CSIR was also involved in climate change and had done work on developing a wind energy atlas for the country, although it was conceded that solar power was considered the preferred source.

Committee programme
The Committee decided to invite the CSIR to give a briefing on fracking techniques, and that other interested parties should also be invited.

The Committee decided not to attempt to adopt Minutes, because of a shortage of time.

The meeting was adjourned.


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