The National Research Foundation briefed the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology on the its Annual Performance Plan 2011/12-2013/14. Contract income continued to grow over and above the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (core) income but in 2011/12 a major contract - Research Chairs - had shifted to the (core) allocation. The Foundation continued to work hard with the Department of Science and Technology to capture all elements of work under the Medium Term Expenditure Framework allocation where possible. A special allocation amount of R250 million received from the Minister of the Department of Science and Technology allowed 1 946 additional awards to be allocated to students/researchers. Investment was not optimal for the envisaged growth across all platforms of human capacity and the Foundation was working together with the Department to ensure that submissions to National Treasury were structured and well-organized. Although the R250 million had been allocation to emerging researchers, the Foundation would be working on procuring more resources to make a bigger injection and bigger impact on emerging researchers. A positive National Research Foundation instrument for emerging researchers had made an impact was the Expanded Thuthuka Framework programme. The Foundation was identifying how more resources could address the bottle neck in the system. The budget for Centres of Excellence was not adequate although the Centres had demonstrated considerable impact in growth. The Foundation would be identifying how it could increase investment in the Centres in a strategic manner. Research and Innovation Support and Advancement investment for Established Researchers had increased in 2011/12. Contracts from the Department of Higher Education and Training had increased from just over R40 million the previous year to R95 million in 2011/12 for scarce skills and the increase in contracts for global change and human social dynamics had been due to funds allocated from the Department of Science and Technology.
The Foundation had particular demographic objectives as far as bursaries were concerned and envisaged an amount of R3 billion in bursary values/cost implications to reach the ideal number of Honours, Masters and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) students by 2020.
Important developments were summarized as follows: Reconstitution of the Foundation's Board; mid-term assessment of Strategic Vision for 2015 with outgoing and incoming board; Hermanus Magnetic Observatory – migration to South African National Space Agency; South Africa Agency for Science & Technology Advancement repositioning; Square Kilometer Array – MeerKAT roll-out (keep an eye on the fracking debate); Research information management system commissioning - contract expired in March 2012; iThemba Particle Therapy Centre Public Private Partnerships by the end of the year; Isotope spin out activities more commercial; [National Zoological Gardens] NZG research positioning; and responding to National Research Foundation reviews (2010) and astronomy desk recommendations.
Members asked when the new board was expected to be in place; what the status was of the new SA Agulhas, what developments had been made with regard to National Antarctic Research Programme, and how the Centre of Excellence (Access) was involved; why the budget for cutting edge research platforms for local and international collaboration (with regard to equipment usage) was almost non-existent; and how NRF fund restructuring and self-funding with contracts would affect research programmes and output. Members also asked on what grounds employees had been dismissed from institutions; what the implications for South Africa Agency for Science & Technology Advancement were when a major science centre closed down; how many learners had been reached and for a breakdown of the provinces in which learners had been reached in the financial year.
Members then asked where the focus and concentration of the international students was in Research and Innovation Support and Advancement’s human capital target of 5 % international students; for more information on how funding of students to study internationally would contribute to increasing the number of PhD students in South Africa; why the presentation had not emphasized the PhD Project; whether the National Research Foundation had assisted PhD students in the Science field only; and if there was a possibility that South Africa could increase funding to grow the core number of students into PhD students in South Africa.
The Committee then adopted its report on Science and Technology Budget Vote 34: Science and Technology and the Strategic Plan for the Fiscal Years 2011-2016.
National Research Foundation (NRF) Annual Performance Plan 2011/12-2013/14
Mr Albert van Jaarsveld, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), National Research Foundation (NRF), outlined the NRF mandate to promote and support research through funding, human resource development and the provision of the necessary research facilities in order to facilitate internationally competitive research as a basis for the knowledge economy, innovation and development in all fields of science and technology, including indigenous knowledge.
NRF’s five strategic goals in the 2015 strategic plan were to grow a representative science and technology workforce in South Africa; provide cutting-edge research, technology and innovation platforms; operate world-class evaluation and grant-making systems; and contribute to a vibrant national innovation system.
NRF operated through three divisions: SAASTA (Public Science & Technology Outreach Advancement), Research and Innovation Support and Advancement (RISA) and National Research Facilities /Platforms.
Contract income continued to grow over and above the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) income but recently a major contract - Research Chairs - had shifted to MTEF (core) allocation 2011/12. NRF continued to work hard with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to capture all elements of work under the MTEF allocation where possible.
A special allocation amount of R250 million received from the Minister of Science and Technology allowed 1 946 additional awards to be allocated to students/researchers (see presentation for a breakdown of the special allocations).
RISA core and ring fenced funding had increased significantly for 2011/12 primarily due to the research chairs allocation. DST was delighted that the Department of Higher Education and Training (DoHET) had allocated R95 million for scarce skills training and with its R250 million special allocation, a once off allocation, grouped these allocations under contract funding. The Innovation fund had been transferred to the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).
NRF had strong emphasis on human resource development which would ensure next generation researchers. Investment was not optimal for the envisaged growth across all platforms of human capacity and NRF was working together with DST to ensure that submissions to Treasury were structured and well-organized. Although the R250 million had been allocation for emerging researchers NRF would be working on procuring more resources to make a bigger injection and bigger impact on emerging researchers.
The bursary top up scheme for needy students had made an impact and yet was not sufficient. Bursaries adjustments had been increased and had made an impact. NRF had particular demographic objectives as far as bursaries were concerned and envisaged an amount of R3 billion growth in bursary values/cost implications to reach the ideal number of honours, masters and PhD students by 2020. (See breakdown for figures on grant-holder linked bursaries, post-doctoral fellowship allocation and output targets for next generation researchers). The shift in total demographics of the system for next generation researchers was painfully slow as NRF supported a relatively small investment for post graduate students.
A positive NRF instrument for emerging researchers which had made an impact was the Expanded Thuthuka Framework programme. NRF was identifying how more resources could address the bottle neck in the system.
The budget for Centres of Excellence (CoEs) was not adequate although CoEs had demonstrated considerable impact in growth. NRF would be identifying how it could increase investment in CoEs in a strategic manner. RISA investment for Established Researchers had increased in 2011/12, largely due to new SARChI allocations. Contracts from the Department of Higher Education and Training had increased from just over R40 million the previous year to R95 million in 2011/12 for scarce skills and the increase in contracts for global change and human social dynamics had been due to funds allocated from DST. (See presentation for CoE and the outstanding SARCHi performance.)
One of the exciting RISA developments was the launch of the High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscope (HRTEM) run by Prof Jan Neethling at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth on 11 October 2011.
RISA Developments for 2011/12 were summarised as follows: NRF was developing a funding framework; appropriate investment in new, emerging, established researchers; focus areas phased out; full roll-out of incentive funding (~ R 90m); Professional Development Programme needed more grounding; additional funding (R 255m) roll out for ongoing projects; sustain increased bursary values; continued infrastructure upgrade at national facilities (R 20 – R 70m / annum); roll out of new SARChI Chairs – the Minister would make an announcement in the foreseeable future; and implementation of NRF review and peer review recommendations.
The majority of the funding growth for the South Africa Agency for Science & Technology Advancement (SAASTA) activities was in the form of contracts which caused challenges for management of staff contracts, impact of the three areas of science advancement – education, communication and engagement and for optimal drive towards targets. DST was aware of the issue and was working with SAASTA to make operations more sustainable (MTEF rather than contract allocation). Outputs were driven by contracts but because they were unpredictable, the outputs were affected. One major science centre had to close temporarily and three science festivals had to be postponed due to lack of corporate sponsorship.
SAASTA Developments for 2011/12 were summarised as follows: repositioning in NRF (more strategic role across the business units); national schools debate was ongoing; the 3rd African Science communications conference was a highlight; funding framework; and appropriate investments in three core areas of science advancement.
National Facilities Policy Revisions included: a comprehensive long term infrastructure plan (2011/12 MTEF submission) developed with DST to ensure that National Facilities were not only functional but were cutting edge research platforms; National Zoology Gardens research agenda development (Small populations and Conservation medicine – University of Pretoria, Mammal Research Institute, Onderstepoort Veterinary Faculty); Intellectual Property management strategy for National Facilities; Astronomy desk recommendations. Outputs for National Facilities would be maintained until results from the submission for MTEF allocation could be realized. NRF was happy that with the assistance of the DST special allocation, the majority of infrastructure emergency repair issues had been dealt with and investment focus could shift to capacity at the facilities. (See presentation for National Facilities investments, outputs and developments).
NRF Organizational Challenges were core vs contract funding ratio; Staff succession, development (training) and retention; communications and marketing; organizational actions: respond to NRF review and peer review recommendations; funding framework (June 2011); and a productivity and efficiencies review.
Summary of important developments:
Reconstitution of the NRF Board; mid-term assessment of Strategic Vision for 2015 with outgoing and incoming board; Hermanus Magnetic Observatory – migration to South African National Space Agency;
SAASTA repositioning; Square Kilometer Array (SKA) – MeerKAT roll-out (keep an eye on the fracking debate); Research information management system (RIMS) commissioning - contract expired in March 2012; iThemba Particle Therapy Centre Public Private Partnerships by the end of the year; isotope spin out activities more commercial; [National Zoological Gardens ] NZG research positioning; responding to NRF reviews (2010); and astronomy desk recommendations.
Ms M Shinn (DA) asked when the new board was expected to be in place.
Mr Van Jaarsveld replied that at the moment no firm plans were in place and that NRF would have to deal with the timing issue of bridging the divide. The sooner the new board was in place, the better. The Board Chair would discuss with the Minister and NRF would follow up with the Committee in that regard.
Ms Shinn asked what the status was of the new SA Agulhas, what developments had been made with regard to National Antarctic Research Programme, and how the Centre of Excellence (Access) was involved.
Mr Van Jaarsveld replied that the focus of Access research was Atmospheric Ocean System Modelling and NRF was aiming to grow expertise into that field into the future. The Antarctic Programme was managed by the NRF and was a joint venture between DST and the Department of Environment Affairs. It was a consistent but small area of investment and a number of discussions were under on the future of the programme to escalate investments primarily to ensure that the new ship was used optimally. The old ship was decommissioned and unsafe for research purposes. The new ship was a critical resource for maintaining any research activity in the southern oceans. There were clear and obvious political advantages for maintaining presence in the southern oceans, from Antarctica, to Southern ocean islands, to marine offshore areas. NRF would continue to engage in discussions to ensure leverage for investment in the new ship for the benefit of the country.
Ms Shinn asked why the budget for cutting edge research platforms for local and international collaboration (with regard to equipment usage) was almost non-existent.
Mr Van Jaarsveld replied that the activity had been funded at a low level for a long period of time. It involved funding for researchers to visit high-end international research platforms and activities (travel money) and had been funded in fragmented fashion. NRF had grouped them collectively as an area of investment which it aimed to grow strategically so that researchers could visit institutions such as the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) and have access to the best both locally and internationally.
Ms Shinn asked how NRF fund restructuring and self-funding with contracts would affect research programmes and output.
Mr Van Jaarsveld replied that NRF serviced a number of contracts on behalf of other government departments. Funding from various sources did not detract from NRF’s main mandate which was research funding. DST awarded a large number of contracts and even contracts NRF serviced for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Higher Education and Training (DoHET) allowed increase in investment in the science funding component of the NRF was concerned. NRF was however concerned with contracts in the environment of the National Facilities where NRF actually performed research. Where contracts became too much and onerous it did impact on NRF ability to focus on science. NRF was convinced that the facilities had to have the time and space to focus on science. NECSA and iThemba medical activities such as isotope sales could be run by business people rather than scientists.
Ms P Mocumi (ANC) asked on what grounds employees had been dismissed from institutions.
Mr Van Jaarsveld said that a number of thefts, including rhino horns - which were in safekeeping after rhinos had died - were reasons for dismissal. There were other ongoing cases which were unfinalised.
Ms Mocumi asked when the indicators would be developed and implemented.
Mr Van Jaarsveld replied that the missing indicators would be fully operational and in place the following year.
Ms Mocumi asked what the implications for SAASTA were when a major science centre closed down.
Ms Beverley Damonse, Executive Director: National Research Foundation/SAASTA replied that it had not closed but had been relocated. DST relied on valuable partnerships such as school bodies and science networks to achieve a fully functioning Science system and with the global economic decline had affected corporate sponsorship for a period of time. The Cape Town Science Centre had ended its 10 year MTN sponsorship and the sector was working to find a new sponsor. The plan was to re-launch the Science Centre at a venue in Observatory.
Ms Mocumi asked how many learners had been reached and for a breakdown of the provinces in which learners had been reached in the financial year. Her concern was that rural provinces had been neglected in terms of service delivery.
Ms Damonse replied that rural reach was what SAASTA did and that the available report submitted showed the spread across provinces. Emphasis was increasing in the rural provinces, where there was a need to take science and technology and the messages of excitement and motivation around careers in science and technology was to rural communities.
Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) asked where the focus and concentration of the international students was in RISA’s human capital target of 5% international students.
Mr Van Jaarsveld replied that the target for international grants given was 15%: 10% for African students and 5% of grants for international students beyond Africa. DST was developing policy for student funding for NRF with clear guidelines so that NRF had more clarity on targets.
The Chairperson asked why the presentation had not emphasized the PhD Project. At a recent conference at the Cape Peninsula Institute of Technology, students were very interested in the PhD project. It had to be promoted and planned for and new legislation involved Treasury assisting with budgetary plans.
Mr Van Jaarsveld admitted that the PhD project had been under-emphasized during the presentation but it was in fact core for NRF activities. The 6000 PhD student per year target for 2020 still existed, which was a five-fold increase. The problem was funding the precursors to PhD. The argument lay at the heart of the funding framework development submitted to DST and from there to Treasury so that the PhD project could be funded properly. Last year 400 students participated in the annual PhD Fair which NRF funded and supported annually.
The Chairperson commented that SAASTA was important for realising the PhD project and could use its capabilities for advancement of the Moses Kodane Institute to be rolled out to all provinces in the country.
Ms Damonse replied that SAASTA had previously explained the role that SAASTA would rather play. The offer was still on the table to work with the Committee to drive the project.
The Chairperson cautioned NRF about the joint directorship of NECSA and iThemba as in the past funds had not been monitored.
Ms Shinn asked for more information on how funding of students to study internationally would contribute to increasing the number of PhD students in South Africa.
Mr Van Jaarsveld replied that the international grants were not for students but established researchers to visit and do research at important institutions abroad. As part of the strategy to achieve 6 000 PhD students per year, the funding framework that was being developed had three models: 1.The number of students studying in SA needed to be funded 2. Funding was required to provide opportunities for students to go abroad 3. A certain number of students would be funded to study abroad. A mix of all three would be required to reach 6 000 PhDs by 2020. All higher education institutions had to be functioning and a number of students would need to study abroad, as NRF would not have sufficient supervisor capacity.
Ms Dunjwa asked for the gender, race and demographic breakdown in the NRF.
The Chairperson added that NRF had presented on how SKA was going to benefit the formerly disadvantaged students. Interestingly, when the first 23 bursaries were offered, 19 white students and 4 black students - three were from Africa and one from South Africa (mixed race), the NRF president refused to sign approval for the bursaries as the composition as such was not what the SKA mandate wanted to achieve.
Mr Van Jaarsveld said that the NRF did have the data available and would be happy to drive the initiative of fully capturing the transformation achievements in the Science sector over the past 10 years. DST would also be interested in seeing the NRF achievements.
Ms Mocumi asked whether NRF only assisted PhD students in the Science field.
Mr Van Jaarsveld replied that NRF was a funding agency for all disciplines – social sciences, humanities, engineering, disability studies and natural sciences. If there was reason why the researchers and supervisors had not contacted DST and accessed NRF systems, NRF would follow up and make enquiries for solutions where necessary.
Ms Shinn asked if there was a possibility that South Africa could increase funding to grow the core number of students into PhD students in South Africa. The US spent a lot of money encouraging foreign students to study in the US and also to keep them in the US after graduation. In South Africa, Home Affairs alone made it difficult for foreigners to come to study in South Africa.
Mr Van Jaarsveld said that there was currently a “global war on talent”. If you obtained a PhD in the US, the visa was extended for 2 years to keep the PhD students in the country. In South Africa, when trying to attract research chairs to fill supervisor capacity, there were challenges with obtaining a visa for the spouse who might be a qualified engineer. NRF had suggested to DST that it should adopt the ‘science visa’ such as in Australia, whereby those with science scarce skills and their families could utilize the science visa and thereby enable South Africa to participate in the “global war on talent”.
The Chairperson said that recent legislation sought to make it easier for those with special skills to obtain visas.
Mr Van Jaarsveld added that the real challenge was not to place a hugely bureaucratic process in place but to simplify the process where at all possible.
The Chairperson thanked the NRF for their presentation and praised them for their Millennium Development Goal track record received from the Auditor-General, who had also publicly supported the work of DST at the latest budget vote.
Adoption of Report of the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology on Budget Vote 34: Science and Technology and the Strategic Plan for the Fiscal Years 2011-2016
Ms N Ngele (ANC) joined the meeting to constitute a quorum. Minor grammatical adjustments were made to the report. Ms Shinn asked if her position on the report could be reserved. She had concerns about the budget and was not ready to categorically support it as it was. She also had concerns about the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) which she would interrogate at a different time.
The Chairperson noted Ms Shinn’s request.
Ms Dunjwa moved for adoption of the report with corrections and the necessary reservation from the DA and was seconded by Ms Z Ndlazi (ANC).
Committee Minutes: 19 January, 16 February; 1, 2, 9, 16 and 23 March 2011
These minutes were formerly adopted by the Committee and signed by the Chairperson.
However, Ms Shinn said although she was not querying the Minutes she wanted to point out the fact that the two visits to the International Astronomical Congress (Prague in the current year and South Korea the previous year) were not discussed in the Committee nor were there any reports on the meetings. Furthermore, on both occasions, she felt that the composition of the delegation had not been decided on in accordance with formal Committee procedure. She felt that she had been prejudiced in her role as a Member of the Committee as she should have been included on the trips. She asked for some explanation as to why the trips were conducted in secret.
The Chairperson replied that on the first trip to South Korea only the Chairperson had been invited. He was committed to a trip on Climate Change in Copenhagen and therefore delegated Ms Dunjwa (Whip) to attend as a representative. DTI invited DST because of DST’s Space Agency. He had invited both DST and DTI to a meeting in Parliament where Ms Shinn was present to query why DTI was leading the matters of space, science and technology. The matter was discussed and although not satisfactory, the process was allowed to continue and in Prague, DTI again invited only the Chairperson. Again Ms Dunjwa represented DST because of her previous attendance at the Congress.
Ms Dunjwa said that there were also other parties who attended the Congress and how they were invited was a mystery. The Chairperson of DTI had lost his laptop and getting the Minutes was a struggle but she believed that the trips were not conducted in secret.
Ms Mocumi said that on behalf of the Committee, detail on the trips was never communicated with Members of the Committee. The Committee must know what was happening with activities of Members of the Committee.
The Chairperson agreed. However he was unsure of how the delegation was decided on.
Ms Dunjwa argued that Korea was also not done in secret. The DA had continually asked for Minutes and what happened was discussed in the Joint Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology meeting.
Ms Mocumi said that since Ms Dunjwa was willing to debate the issues, it was considered consent that the anomaly should not happen in future and she should not be defensive since past Minutes would guide the process. Proper procedure should be that trips were announced to the Committee.
The Chairperson said that he had always been transparent about trips. What he remembered about the Prague trip was that the Committee Secretary had called him during the holidays to tell him that the House Chair was asking why the delegation to the Congress had been organized by DTI and not DST when it was about Space technology.
Ms Dunjwa said that information picked up in the corridor should be raised in meetings. She encouraged Members to attend the joint meetings on Trade and Industry.
Ms Shinn said that Ms S Molao (COPE) went on both the South Korea and Prague trip and to say that the trip happened during the holiday and thus could not be discussed with the Committee was not an excuse. Trips tended to be organized 10 days in advance. She asked if the Chairperson had recommended Members for the trip and approved payment of Ms Molao’s costs.
The Chairperson said that he was not asked to recommend anyone as it was organized by DTI. He had recommended Ms Dunjwa for the trip when he could not attend. He was not aware of attendance by opposition parties.
Ms Shinn asked if the Chairperson had approved the R145 000 budget for the Chairperson, Ms Dunjwa and Ms Molau to go to Prague.
The Chairperson said that approval of the budget was done by the Committee Secretary as he was not in Parliament at the time. The House Chair had informed her that the Chairperson of Science and Technology had to attend.
Ms Shinn asked if the House Chair had deliberately left the DA out as candidates to attend the Congress.
The Chairperson said that he himself had not signed or approved anything.
Ms Shinn said that input from the Committee Chairperson was essential. She added that two Members from the Committee were invited to South Korea and that she had repeatedly asked the Committee Secretary about the upcoming trip in anticipation of being a candidate to attend. The Committee Secretary had responded that she did not know anything about the trip and Ms Shinn then believed that the budget had not been approved. After discovering that a Member had attended the Congress she asked for a report on the trip. She did not accept that a laptop was lost. An anecdotal report would have sufficed. She had found out about the Prague trip by accident. No one had said a word about going or having attended the Congress.
The Chairperson said that the main reason to invite both the DTI and DST to a meeting in Parliament was to query why DTI invited the delegation. He felt that DST had to play a part in organizing the upcoming Congress in South Africa. The notable error on the issue was that no formal report had been made available to the Committee. He usually relied on the Committee Secretary to present the report.
Ms Mocumi suggested that DTI be invited to Parliament for Members to raise their dissatisfaction. The House Chair should also be invited to explain the criteria for selection of Members of the Committee without involving the Chairperson.
The Chairperson said that it would be possible to arrange that request. DTI had requested a joint sitting before close of Parliament to consider a charity hosting of the upcoming Congress. The House Chair was now the Deputy Minister and would be requested to attend.
Ms Dunjwa asked for a formal proposal that the Committee Secretary put on paper the request for the joint meeting and for communication with the office of the former House Chair (the Deputy Minister) so that all criteria for choice of the delegation could be clear.
The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary to request a report from the Committee Secretary on Trade and Industry on the trip by DTI delegates.
Ms Shinn added that at the end of the previous year she was invited by the Minister of Science and Technology to attend the launch of the International Space Agency in Midrand. However she was told by DST that she would have to pay for her own airfare, hired car and accommodation. The Committee Secretary also told her that the Chairperson’s instructions were that she should pay for her own expenses.
She asked what the rules were around payment of expenses when Committee Members were invited in their capacity as a Member of the Committee to travel to attend functions.
The Chairperson said that the Parliamentary rules were clear. If invited by any entity of the Department, the Department had to pay for the expenses. He said that she should insist on a refund from the Department.
In closing, the Chairperson then thanked the Members for their participation in the meeting. They would meet again after the elections.
The meeting was adjourned.
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