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PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION
23 April 2002
BRIEFING BY NATIONAL RESEARCH FOUNDATION
Chairperson: Prof SM Mayatula
Documents handed out:
Presentation by National Research Foundation
The presentation focused on progress by the National Research Foundation. Committee Members acknowledged and commended the progress and the general feeling was that the NRF was following their mandate.
Dr Mokhele: the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Research Foundation made the presentation.
Dr Mokhele explained that the purpose of his presentation was to inform the Committee of the progress towards fully constituting the NRF as provided by the NRF Act and mandated by Parliament. In particular to see if the Committee thought the NRF was following the mandate. He gave an overview of how research was funded nationally and how the NRF was continuously structured to achieve its objectives.
He emphasised three aspects of achieving NRF's objectives. Firstly, research should be benchmarked by international standards, however if South Africa was on the cutting edge in certain knowledge areas, then local standards would apply. Secondly, research should respond to national development imperatives. Finally he stated that there was a need to develop capacity in all areas and levels of knowledge for the improvement of the quality of life of South Africans.
Some of the challenges that he interjected were lack of human resources; gender and racial skewness in terms of research capacity; and poor competitiveness.
Prof Ripinga asked if the NRF structure was an effectively functioning system and if there was a programme plan to achieve its objectives.
Dr Mokhele responded that the Foundation was not yet a fully functional system and that there was a Committee trying to find ways of making all the components of the NRF structure a functional system.
Mr Van den Heever asked how the NRF would confront the challenge of trying to recruit good researchers amidst current poor matric results.
Dr Mokhele agreed that the situation of matric results was "horrible". However, he pointed at the historical reasons for poor results and advised that what was needed was contextually relevant solutions. Moreover, he said that he hoped that as one of the nine national development imperatives the "Education and the Challenges for Change" would contribute toward a solution.
The same Member asked what role the NRF played in the Mark Shuttleworth project and if the Techno Park in Stellenbosch fits anywhere into the work of the NRF.
Dr Mokhele said that the Mark Shuttleworth project was an individual one and he had no knowledge of the government's connection except that the NRF decided to participate for the sake of national research development.
Dr Mokgoba commended the NRF on its work so far. He then wanted to know how and how long the NRF projects could contribute towards the benefit of poor people even outside the boarders of South Africa. He also asked why the presentation never mentioned anything about solar energy research.
Dr Mokhele said that it was difficult to answer the first question because the issue was that the difficulties and diseases faced by poor people do not face those that produce knowledge. He suggested that this difference of needs made it difficult for most research to benefit poor people because most researches hope to attract a return on investments on research and development. On the question of solar energy research he said that the "Conservation and Management of Ecosystems and Biodiversity" as one of the national development imperatives would include such research.
Mr Molewa (ANC) asked if the NRF could foresee any negative implications in its strategies and in particular the impact of globalisation on developing nations.
Dr Mokhele acknowledged that the world is globalising. He completely agreed that globalisation had a negative impact on weaker nations; to be strong nationally enhanced a better position globally. He advised that the challenge for South Africa was to be a strong nation.
The Chairperson asked why physics was not attracting students anymore.
Dr Mokhele said in his opinion if those who produce the knowledge have a negative attitude then students would find the subject unattractive. At postgraduate level the problem is that physics had exhausted questions of inquiry for its subject matter.
Mr Mpontshane (IFP) asked what the NRF's funding formula was and if the NRF was involved in some projects.
Dr Mokhele said that the first procedure for funding was to give funds to an individual researcher who had applied and were successful. The second procedure was when the NRF approached an academic institution and facilitated and funded research capacity restructuring. On the second question he said that it was natural for a government to be involved in encouraging and funding researchers to do projects especially on issues of national priorities.
Dr Mokhele agreed that there was a need for him to come back and update the Committee on further progress. The Chairperson acknowledged and commended the NRF's presentation.
The meeting was adjourned.
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