Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill: Adoption, National Research Foundation Board: adoption of shortlist, SADC Protocol briefing,

Committee: NCOP Education and Recreation

Chairperson: Ms M Makgate (ANC, North West)

Date of Meeting: 02 Aug 2011

Summary

The Committee presented the mandates of the provinces on the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill, and voted unanimously to adopt this Bill.

The Department of Science and Technology then briefed the Committee on the shortlist of candidates for the National Research Foundation Board, stressing that the list had been narrowed down to 16 candidates. The mandate of the National Research Foundation was set out, emphasising that it covered a wide variety of fields, and it was therefore necessary not only to source expertise in particular fields, but also to source candidates with the right attitude, who would promote the interests of the country, and contribute to good governance of the Foundation. Most of the candidates were academics, but some were from the private sector, and this list also sought to be balanced in gender and demographics. Members questioned why there still seemed to be a bias towards males in the Foundation and the Department itself, but noted the efforts that the Minister was making in this regard.

The Department of Science and Technology then briefed the Committee on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI). South Africa had, and would continue to play, a strong role in assisting other countries in the region, and it was argued that the adoption of this Protocol would assist in developing the economies of the SADC region, promoting trade in the region, which was potentially greater than the European Union, and coordinating efforts and resources in scientific research and development. South Africa could also be assisted to gain access to minerals in other countries. The various initiatives under the Protocol were outlined, and it was noted that additional funding of R3.3 million had been sourced from developed countries who were prepared to assist. Although there was still a need to gain full buy-in, and to build a stronger SADC desk, these issues were being addressed. Members expressed some concern as to why so much money was being put into regional development, arguing that the resources would be better spent in developing the South African education system. They asked to what extent the Department of Science and Technology was involved in school education, what programmes and assistance it was offering, especially for female students, and whether there were links between education and the STI Protocol. They enquired into the role of women in science, and asked what, specifically, the Department was doing in regard to the promotion and protection of Indigenous Knowledge Systems, especially for medical purposes, and on climate change. The Department suggested that it would be useful to give a further briefing to the Committee, on matters of education and human resources development.

The Committee adopted the minutes of 13 April, 20 April, 1 June, 8 June and 15 June, but stood over adoption of the minutes of 25 May until they had been corrected.



Minutes

Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill: Presentation of mandates, and adoption
The Chairperson called on Members to present their provinces’ mandates on the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (the Bill).

The delegate for the Eastern Cape indicated that Eastern Cape supported the Bill and conferred a mandate on its delegate to vote in favour of the adoption of the Bill.

The Kwazulu-Natal delegate similarly announced that this province had agreed to support the Bill

The delegate from Limpopo Province had a mandate to vote in favour of the Bill.

The delegate from Mpumalanga noted that the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature had voted in favour of the Bill.

The North West Province had agreed with the amendments made on the Bill, and had agreed that its delegate have a final mandate to vote for adoption of the Bill.

The delegate from Northern Cape announced that the Legislature of the Northern Cape voted in Favour of the Bill

The delegate from the Western Cape similarly voted in favour of the Bill, as amended.

The Chairperson briefly summarised the amendments to the Bill.

All Members formally voted in favour of the Bill.

National Research Foundation Board: Shortlist of candidates: Department of Science and Technology briefing
The Chairperson welcomed the delegates from the Department of Science and Technology (DST or the Department) and asked that they brief the Committee on the shortlisting of candidates to serve on the Board of the National Research Foundation (NRF).

Dr Molapo Qhobela, Deputy Director General: Human Capital and Knowledge Systems, Department of Science and Technology, noted that the relevant legislation required the Minister of Science and Technology to consult with both houses of Parliament prior to making a decision on the appointment of members of the NRF Board.

He then outlined that the National Research Foundation had a mandate to support and promote research through funding, to further human resource development and to support the establishment of research facilities that assisted with knowledge creation in South Africa. He acknowledged that the word “science”, in the context of the Department’s work, included all fields of study that contributed to the creation of knowledge, including the fields of humanities and zoology. The Department funded scholarships at undergraduate level, and the NRF funded scholarships at the post-graduate levels. In broad terms, the NRF fulfilled some of the agency functions to the Department. It provided developmental support for post-graduate studies and assisted researchers in conducting high-quality scientific research.

Dr Qhobela noted that the NRF was governed by a board consisting of twelve members, appointed by the Minister. The Minister called for open nominations and, after considering these against a range of requirements, a shortlist would then be prepared and presented to both houses of Parliament. The primary legal function of the Board would be to govern the NRF in the best interest of the organisation and the country as a whole. Board members would have to take into account a wide range of stakeholders including the State, the people, researchers and other beneficiaries. Members of the Board would be appointed in their personal capacity, but they would not be expected to represent personal interests, but rather would be expected to perform duties in line with the broad interests of the country.

Dr Qhobela noted that part of the challenge in drawing a shortlist for the potential Board members was the fact that the need for good governance had to be addressed. Each Board member must use his or her skills, knowledge, experience and competencies to support the management of the NRF, and to ensure that the organisation was run with maximum efficiency. Therefore, each Board member must have a comprehensive understanding of government’s policies, and ensure that those policies were executed. In addition, the members of the Board must also reflect the diversity of the various fields that NRF supported – which would include mathematics, history, sociology and zoology. Members should also have the correct attitudes and aptitude, and be prepared to serve the NRF, rather than supporting proposals for personal gains.

Dr Qhobela stated that there were, initially, 92 nominees for the positions on the Board, and the shortlist was then drawn, consisting of fewer than 20 candidates.

The Chairperson requested that that Dr Qhobela read the names of the short listed candidates.

Dr Qhobela suggested that he should firstly read out the names of the candidates who would be eligible for re-appointment to the Board. He read these out (see attached list for names).

He then briefly stated the names of others on the shortlist (see attached list), and noted that documentation handed to Members contained more details about these candidates. He reiterated that when this list was drawn, it was important to ensure that the Board members would, between them, be broadly representative of all NRF interests, as well as ensuring a balance of gender.

Discussion
Mr M De Villiers (Western Cape; DA) stated that he had sent a question from his office about one of the candidates and wanted to know whether the Department was able to provide the answer.

Dr Qhobela answered that there was a question raised in the National Assembly (NA) regarding the departure of a Professor from the Tshwane University of Technology, as there had been suggestions that he had left that university under a cloud. However, all these were misperceptions, as he had left the university after completing a contract term. A written confirmation of this had been provided to the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology.

Ms B Mncube (Gauteng; ANC) wanted to know what processes were followed in narrowing the list from the original 92 candidates to 16.

Dr Qhobela agreed that the process of narrowing the list was a difficult task. There was a need to try to ensure both continuity and balance on the Board. Each candidate was asked to provide a detailed CV, which was compared to the requirements set out in the Act. There were other intangible qualities, such as attitude and behaviour, that were also considered when narrowing the list.

Ms Mncube expressed the concern that neither the NRF nor the Department itself reflected a correct gender balance.

Dr Qhobela stated that there had been many women in the leadership role, and the new incoming Deputy-Director of Corporate Services at the Department was also female.

The Chairperson noted general agreement from Members on the shortlist.

The Chairperson noted, formally, the Members’ adoption of the shortlist and the Committee Report, to be tabled in the House.

Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI): Departmental briefing
Mr Thomas Auf der Heyde, Deputy Director General: International Cooperation, Department of Science and Technology, outlined the history of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI). He noted that science and technology were important subjects in international relations. South Africa worked with various countries around the world, exchanging knowledge and information. 43% of all scientific outputs in South Africa were done in collaboration with foreign partners.

In 2006, the SADC Declaration on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) was drafted by SADC senior officials and adopted by Ministers in Pretoria. This led to the drafting of a Protocol, which was approved by the SADC Heads of States and Government during the SADC Summit in Johannesburg. It was then presented to Cabinet in early 2010, after presentations also at African Renaissance Committee level, and was re-tabled by Hon Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and Technology, in February 2011. The key objectives were to provide a base for development of institutional mechanisms for regional cooperation and coordination of STI, to ensure proper coordination of resources for regional STI programmes, to promote development and harmonisation of STI in the region, and to maximise public and private investment in research and development (R&D) in the region.

Mr Auf der Heyde outlined the regional interventions into STI (see attached presentations). He noted that South Africa also continued to build a framework and conditions to promote cooperation with other African nations. The Department was leading the regional STI interventions in the SADC region, including leading a policy training programme for senior SADC officials to build capacity in the region. In addition, the Department was promoting its Women-In-Science programme, and he said that Minister Pandor had been a champion of women’s advancements in science and education.
The Department had also launched an initiative to develop a STI strategy in the region, as the protocol aimed to promote increased cooperation. The Department had also been working with the SADC to develop Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS). The SADC region contained various types of indigenous plants, and comprehensive indigenous knowledge was available about the plants and the possible uses and medicinal purposes. Under the protocol, the SADC countries would be able to harness this knowledge and test its scientific validity, with the aim of using the plant species to promote the development of local pharmaceutical industries.

He noted that the Department had also been successful in bringing together the relevant departments dealing with science and environmental matters, to develop a programme on climate change science and technology in the region.

He acknowledged that IBM had donated a Super Computer to develop and promote scientific research in Africa, and had entrusted South Africa with housing and maintaining the computer.

Mr Auf der Heyde outlined the budgetary implications of this Protocol to The Committee. The Department’s budget for 2009/10 to 2011/12 was R9.816 million. The Department had also leveraged foreign funds to the tune of R3.310 million, from developed countries such as Australia and Germany who were interested in promoting science and technology development in the SADC.

Mr Auf der Heyde outlined the benefits of ratifying this Protocol. South Africa, in order to maintain its own development levels, would need to develop closer links with other regional nations, and its own assistance in developing STI in other nations would in turn bring benefits of increased trade as the regional economies improved. Some countries, such as Namibia and Botswana, had made significant developments already in science and technology. This Protocol would be an important step to regional integration, and key development partners had already shown their interest in regional integration. However, the STI Desk at the SADC was still weak, with some reluctance to support it from other nations, and this would need to be addressed. Many nations in the developed world viewed South Africa as a reliable partner on the African continent.

Discussion
Ms Mncube wanted to know why there was so much emphasis placed on the development of SADC countries, instead of using the resources to invest in South Africa’s own education system. She enquired what the Department was doing to improve science education within the South African high school system.

Another member expressed agreement and asked also what the Department was doing to promote science in junior grades, especially to female students.

Ms Mncube also wanted to know what the DST was doing specifically to address the impact of climate change.

Mr S Plaatjie (North West; COPE) wanted to know whether there were any links between the STI and the development of higher learning. He enquired if there was any student exchange program with the SADC nations.

Mr De Villiers also asked what the DST was doing to solve the problems in the higher education system, and whether the DST had a responsibility to assist other departments in this regard.  

Mr De Villiers asked what time frames, if any, were set for completion of the protocol, and whether there were challenges that may prevent or delay the launch of the STI Protocol.

Ms Mncube and other Members called for more details on the development and promotion of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems.

The Chairperson asked what challenges the Department had faced in initiating the STI protocol, and enquired what the specific benefits of participating in this protocol might be for South Africa.

Mr Auf der Heyde welcomed the positive comments from the members, and said that the Department would welcome their support and assistance. He firstly dealt with human development aspects, noting that the Department had very strong human development programme, supported by a range of activities. Some of the initiatives included bursaries to Honours, Masters and Doctoral students through the NRF, funding of Research Professorships in the universities, a Youth and Science Programme in the department, support to science centres and support to science weeks across all provinces.

In answer to questions on climate change, Mr Auf der Heyde said the Department was an important catalyst in addressing these issues. While the Department could not assist in reversing the climate trends, it could help in developing technology that would assist in managing the impact of climate change. Examples of this included the improvement in weather prediction technology, and conveying the predictions to farmers and rural communities in particular, to allow them to prepare for floods, droughts or other environmental catastrophes. South Africa could also, through science and technology, develop technology that would be more environmentally friendly.

Mr Auf der Heyde noted that one of the significant challenges of the STI Protocol would lie in filling the vacancies. There were not enough South African applying for the positions, and so there was a need to improve the salary packages and to design employment contracts in such a way that employees could travel and work in the developed world for a brief period of time, and then return to their position in the Department. There were further challenges around lack of competence of some employees, and under-performance, which had caused the whole Department to fall short on its targets. These were the major challenges faced, although there were others that he would not go into now.

In respect of the benefits to South Africa of participation in the Protocol, Mr Auf der Heyde said that these were both tangible and intangible. South Africa’s economic development was more advanced than that of other partners in the SADC, and it would be to South Africa’s political advantage to assist development of whole region. On the more tangible side, there were many economic benefits to be derived from increased regional cooperation. South Africa could increase the exports of its minerals and gain access to resources in other SADC nations, at lower costs. The East African region, along with the SDAC region, was larger than the European Union and this would provide South Africa with immense opportunity to increase trade in the region.

Ms Anneline Morgan, Director: Africa Cooperation, Department of Science and Technology expanded on the Women in Science initiative in the SADC, stating that this was a relatively new initiative that aimed to create a regional association of women in science, and to promote the science-based professions to young women. Meetings were being organised to finalise the association.

Mr Qhobela noted that the DST did not have any direct involvement in high school education, although it did work with other departments and organisations in developing curricula. He added that it would be useful for the DST, at some later date, to brief the Committee in more detail on its role in education.

Ms Mncube wanted more details about the programmes being initiated on a provincial basis, with specific details rather than general statistics.

The Chairperson asked that Members confine their questions to the subject at hand today, and said that the Department would be invited again to the Committee.

Adoption of Minutes
The Chairperson announced that the minutes from 13 April, 20 April, 25 May, 1 June, 8 June and 15 June needed to be considered for adoption.

The Minutes of 13 April 2011 were adopted without amendments.

The Minutes of 20 April 2011, 01 June, 08 June and 15 June 2011 were adopted, with minor technical amendments.

The Minutes of 25 May 2011 were tabled, but Ms B Mncube (Gauteng; ANC) proposed that since there were a number of corrections that had to be effected, these minutes should be sent back for alteration and then re-tabled at a later meeting. The minutes of 25 May 2011 were therefore not adopted. 

The meeting was adjourned.