Department of Science and Technology (DST) on 1st quarter 2011 performance: briefing

Science and Technology

30 August 2011
Chairperson: Mr N Ngcobo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Science and Technology reported to the Committee on its performance and expenditure for the first quarter of 2011/12. The Department had so far spent 41% of the budget. Its aim was to have spent 51% by now but unfortunately that had not happened. The Department was allocated R4. 4 billion for the 2011/12 financial year.

The Department then gave the overall theme of its strategic plan. For the next three years the Department would focus on three priority areas: research and development, human capital development, and infrastructure provision.

Members wanted to know about what was being done on bio-economy, about the role of the Chief Scientific Advisor, the difference between Centres of Excellence and Centres of Competence, research done on energy, how were Mpumalanga and Northern Cape going to benefit from the South African National Research Network (SANREN) if they did not have universities, and details on jobs created and to be created by the MeerKAT Karoo Array Telescope] Project.

Meeting report

Department of Science and Technology. [Progress on] Implementation of Strategic Plan 2011/12
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General: Department of Science and Technology (DST, the Department),  reported to the Committee on the Department's performance and expenditure for the first quarter of 2011/12. The Department had so far spent 41% of the budget. Its aim was to have spent 51% by now but unfortunately that had not happened. The Department was allocated R4. 4 billion for the 2011/12 financial year.

 Dr Mjwara focused his presentation on four key areas, namely: Research, Development and Innovation (RDI); International Cooperation and Resources (ICR); Human Capital and Knowledge Systems (HC&KS); and Socio Economic Partnership (SEP).

Research, Development and Innovation
Its main focus was to facilitate knowledge generation and exploitation through research and development in key priority areas such as space science, bio-economy and energy.

Of the targeted 220 students to be funded in space, bio-science and energy related research, 109 were supported through the South African Nuclear Human Asset Research Programme (SANHARP) – 82 undergraduates, three honours students , 20 masters students, and four Doctors of Philosophy (PhDs) students.

Thirty-eight people were trained in Intellectual Property (IP) rights and technology transfer specialised skills. The National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO) was fully operational, and the business case of NIPMO was still under review.

A number of new research and Centres of Competence (CoCs) had been supported in space, bio-science and energy related research. The research chairs were advertised by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and applications were being awaited. The Satellite Sensor CoC business case was being concluded; the sugar cane CoC was being investigated; a study for the industrial waste water CoC was being commissioned; and elements of the solar CoC were being funded.

Four new Offices of Technology Transfer (OTT) had been established and would be recapitalised by 31 March 2012.

The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) was fully operational. This meant that the strategic annual plans and shareholder compact had been signed by the Minister and funds transferred.
Thirteen proposals from technology-based enterprises for co-funding were being considered.

International Cooperation and Resources (ICR)
Its objective was to develop, promote and manage international relationships, opportunities, and science and technology agreements that strengthened the National System of Innovation (NSI).

R41 265 million of foreign science, technology and innovation (STI) funds had been leveraged. The funds were expected by the National Treasury and the DST. R12 million of South African and foreign funds had been spent on science and technology-based socio-economic development in Africa.

Of the 3 380 foreign participants targeted for the global knowledge and STI network, only 458 had been registered.

Human Capital and Knowledge Systems (HC & KS)
HC & KS were aimed at providing leadership in the creation of an innovative and competitive society with highly skilled human capital, cutting-edge knowledge and research infrastructure.

A number of teaching and training platforms had been established. An application for accreditation of the programme was submitted to the Department of Higher Education and Training and the Council for Higher Education in April.

Of the 2 500 researchers to be funded by 31 March 2012, 1 775 were already supported. A number of postgraduate research students had been supported: 561 Honours/Bachelor of Technology (BTech),  1 541 Masters, and 1 001 PhDs.

The first draft for the legislation of protecting and preserving indigenous knowledge had been completed by the internal committee and submitted to Legal Services for further legal opinion.

Annual performance plans for 2011/12 with targets for prototypes and publications aligned with annual targets had been approved.

Socio-Economic Partnership (SEP)
SEP enhanced growth and development priorities of Government through targeted science and technology interventions and development of strategic partnerships with other Government departments, industry, research institutions and communities.

Of the 400 targeted new jobs to be created for 2012, 277 had been created at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), 187 from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and 22 from Stellenbosch University.

The Africa Centre for Climate and Earth Systems Science (ACCESS) was in the process of identifying 336 postgraduate students to be funded or co-funded in designated niche areas of research annually.

Of the 1 753 targeted small and medium enterprises to receive technology support through the Technology Stations Programme, 573 had already received support.

Dr Mjwara concluded that the performance was satisfactory. Human capital development, knowledge generation and exploitation, infrastructure and Africa collaboration would remain key focus areas. Robust monitoring and evaluation systems were being put in place.

 (Please see presentation document for graphs and tables to explain expenditure per programme.)

Ms M Shinn (DA) wanted to know how the country was doing regarding research on energy, what was delaying bio-economy, and what was done to address high staff vacancies.

Dr Mjwara, on bio-economy, replied that the document was being finalised and would be ready by the end of September; its details would be presented to the Committee.

With regard to energy research, he said the Solar Road Map and Atlas Research was being concluded at the Universities of Cape Town and the Western Cape. The one in North West was taking time to get off the ground, but these centres were meant to work in tandem. Some overseas companies had contributed some funds towards these research units.

On the question of vacancies, he explained that posts not filled by July would be scrapped, especially those that had been vacant for long and that the Department was functioning normally without them being filled. But high level ones would be filled before the end of the year. Internal candidates, as an alternative, would be seconded if candidates were hard to find.

Ms H Line (ANC) asked how many jobs were created by the MeerKAT [Karoo Array Telescope] Project.

Dr Mjwara replied that the Department would compile statistics on jobs created and to be created and details would be sent to the Committee.

Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) enquired how Mpumalanga and Northern Cape were going to benefit from the South African National Research Network (SANREN) because they were without universities. She further asked about the influence of the foreign participants and what it entailed.

Dr Mjwara explained that it would not be a problem for Mpumalanga and Northern Cape to be connected to SANREN when they had universities. Links would be made with the big metros like Bloemfontein and Kimberley.

The foreign participants were brought here for information exchange, to ensure capacity was being developed, and to train people locally instead of sending them out in large numbers.

The Chairperson enquired about the difference between Centres of Excellence and those of Competence, the conditions that accompanied European Union (EU) funding, and the criteria for funding Masters and PhD students.

Dr Mjwara replied that Centres of Excellence focused on research capacity development and production. They were located in one institution whereas Centres of Competence consisted of various institutions, for example, industry, Government, and higher education institutes. They aimed for industrial development through Research and Development.

Regarding funding conditions, he explained the conditions entailed developing people, and that South Africa should work with South African Development Community (SADC) partners to develop researchers in universities. The National Research Foundation had been approached by the Ministry to provide a framework on deciding on funding for Masters and PhD students.

The Chairperson commented that he was concerned about these EU funding conditions because he was trying to make sure that South Africa was not made a testing ground for whatever trials these outside countries were conducting. Rather they should test things on their home ground because most of the time African countries were not invited when research programmes were started, but only considered for conducting trials.

Ms Shinn asked the Department to explain the role of the Chief Scientific Advisor, because it was a newly created position within the DST.

Dr Mjwara explained that the DST had been asked to develop a document on the role of the Chief Scientific Advisor. The Office of the Chief Scientific Advisor was to enable the Department to advise the Government on science and technology matters.  The project was still being explored.

Ms Dunjwa suggested that there should be a good number of learners from rural areas, peri-urban areas and townships during Science Week. In most cases learners who attended it come from Model C schools. She further noted there was no equivalent portfolio committee on science and technology at provincial level. The DST should help the Committee to make sure it was represented at provincial level, and not to leave science and technology matters to the Department of Basic Education alone.

The meeting was adjourned.


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