Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) Annual Report 2010/11; Science and Technology Budget Review and Recommendation Report: adoption; Committee's international trip 2012: briefing by researcher

Science and Technology

25 October 2011
Chairperson: Mr N Ngcobo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Academy of Science of South Africa was inaugurated in 1996 and was the country's official national Academy of science. It had two functions - the learners society function and providing advice on policy. It undertook several studies, some proactively, and others on request from interested individuals or organisations. It had concluded that even going forward it would be necessary to maintain that mix. I was also developing its policy advisory role and was not in conflict with other science councils but had a complementary role. Its Secretariat had grown rapidly but was reaching its peak.

The Academy wanted to be recognised as an entity of excellence through its various activities - promoting innovation and scholarly activity, effective and evidence-based scientific advice, interest and awareness of science education, and national, regional and international links. The Academy showed some of its publications and journals and explained how it distributed them.

The Academy had in 2010 moved to a new premises as the Department of Science and Technology had needed the space. The Academy had received an unqualified audit opinion, and could explain all other financial matters with ease. On the issue of patenting versus publishing the Academy said that, as long as patenting was efficient, individuals had to delay publishing their work until it was patented.

Members asked
if the research team also included non-members, the ratio of work done on request and on the Academy's own initiative, who the other stakeholders were, what the Academy's relationship to Government was, sought clarity on the Academy's being complementary to other science organizations,  why the secretariat had grown so quickly, why the Academy had  a Department of Science and Technology  contract rather than funding, asked if the Academy would conduct more specific studies on wind and solar energy, wanted to know the meaning of academic freedom, asked how the Academy separated volunteers and the commissioned researchers, why there were part-time staff and what they did do in the secretariat, what the impact in maths and science education had been, wanted clarity on the income from conferences, asked why money was refunded to the Shuttleworth Foundation, asked about the financial future of the Academy, about the Auditor General's observation that for the Academy to continue it needed donor support, wanted the Academy in future to give an analysis of staff composition by race, gender, and class, and suggested that in future delegations should be disallowed if there were no women amongst them. The Chairperson requested that slides be numbered in future for ease of reference, and said that the Academy's expenditure on salaries was unsustainable, asked why the Academy had relocated away from the Department of Science and Technology building, if it had they considered patenting versus publishing, and asked for the criteria for issuing scholarly awards.

From a list of seven countries - Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea - identified as possible destinations for its international trip 2012, the Committee favoured South Korea because of the co-operation on areas such as nano-technology, the forthcoming six nuclear stations, and space technology. Brazil - classified as a priority country by the Department of Science and Technology and with extensive areas of co-operation, including indigenous knowledge – was also favoured.  The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary to ascertain which countries were available before the Committee proceeded further.

The Budget Review and Recommendation Report was adopted. 

Meeting report

Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) Annual Report 2010/11: briefing
Professor Robin Crewe, President, Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) pointed out a typographical error on page 43, a heading to the financial statements which referred to the year ended 31 March 2010 instead of 31 March 2011. He explained ASSAf's functions - the learners society function and providing advice on policy. He also highlighted the vision of the organization as the apex organization for science and scholarship in South Africa (SA). He emphasized that ASSAf had included all scholarly disciplines since its foundation. It was important for the Academy to be internationally involved and respected, membership was to be an aspiration of the country’s active scholars in all fields and represent a resource which could be used to generate evidence-based solutions to national problems. The mandate was to promote and inspire outstanding achievements in all fields of scientific enquiry and to grant recognition for excellence, also undertake studies on matters of public interest to provide evidence-based scientific advice to Government and other stakeholders.

The Academy had been increasingly developing its policy advisory role which it did through several methods. The Academy had a complementary role to other science councils and it did not overlap. Its advice was independent, objective, based on volunteerism, based on rigorous analysis of evidence and peer review, multi-disciplinary and transparent. Another role was increasing its impact in the international world in engagements with a number of academies, it had been a member of the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC) and was the current chair of this network, it had also initiated and developed new academies within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and  had engaged with the Zimbabwean Academy with a potential to build an academy in Namibia, It was also building on the collaboration of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) with the academies of those respective countries.

The Academy was governed by a Council comprising 13 members, of whom 12 were elected from the
membership and one was appointed by the Minister as a representative of the National Advisory Council
on Innovation (NACI). The Academy had five office-bearers: the President, two Vice-Presidents, General Secretary and Treasurer.

The Council had three committees: an Executive Committee comprising the office-bearers that allowed
for decision-making on important matters in the intervals between Council meetings; and the Audit
and Human Resources Committees.

The Academy’s activities were guided by the ASSAf Act 2001 (Act No. 67 of 2001) and a set of established regulations.

During the reporting year, Council members had received growing support from the ASSAf secretariat through efficient administration, documentation and logistical arrangements, timely distribution
of Council meeting documentation and professional minute-taking. Full fiduciary responsibility for the
Academy’s reputation, integrity and financial probity was obtained.

The secretariat of the Academy comprised 21 staff led by an Executive Officer and supported by a Chief Operations Officer; the secretariat was operating effectively, ASSAf offices were in rented premises and the Council’s committee was meeting to address the need for a permanent building.

Professor Robin Crewe indicated the growth of the secretariat from 2003 to 2011 with the growth of the activities of the Academy. He then moved on to the goals and strategic priorities of the Academy which were: recognition and reward of excellence, promotion of innovation and scholarly activity , promotion of effective, evidence-based scientific advice, promotion of interest in and awareness of science education, promotion of national, regional and international links. Recognition and reward of excellence was by way of election to membership of the Academy: 16 distinguished new members were in 2010 inaugurated into ASSAf and
two ASSAf Science-in-Society Gold Medals were awarded.

Professor Wieland Gevers, Member of the ASSAf Council, continued by saying that the Academy annually invited distinguished visitors, for example, Prof Dr Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, Secretary-General of the Human Frontier Science Programme (HFSP), as the ASSAf Distinguished Annual Visiting Scholar, for a series of public lectures at six South African universities. His topics were “Interdisciplinarity and the Frontiers of the Life Sciences” and “The international Character of Science”. In the reporting year, ASSAf also hosted Professor Tom Cochrane from the University of Queensland to speak on the development of the open access paradigm in scholarly publishing at a public lecture in Pretoria. Prof Cochrane was Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Technology, Information and Learning Support) at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Regional lectures in collaboration with the Royal Society were offered on a regular basis throughout
2010/11 at the University of Cape Town and the ASSAf Annual Symposium on the topic of “The State
of the Humanities in South Africa: Status, prospects and strategies” was held in October 2010. It was at-
tended by approximately 100 delegates. The keynote address was delivered by Mr John Pampallis, a
special advisor to the Minister of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

The South African Journal of Science was an attempt to provide all SA citizens, scientists and scholars with a way of keeping abreast with cutting edge research and was and a forum for inputs into policy by scholars. The Journal served a multi disciplinary audience, it aimed to be the ‘Nature’ of the African Continent. Great strides had been made in ensuring that the Journal was published regularly and on time; six issues had been published in 2010/11. ASSAf had issued media briefs with the publication of each issue. ASSAf had an on-line management system and the business strategy was to expand the Journal.

Policy advisory activities had been expanded considerably. One of the key indicators of creating a knowledge society and a National System of Innovation (NSI) was publishing and peer reviewing of journal articles as well as patents and many other outputs. It had made recommendations that had been accepted by the DST and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DoHET). Scholarly publishing was at the heart of the Academy. Human capital in science and technology was the single biggest asset in promoting national development, and SA lagged similarly placed countries in the production of outputs.

ASSAf had produced scholarly books which were important for the humanities and social sciences and had made recommendations for a better peer review and an improved public policy and had formed a National Scholarly Book Publishers’ Forum. ASSAf also formed the National Scholarly Editors’ Forum which was in its fifth year and aimed to improve the standard of editing in SA; it was developing an on-line free scientific writing service which would be piloted in November 2011.

ASSAf recommended at the request of the Minister of Science and Technology the acquisition of a national license to the very expensive and high inflation sector of the core high impact journals. Brazil had obtained a licence for 200 higher research organisations to have free on-line access to 15 000 scientific journals in all fields.  ASSAf was working with Brazil on a programme to have an open access on-line electronic publishing platform for high quality SA journals, already had 20 journals, and was aiming for 180; it was a highly indexed system. A slide showed the growth on a monthly basis of the platform.

Dr Takalani Rambau, Liaison Manager, ASSAf, said that the Academy was hosting a national chapter for organizations for women in science in the developing world.

Prof Crewe explained consensus studies. Such studies were conducted by a panel and the panel would have to come to its conclusion after sifting the evidence based on a consensus and it generally led to a set of strong policy recommendations.

Prof Crewe explained forum studies in which the Academy would invite a group of experts to gather to discuss issues, make presentations, and exchange views on topics.

Studies were focused in three broad, strategically selected areas - Health, Environment and energy, and   were closely aligned with Government priorities. 

Prof Crewe displayed the nine forum studies that had been completed – the Academy had started preparing policymakers booklets; the first was in relation to some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on improving maternal, newborn and child health in Africa; the second was on improving energy access in sub-Saharan Africa; the third was an inquiry-based science education for girls in sub-Saharan Africa. The Academy had also produced a number of statements and had recently started another intervention - policy commentaries and had been asked to comment on the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricity and had put a panel together to make comments and recommendations about future IRPs.

These studies were on different time scales as a consensus study took 12 – 18 months to complete. The forum study could be done in a shorter period. 

The Quest: Science for South Africa magazine was targeted at senior learners in the secondary schools  as well as at universities. It was designed to showcase SA research. The Academy was printing 25 000 copies per issue distributed to 560 Dinaledi schools with 10 per school and 4 100 to public schools with science departments with three per school.

Dr Rambau said that the Academy had formal agreements with several academies including the Uganda National Academy of Sciences (UMAS), Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS). ASSAf also had informal collaborations with countries like Brazil, India, and Kenya.  ASSAf was the president of NASAC, was part of the Science for Society Forum of Presidents of Academies which was hosted in Japan, and of the Human Rights Network of Academies and Science Academies. It also participated in the African Science Development Initiative and had hosted a conference for it.

Mr Morakeng Malatji, Financial Manager, ASSAf, highlighted two areas in the section of income as there was a huge difference between 2010 and 2011, and explained reasons. The Academy's auditors gave an unqualified opinion with emphasis of matter. The Academy's existence was dependent on the continued support of its donors, by way of grants. Donors had agreed to continue supporting the Academy in 2011/12. ( 'Going concern', paragraph 14, page 57).
(Please see Annual Report, pages 43-57.)

Prof Crewe acknowledged that in relation to representation the Academy would have to look at different mechanisms to ensure that appropriate balances in membership were acquired in relation to discipline, race and gender representation.

Mr P Smith (IFP) asked if the research team also included non-members, the ratio of work done on request and on the Academy's own initiative, who the other stakeholders were, what the Academy's relationship to Government was, sought clarity on the Academy's being complementary to other science organizations,  why the secretariat had grown so quickly, why the Academy had  a Department of Science and Technology  contract rather than funding, asked if the Academy would conduct more specific studies on wind and solar energy, wanted to know the meaning of academic freedom.

Professor Crewe said that in general the Academy used primary research in order to provide its evidence-based advice and that was one of the clearest ways to distinguish what the Academy did and what the other institutions in the NSI did. It would always be a mix of proactive and studies on request. The proactive studies arose from recommendations by individuals or committees. The number of studies was determined by the capacity of the Secretariat which had grown strongly. The growth of the secretariat was in relation to creating the capacity to service the studies and the scholarly publishing programme.

ASSAf has a strong relationship with the DST as it was responsible for the Academy and via the DST it had been trying to reach the other departments to share what the value of the Academy was. The commentary on the IRP had indicated some of that value. The scholarly programme was done on the basis of a contract and was raised under the recommendations of the first study but had been converted onto the core funding that the Academy received. The Academy could undertake the narrow studies but would require an indication from the individuals seeking that advice on what the nature of the advice might be. An example was the study on nuclear safety and it was important for the Academy to be involved in that regard.

Professor Gevers said as a member of the global network of science academies ASSAf took part in the development of statements generated internationally and the statement that identified academic freedom as an international requirement not just in SA for the development of scientific ideas and scientific progress. The statement was issued in SA on behalf of the global network. The Academy would contemplate issuing a national statement if seen to be necessary.

Ms M Shinn (DA) wanted to know how the Academy separated volunteers and the commissioned researchers, who determined what they were going to study in terms of their proactive studies, why were there part-time staff and what did they do in the secretariat, what had been the impact in maths and science education, how were the policymakers’ booklets being distributed, wanted clarity on the income from conferences, asked what the relation was with NACI, wanted more information on the appointment of a scientific advisor to Government, asked why money was refunded to the Mark Shuttleworth Foundation, and asked about the financial future of the Academy.

Professor Crewe replied that some of the studies were proactively developed like the HIV/AIDS study. Other studies were requested and the Academy had to develop a track record of providing quality advice. The cost of the studies was the direct cost of the Secretariats’ time in supporting them. There were also the costs of the individuals who did particular studies on behalf of panel members.  The panel members who sifted the evidence and approved the final study were not paid for the time they gave input on those panels. The panels operated by reaching a consensus since they had divergent interests and the IRP was interesting as members of the panel had different opinions. The part-time staff included editors and sub-editors for the journals and they would always be part-time. The only way to measure the impact of what the Academy did would be through the implementation of the recommendations. The Academy participated in conferences that related to Academy matters.  On occasion NACI had requested the Academy to investigate some issues. There was a NACI representative on the Council.  There had had discussions about a scientific advisor to the Government and the view was taken that the Academy could fulfill that role fairly effectively.

Mr Malatji said that the Academy had been given a grant by Shuttleworth Foundation for a particular activity and in undertaking it it discovered that the landscape had changed and therefore the focus had shifted and the Academy then referred back to the Shuttleworth Foundation to get permission to use the funds given that the landscape had changed. The Foundation had asked that the remaining funds be sent back.

Ms P Mocumi (ANC) noted that the Academy depended on donor support and if there were no donations what contingency plans were in place?

Professor Crewe replied that the activities of the Academy were determined by the funding that would be available at a given time and the costs of undertaking the study would be borne by the individuals who were commissioning the study. There were a number of strategies that the Academy was in the process of developing. These were not in the annual report. The Academy was developing a number of communication strategies, increasing its interaction with Government departments, and looking at different ways of nominating members. 

Ms Mocumi asked about the African Union-Third World Academy of Sciences (AU-TWAS) award.

Prof Crewe replied that the negotiations had been completed and the award had been made in 2011 and it had involved the Academy, the DST and TWAS.

Ms L Dunjwa (ANC) wanted to know whom the Academy defined as the general public, what was the criteria for visiting institutions of higher learning as there were two provinces whose institutions had not been visited, wanted ASSAf in the future to give a breakdown of staff composition in terms of race, gender, class, etc, was not happy with the gender balance even at the meeting and suggested that in future delegations should not come and make presentations if there were no women amongst them.

Professor Crewe said the gender composition was going to be different since the Executive Officer, Professor Roseanne Diab, had had to go to USA as part of an important panel. He apologized for her absence. The Academy engaged with the general public through the media and publications.  The visits had   been discussed at one of the Council meetings. The difficulty was that the individuals had limited time  to visit other than the major centres conveniently accessible by South African Airways (SAA).

The Chairperson emphasized that the Academy should number its  power point presentations for ease of access. He said that the expenditure on salaries was unsustainable going forward, wanted to know why the Academy had relocated away from the DST building, if it had  considered patenting versus publishing, wanted to know the criteria for issuing their scholarly awards, and wanted to know more about the nature of the Academy.

Professor Crewe replied that ASSAf was based on providing policy advice and other academies had other functions such as funding while others had a more expanded function like in Russia and China where they ran research units and councils and in some case even companies. The DST had demands for the space that the Academy was occupying. Efficient patenting took six months.  All that would be required was a delay in publication rather that a withholding of publication.  Individuals were not free to go to conferences and present information; they would need to take out a patent which took six. Before any work was commercialized it needed to be published so that investors could evaluate it.

Committee's International trip 2010: briefing by the researcher
Ms Rene Orsborne-Mullins, Committee Researcher, highlighted some of the salient points of the study from the seven identified countries which were Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.

In Australia the main body was the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and currently its priorities were in marine science and climate, space and astronomy and future industries in biotechnology and nano-technology. There had been co-operation with Australia since 2006, however DST did not consider it to be a high priority at present. There were extensive linkages in the field of higher education; the priority areas of co-operation were innovation management, biotechnology, low-carbon energy, climate change, especially in the Southern Indian Ocean, natural resource management, bio-diversity and water, and humanities and social sciences.

In Brazil the Ministry of Science and Technology was responsible for national policy on scientific technology and its two main agencies were the Financing Body for Studies and Projects and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development: both had their respective research units. The strategic priorities for Brazil were to expand the science and technology system, promote technological innovation in enterprises, pursue research and development in information and communications technologies (ICT), health products, bio-fuels, agribusiness and nuclear programme, and pursue science and technology in social development. There had been an agreement with Brazil since 2003 but it remained unimplemented until 2008. Brazil was classified as a priority country by DST with extensive areas of co-operation, namely agro-processing, industrial technologies, biodiversity, biotechnology, energy, environmentally friendly technologies, ICT, materials research, space science and astronomy, and indigenous knowledge.

China has been implementing a range of programmes since the 1980s:  the key ones were its Key Technologies Research and Development Programme, National Hi-Tech Research and Development Programme, and National Basic Research Programme. There had been co-operation since the late 1990s in biotechnology, ICT, new materials and advanced manufacturing technologies, traditional medicines and sustainable management of environmental resources. China was a priority country of the DST.

Japan had the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) which fell under the direct jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. There had been co-operation since 2003.  Japan was prioritized as a strategic partner by DST. The current areas of priority were life sciences, environment and climate change, energy research, human capital development, material science and nano-technology and SA received a substantial amount of investment from Japan.

Malaysia had a Ministry of Science and Technology and Innovation. The National Council for Scientific Research and Development was an advisory body comprising of representatives from both public and private sectors with the main function of providing advice and direction on science and technology policies and priorities for the country. There were no science and technology agreement between SA and Malaysia. the DST stated that it had no interest in pursuing such an agreement. Should it do so the areas of co-operation would be biotechnology, nano-technology, photonics, ICT and innovation.

Singapore currently had a five year technology plan; the plan was divided between the Agency for Science, Technology and Research for the public sector and the Economic Development Board for the Private Sector. The national approach has been to cluster key research agencies geographically to provide a national knowledge hub with ties to international institutes. The two key areas were ICT and biomedical. There was no co-operation agreement between SA and Singapore, and Singapore was not interested in working with SA.

South Korea's Ministry of Science and Technology was responsible for formulating and implementing science and technology policy in South Korea. It had several programmes and was a priority partner of the DST  since 2004. Current areas of co-operation were space science and astronomy, nuclear energy, biotechnology, nano-technology, innovation and hydrogen fuel.


Ms Dunjwa suggested Brazil and Australia in order of priority.

The Chairperson was impressed with South Korea because of the co-operation on areas such as nano-technology, the forthcoming six nuclear stations, and space technology.

Mr Smith agreed on South Korea but asked that the Chairperson consider the weather. He was against Brazil as he thought that too many delegations had visited that country already. If a warm country was preferred, he would suggest Australia. He suggested a combination of countries and urged Members to take a decision quickly for fear of missing the deadline, as the trip was scheduled for January.

Ms Shinn put Brazil first, and South Korea second..

Ms Mocumi seconded Mr Smith's proposal of a combination of countries.

Ms Ndlazi suggested that the Committee's management sub-committee should decide from the Committee's shortlist.

Ms Orsborne-Mullins said that Brazil was the first choice of three Members South Korea was the first choice of two members and the second choice of one member; therefore Brazil seemed to be ahead,  according to Members' first and second choices.

The Chairperson said that a decision had to be made. There must be an order of priority to be used when a country was unreceptive. He then said that South Korea was the more popular,and asked Ms Isaacs to find out which countries were available, before the Committee approached the House Chairperson.

Budget Review and Recommendation Report: adoption
The Chairperson said that the Report should include reference to the invitation to professors fr om the University of the Western Cape. The Report was required because of budget implications, and must guide National Treasury where to focus, and increase, funding. In particular, he referred to the South African National Space Agency (SANSA).

Mr Smith suggested corrections.

Ms Isaacs asked Members to guide her in what to put in the report.

However, the Committee then resolved that the Report would be submitted as it was, subject to revision if National Treasury had cause to refer back to the Committee.

The Budget Review and Recommendation Report was, therefore, adopted. 

The meeting was adjourned.


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