The Grand Challenge: Human and Social Dynamics in Development: update - Department of Science and Technology briefing; Committee draft programme and study tour

Science and Technology

07 March 2012
Chairperson: Mr N Ngcobo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Science and Technology was looking to make a contribution to facing the Human and Social Dynamics in Development Grand Challenge by making a contribution through higher education.  Universities, particularly those in rural areas, were being assisted in their mission of interacting with the communities in which they were situated.  Several Chairs were being supported while individual students were being assisted at various stages of their academic careers.  It was a challenge to attract bright young people into the scientific disciplines, and more of a challenge to retain them in the face of various social pressures.  Various science colloquia had been held to address social challenges.

Members were informed that there was a bias towards black and female students in the granting of support.  Members were encouraged by efforts to make science more exciting as a field of study.  They welcomed the focus on the rural areas and the role of universities in supporting the community.

Members approved the draft Committee programme. There was some concern over the attitude of some of the boards of entities under the Department.  Members were told that Parliament could now have a voice in the budget process.  Members discussed options for an overseas study visit.

Meeting report

Department of Science and Technology Human and Social Dynamics in Development Grand Challenge Briefing
Mr Imraan Patel, Deputy Director General, Socio Economic Partnership, Department of Science and Technology (DST) said that the information provided would inform the strategic plan to be presented at a later date.

Mr Sagren Moodley, Acting Chief Director (CD): Social Impact, DST, gave a history of the Science Plan.  The DST had engaged with the research and policy communities in drafting the plan.  It had been finalised in January 2011.  The DST needed to prioritise the research.  The Human and Social Dynamics in Development Grand Challenge (HSDD GC)  aimed to invest in socially and policy relevant research.  The DST wanted to foster and support research collaboration and to respond to the vulnerable and marginalised groups in society.

Mr Moodley said that the primary objectives of the HSDD GC were to inform policy making, generate new scientific knowledge, create research career pathways, contribute to addressing socio-economic problems, and to contribute to understand how science and technology influenced human behaviour.

Mr Moodley said that DST could only do so much.  Its function was to support the research and the science.  It was up to the line function departments to decide what to do with the research.  The innovation focus areas were science, technology and society; the dynamic of human and social behaviour; social cohesion and identity; and societal change and the evolution of a modern society.   The four themes provided the basis for a structured research agenda to improve the understanding of social conditions and issues.

Since January 2011, Mr Moodley continued, five Science Colloquia had been convened.  These were centred on Framing Migration Policy, held in Mafikeng in February 2011, knowledge economy and community renewal, held in East London during March 2011, spatial analysis and modelling platforms, held in Pretoria in July 2011, social aspects of climate change in a rural context, held in Polokwane in October 2011, and the benefits of land and agrarian reform for smallholder farmers and rural poverty, held in Cape Town in January 2012.  There were specific objectives in place.  Policy relevant interdisciplinary knowledge sharing had been enhanced.  They had been a showcase for cutting edge research at rural based universities.  They had stimulated ideas about research agendas and collaborations.  They were a platform for post graduate students to present papers and were an opportunity to forge close relations between higher education institutions (HEIs) and science councils.

Mr Moodley said that six Policy Briefs had been published.  Various policy dialogues had been held.  They were important forums for in-depth discussion. In terms of human capital development (HCD), over 200 honours, masters and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) students had been supported.  Twelve studentships and eight internships had been funded, and fifty honours and masters internships had been awarded.  An important programme was a community university partnership programme (CUPP) which had been piloted in four rural universities, namely Fort Hare, Limpopo, Venda and Zululand. There was a need for HEIs to become more socially responsive and accountable, and to be more responsive to community aspirations.  Highlights of the CUPP were 104 honours bursaries being awarded.  The University of Zululand had undertaken a programme to address food security.  The University of Fort Hare CUPP had been integrated into the Alice Regeneration Project.  In Venda, rural community decision-making platforms had been established..

Mr Moodley said that the HSDD GC had also funded the Distinguished Woman Researcher I the social sciences and Humanities category of the Women in Science Awards (WISA) and the equivalent award fro a young researcher.  In 2011 the winners were Professor (Prof) Aimee Stewart and Prof Pearl Sithole respectively.  The Integrated Planning and Development Modelling (IPDM) project was a web-based spatial analysis and modelling platform.  It made use of integrated communication technology (ICT) to analyse past, current and future development patterns and enhanced the geospatial evidence base Phase 1 of the IPDM would end in March 2012, and the DST had put a long term sustainability in place.

Mr Moodley said that seven HSDD, GC, SARChi (South African Research Chairs Initiative) Chairs had been established.  The themes for research were important.  There was a need to grow specific research areas, and universities had to absorb capacity.  The Social Science Chairs enabled the universities to make a better contribution to the broad policy targets encapsulated in the twelve government outcomes, the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF), the New Growth Plan (NGP) and the National Development Plan (NDP).  The DST had produced 31 scientific publications.  Ten three year directed research grants had been awarded.

Mr Moodley said that the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and National Research
Foundation (NRF) were important partners. He outlined the plans for next three years.  There was a need to attract bright minds to social research and to encourage young scholars to follow a research career.  They were also looking to groom and mentor young, black and female researchers through the internship and bursary programmes.  Policy dialogues would be held. Sixteen new SSH (Social Science and Humanities) Research chairs would be awarded in the following two financial years.  There would be a focus on rural innovation and there would be assistance to the 22 distressed municipalities.

The Chairperson said that information was needed before the budget votes. 

Dr J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) appealed to presenters to go through their content at a slower pace.  Members did not have the background and often got lost while trying to make notes.  Some of the acronyms used were not explained.

Ms S Plaatjie (COPE) asked about bursary allocations.  She asked if they worked with all or only certain rural universities.

Mr M Nonkonyana (ANC) was not clear on when the scholarship and learnership programme had started.  He was impressed by the third world bias.

Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) found it commendable that women were being encouraged to become involved in mathematics and science directions.  Two provinces did not have universities.  She asked how residents of Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape were accommodated.  She asked exactly what was meant by communities.  This could refer to the wider community, the communities served by the universities or the student community.  She found the presentation exciting.  She asked how the support being given to the relevant Departments was being appreciated.  She asked if there was capacity to sustain the support.

The Chairperson said that the last question was very interesting.  The programme was an important component of the DST.  In socialist countries no training could be completed without an understanding of the social dynamics of the profession being studied.  There had been talk of HCD for some time.  Social impact should be included in the programme relevant to the science and understanding component.  A former President of the NRF had produced a nice concept for a PhD project.  In the United States, a project had made a big impact.  The first challenge in South Africa was that many people were poor.  Many young graduates had potential to do research, but had to start earning as soon as possible to support a household.  There should be some form of stipend to encourage such people to continue their studies.

The Chairperson had not seen much impact himself. Many graduates were not being employed.  Companies preferred to use overseas consultants.  Many students were frustrated by this situation.  Many researchers were from the previously advantaged HEIs. He asked how the gap could be bridged.  The rural universities had a large basis of underprivileged students.  Black professors were not being appointed to research chairs and were looking for work in the private sector.

The Chairperson said that rural innovation was also of critical importance.  The DST was better placed to advise the Minister of Rural Development on relevant matters. The Department was designed to deal with science issues and to make scientific and technological issues accessible to all communities.  

Dr Kloppers-Lourens asked how Chairs were allocated to specific universities.  She asked who the figures and the topics had been reached.  She asked if the DST determined the research projects, or if this was done in collaboration with institutions and individuals.  The need to attract bright minds had been named.  She asked how such people were tracked.  She asked what post-doctoral research programmes had been identified.  More information was needed on research tools.

Mr Moodley said that in the allocations to rural universities, black and women students were the primary targets.  In the rural based universities, 100% of bursaries were allocated to black students.  There was a question of demographics.  In the Higher Education Institutes of South Africa (HEISA), a group of universities had identified themselves as needing support.  Not all had taken up the CUPP programme.  The four institutions were a pilot programme.  A decision would be taken at a later date on how this programmed could be expanded.  In Northern Cape and Mpumalanga, a science colloquium could be held.  There were satellite campuses of major universities in these provinces, so there was a base to work from.  In terms of accountability, a university had three missions: research, teaching and community involvement.  Service was part of every university.   Some universities were very productive and engaged and communities should make contact with them.  Municipalities were covered by Institute of Development and Policy Management (IDPM) such as the living laboratory in the Nelson Mandela Metropole. The DST would provide a written answer with more detail.  The Grand Challenge was only in place for a year and it was still early days to monitor its successes.  A close watch was needed.  The DST would  report on progress at later meetings with the Committee.

Mr Patel said that DST was responsible for a range of Chairs. There was a bigger SARChi programme supported by the DST.  CUPP was one of the programme.  The DST looked at HCD in very closely defined areas. The allocation of the 16 Chairs was dependent on funding.  Support strategy was needed and resources had to be provided.  The DST would define Chairs in broad terms.  People could apply for research projects.  There was a public process to select which ones would be funded.  There were generic specifications.  The DST would comment on value and on pure economic grants.  A sound theoretical basis was needed.  Blind reviews were conducted by overseas institutions.  The DST would hopefully be in a position to give more detail during later strategic plans discussions.  A big review was being done on SARChi and centres of excellence.

Mr Moodley returned to the research Chairs.  It was an open, competitive process.  The NRF put out a call for proposals but the DST framed the terms of reference and appointed evaluators.  20 % revolved around social issues.  Regarding the current round of new Chairs, rural based universities had received Chairs, with the University of the Western Cape (UWC) being the most successful.  The dynamics were changing.  It was now difficult to retain young researchers.  There was a need to support families and communities.  The internship programmes were providing students with monthly stipends and they could stay in programmes.  The Grand Challenge plan had identified areas for research.  Programmes were conceptualised at DST.  Projects were done by various bodies.  A rural evaluation tool had been developed to assist rural district municipalities as there was not a good sense of how dynamic innovations systems were.  There was a question as to whether they were being strengthened.
Mr Patel said that the rural innovations tool was very new.  It had only been finalised recently. The DST was working with the HSRC as well as looking at international examples.  It was a new area of work.  The current key priority was rural development.  Regarding post doctorate studies, there was a need to create significant research programmes.  There was an ongoing effort to increase the portion of the gross domestic product (GDP) going to this support programme.  This had been the case for last twelve to fourteen years. The DST had devised a range of interventions.  It wanted how to determine how long young people could create a career while staying in the system.  Young people needed to be retained in the system.  HCD was a huge challenge but a good instrument.  It was a very productive programme.  There was a need to create long term projects that would allow people to plan as a career.  The initiatives to entice the youth into scientific studies fell under a strategic plan managed by the DST's Programme 4.  The issue was being addressed.  He mentioned some Interesting innovations.  A nanocentre was being developed in Pretoria.  The DST wanted to see a lot more being done.  Promotion of science and engagement was being done.  People were fearful around a whole range of issues, especially nanotechnology.  There was also a question of dealing with transformation issues, but the balance was shifting slowly.  Global change was part of the Grand Challenge.  It was a challenge to identify focused interventions for previously disadvantaged institutions.  The programme was focused on rural universities.  Established universities had their resources.  There was a focus on risk and vulnerability capabilities in rural universities.  The programme would put rural universities in a stronger position to compete on merit.  Each thing had a purpose and value.  Balanced and collective effort building would create a strong innovation climate.  The DST was finalising its HCD strategy.  They had looked at previous efforts.  Work was under way, but it was too early to present on this.  He took notes of the comments made by Members and would simplify future presentations.

The Chairperson wanted to touch on two points.  India and China had been mentioned.  He had gone to Japan.  There, a paper had been presented on how China had managed rural innovation using a corporate system of innovation to industrialise and therefore innovate.  The process had proved to be very useful for China. He had invited an expert from China to present his outstanding paper on rural innovation.  The plan used people to innovate at every level.  Experts had been rounded up by India.  This was the reason why India was the new power state. Women engineers were needed.  Innovation had to reach down to grass roots level. Poor provinces such as the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Limpopo were in need of such programmes.

Mr Moodley said that the mission statements of each university included three key areas.  These were research, teaching and community development.  Service to community fell within the third area. Within the geographic boundaries the university body would be looking into community engagement.  However, this area was regarded as a Cinderella mission.  There needed to be monitoring and evaluation of community engagement.

Ms Dunjwa felt that this was an interesting area.  It was hard to find where someone who could monitor if universities were doing a good job.  Science was intimidating subject and few opted for it.  She asked how often the DST communicate with the community.  At the previous science week a profound point had been made about ladies working as organic mathematicians.  It was the responsibility of universities to inform the community that science was part of everyday life.  This was part of Parliament's oversight role.  The Departments of Basic and Higher Education needed to work with DST.

The Chairperson had been trained in the socialist countries.  In Western universities research areas focused on what the professors wanted.  Socialist universities would look into the needs of the community.  A university was there to serve the community and must look at regional requirements.  The interaction of philosophy with physics produced well balanced graduates.  He had not seen an element of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS).  He had attended a workshop at North West University where a lot had been discussed at how IKS should be integrated with all systems.

Mr Patel said that the DST was large and did incorporate an IKS unit.  In fact this was bigger than the Grand Challenge unit.  The Department did not operate in silos.  He would provide statistics at the different level for future engagements. 

Committee Draft Programme
The Chairperson said that a draft programme of activities had been distributed.  Once approved by the Committee it would be submitted to the House Chair.  Six entities were funded by the DST directly.  The Committee would try to extract important recommendations from earlier reports.

Ms Dunjwa said that there had been recommendations to improve work of the DST entities.  The wording in the draft programme that the Committee will exercise stricter oversight implied that this was not being done at present.  “More detailed” might be a better choice of words. 

The Chairperson agreed.  The Committee would always exercise strict oversight. 

Ms Dunjwa commented on the appointment of boards at state owned entities.  She asked if any boards fell under the control of the DST.

The Chairperson said there were none,.  The matter had been discussed at length in Parliament.  Al boards were governed by Parliament and should be covered by legislation.  There were three categories. The first category was those boards which were appointed in consultation with the Minister.  The second covered those boards that were appointed after consultation with the Minister.  The third category comprised those boards which were appointed by Parliament, for example the board of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).  The board of the HSRC was appointed in conjunction with the Minister and that of the NRF after consultation.  The HSRC board was fighting to prevent the Committee from having a say in their affairs.  There had been a similar situation when a previous Minister had been from a different party.   The Committee could not endure that situation again.

Ms P Mocumi (ANC) requested clarity on the aim of the Parliamentary Budget Office. 

The Chairperson said that there was intervention to allow the Committees to have an influence on budgetary allocations.  Previously this had been solely the competence of National Treasury.  Now the Parliamentary Budget Office could exercise an influence. The recommendations made by the Committee were taken into account.

Mr Nonkonyana asked if this allowed the Committee to lobby for funding.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would now have this role.  Members would need to look at the requirements of all entities.

Ms Dunjwa proposed that the Committee adopt the draft programme. 

Ms H Line (ANC) seconded the motion.  It was accepted.

Committee Study Tour

The Chairperson had held a meeting with the House Chair.  The Committee's study tour had been approved, but would only take place near the end of the approval period.  The Committee would be occupied with the budget votes until June.  Members needed to apply for their country of choice so that they could go in July.  South Korea was good choice.  By July that country would be finished with its election and nuclear summit meeting.  He suggested that the application be re-invigorated.  There was now prior authority and no need to reapply even if the application was for a new country.  The Committee had been invited by the ambassador of Bulgaria, but there was not much involvement with that country in science and technology.  The invitation was part of the celebrations of twenty years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.  The Chinese request was already initiated.  He asked Members for suggestions on where to go.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens suggested that Members travel to Korea via Bulgaria.

The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary to explore options.  If any Member was invited to a foreign country then all potential activities were to be listed.  Some visits could be funded from the local Committee budget.  Sometimes the Chairperson might be invited to an event with one or two Members.  There was a formula for deciding on the composition of the delegation in such a case.  There had been a case of Members feeling left out when not invited to an event.

The meeting was adjourned.


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