Department of Science & Technology 2012 Annual Performance Plan, Square Kilometre Array bid update

Science and Technology

18 April 2012
Chairperson: Mr N Ngcobo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) tabled the Annual Performance Plans for 2012, and outlined its strategic goals. These included ensuring innovation capacity of the National System of Innovation (NSI), enhancing generation of knowledge, and developing appropriate science, technology and innovation human capital to meet the needs of society. South Africa must also build a world class Science and Technology (STI) infrastructure and position itself as a strategic international Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) partner and destination. These goals were premised on the White Paper of 1996, which introduced the concept of the NSI, and on the emphasis on science needing to be used to impact upon socio-economic conditions in the country. The DST also outlined its challenges. Although it hoped that research and development (R&D) should be about 1% of gross domestic product, this had not yet been achieved. Inter-departmental governance and cooperation remained a challenge, as the DST, although it could make suggestions, could not implement them for other departments or sectors. There was a need to improve the generation of knowledge, although there was some progress. There remained problems in accessing sufficient numbers and quality of human capital, and in reaching a good racial, gender and demographic balance. More could be done on working with the private sector and in partnerships with other government institutions, industry, and higher education, and this included the need for more work on commercialisation of pilot studies and activities, and more attention had to be paid to improving the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA). The Department had not been particularly successful in developing provincial innovation systems, and in certain sectors.

However, on the positive side, the development of Centres of Competence and Centres of Excellence had resulted in an increase in the number of Masters and doctoral students, and there were now more research chairs. 20 000 honours, masters and PhD students were supported, with 1 960 postgraduate students being supported as interns in the work environment, and over 8 000 researchers supported though National Research Foundation programmes. DST was pleased with efforts on intellectual property and would continue to develop patents and prototypes and to continue to support small and medium enterprises. The budget allocations had increased, and there had been 98% spending in the previous year. DST suggested further briefings to the Committee on the TIA, the Centres of Competence, and commercialisation efforts, as well as strategies to improve spending on R&D.

Members expressed their disappointment that the Committee had not been invited to the launch of a new cooperation agreement with Germany, asked for details of that agreement, outlined the challenges that had been reported to the Committee in regard to TIA and asked if the DST noted similar or different issues, and were concerned that TIA may have misunderstood its mandate. They asked about funding, and whether South Africa was regarded as a developmental or developed state in the S&T arena. They enquired about difficulties in provincial innovation, and in agriculture, and requested further clarity on the number of students supervised by grant holders, bursaries granted, and on statistics around black South Africans and foreign black grant and bursary holders. The difference between Centres of Competence and Centres of Excellence was described in more detail. The jobs to be created under the MeerKAT project were also examined, and DST was asked about its communication strategies.

The DST then gave a brief update on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) bid, noting that the competing countries, Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa, had given input on a meeting in Manchester on 9 March, after the SKA Site Advisory Committee report was presented. Issues raised were then referred to the Chair of the Site Advisory Committee and Site Selecting Group, and were addressed at a meeting of the SKA Board on 19 March. On 4 April the SKA Organisation members were to decide how to react, and they had decided to refer matters to a scientific working group, to look at investments made by the candidate countries. It was possible either for one country to win the bid outright, or for a joint award, although the relevant Ministers were not entirely in favour of this. Another meeting at end May would receive that full report. Members asked for clarity on the possible options and the question of investment by the governments.

Members noted that the principle of an international study tour to Korea in July had been approved, but approval was awaited on the funding, and on the addition of Bulgaria to the tour schedule, since the Committee had been invited there. Further enquiries were being made as to whether Bulgaria was prepared to finance any visit to that country. The Committee also noted the request from the Minister, to approve the new National Research Foundation board and Chair appointments, and it was noted that five Members would be participating in a conference on climate change in Rio de Janeiro.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed Prof S Mayatula (ANC) as a new Committee member.

Department of Science and Technology (DST) Annual Performance Plan 2012-2013
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director General, Department of Science and Technology, apologised for the inability of the Minister and Deputy Minister to attend. He noted that the Department had assessed its key priorities, challenges, and had noted the need to focus more attention on monitoring and evaluation capabilities, and the impact that the Department of Science and Technology (DST or the Department) was making.

He outlined the strategic goals of the DST, noting that these included:
- ensuring it had innovation capacity, through the National System of Innovation (NSI);
-enhancing the DST’s own ability to generate knowledge within the system;
- developing appropriate science, technology and innovation human capital to meet the needs of society;
-building a world class Science and Technology Infrastructure (STI); and
-positioning South Africa as a strategic international Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) partner and destination.

He noted that the White Paper of 1996 started to introduce the concept of the NSI, and also shifted the focus to how science could impact on the country, to achieve improvement in socio-economic conditions. In 2002 DST introduced a Research and Development (R&D) strategy and identified Science and Technology missions, which included biotechnology, ICT, advanced manufacturing and astronomy. In 2004, the Department introduced a new strategic model, defining what work it did in relation to other departments. In 2006 the Department was subjected to the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Review, allowing the Department to benchmark its NSI in relation to other systems of innovation. A Ten Year Innovation Plan was developed. This proposed the introduction of a knowledge-based economy, and identified some grand challenges, which were presently being implemented, such as the introduction of the Technology Information Agency (TIA), the South Africa National Space Agency (SANSA), and legislation on public finance institutions.

The National Research and Development Strategy (NERDS) rested on three pillars of ability to innovate, addressing human capital development, both for research and students, and creation of an effective government STI system and infrastructure. NERDS also identified technology missions and science platforms and also proposed a target of 1% of Gross Domestic Product expenditure on R&D.

The Strategic Management Model introduced in 2004 provided guidelines for the work of the DST. It proposed that DST should take the lead in the emerging areas such as biotechnology and nanotechnology, and should also partner with other departments in areas such as health, agriculture, minerals and minerals processing, as well as understanding, but not being involved in, standard technology based services, such as the Weather Service.  

The Ten-Year Innovation Plan, which introduced the transition to a knowledge-based economy (KBE), introduced the concept of the five Grand Challenges and picked up issues identified in the NRDS. These included ensuring that DST managed Intellectual Property (IP). He noted that the IPR Act for Publicly Financed Institutions had since been enacted, and a National Intellectual Property Office (NIPO) was set up in Pretoria. Offices of Technology Transfer (OTTs) had been set up, and DST had piloted five or six Centres of Competence (CoCs) as a means of bringing university science councils and the private sector to work together, to pursue opportunities that could create global market for South Africa.

Dr Mjwara then outlined the challenges. He noted that the DST was not yet meeting the percentage target for R&D. Governance and coordination of the system remained problematic, but had to be addressed if the work of DST was to make an impact in all sectors. There were challenges, despite some progress, in knowledge generation and exploitation of capability. The ability to work with the private sector was also sometimes problematic, although the DST was doing quite well on international funding, and had targets for leveraging of overseas funding. There were ongoing challenges of human capital, both in terms of quantity and quality. Some progress was made, although inequalities still remained, on race, gender, and regional/institutional distribution. More had to be done on partnerships with government, industry and higher education institutions (HEIs). The DST had to focus more on systems monitoring and evaluation. Although DST had a range of activities in pilot stages around poverty alleviation, and prototypes, these still had to be commercialised. The TIA was running, but needed more funding, and more expertise had to be provided to HEIs, to ensure that technologies developed were commercialised.

He noted that DST had not been successful in developing Provincial Innovation Systems, but was working with provinces to ensure that they focused on innovation. Innovative work in agriculture and forestry was a difficulty.

The Minister of Science and Technology had recently announced an additional 62 Research Chairs, making a total of 151, although the target was 200. This had helped DST to ensure that it did have the research capacity it needed to develop the people. There were currently seven Centres of Excellence, with another two to be added, including the Applied Climate Centre for Science Systems (ACCESS).

Dr Mjwara explained the student training and supervisory capacity. The number of Masters students supervised by those holding Research Chairs was almost double the number supervised by ordinary National Research Fund (NRF) grant holders. That was designed so that Research Chair holders could be freed up from some teaching to focus on the research students. The same trend applied to Doctoral students per grant holder. The numbers of CoEs had enabled a reasonable increase in the number of Masters and post Doctoral students supervised and trained at the CoEs, with steady increase in the number of graduates. The number of scientific outputs and published papers had grown, a good sign, but this was not yet equal to the desired rate globally, and South Africa would have to increase its efforts here if it wanted to be a global leader.

Dr Mjwara gave a comparison of South Africa’s performance in biotech, to international output, based upon normalised GDP. South Africa, although doing quite well, fell short of India, Kenya and Russia. Government investment in biotech was 76, compared to Brazil 1 475. South Africa had a S&T workforce of 40 000, compared to 8 million in India and 1.8 million in Switzerland. However, those 40 000 people in South Africa produced 126 biotech publications, compared to 45 produced by 80 000 people in Cuba, which was laudable.

Dr Mjwara outlined other recent achievements (see attached presentation for full details), including:
- Underwater 3D imaging sonar for safer shipping corridors and coastlines (CSIR)
- 410 smart-design houses equipped with solar geysers, rainwater harvesting tanks and a photovoltaic lighting system, with battery back-up for two days
- Establishment of an African Traditional Medicines (ATM) laboratory at University of KwaZulu Natal - - Development of prototypes for diabetes, opportunistic infectious diseases and HIV/AIDS, and products for healing of diabetes
Establishment of the Fermentation Technology and Innovation biotech company was established.

He also outlined some selected targets. DST was working on MeerKAT to upscale to 64 dishes, and this would hopefully create 400 construction jobs in the Northern Cape. DST hoped to have between 15 and 24 new products developed for commercialisation, and 15 new technology based enterprises supported through TIA. It hoped to leverage R520 million of foreign funds into the system, and to have 1 500 South African students participating in collaborative activities with DST partners.

He noted that South African and foreign funds spent on S&T, based on socio-economic development in Africa, was R165 million.

The Human Capital development targets for 2012 to 2015 included supporting approximately 20 000 honours, masters and PhD students, or ideally more. 1 960 postgraduate students were supported as interns in the SETI work environment. 8 100 researchers were supported through NRF managed programmes, and 85 academic and research sites were connected. There was a challenge to connect universities from the main site in the metros. Some rural universities were also connected to that network. DST hoped to continue its research equipment grants; and ensure legislation for the protection and preservation of indigenous knowledge. It would continue to develop patents and prototypes and to support small and medium enterprises, with support from the technology stations supported by TIA. It aimed for 37 peer-reviewed scientific publications and 165 scientific and technical papers accepted for publication.

He tabled the budget, noting that it was based upon numbers from National Treasury. There was modest growth. All programmes’ activities were growing. 41% of the budget went to Human Capital, 23% to Research Development and Innovation, as well as socio-economic partnerships, and 4% to Departmental activities. 2% of the previous budget was not spent.

Dr Mjwara said that gross expenditure on R&D, as a percentage of GDP, was approximately 0,95% in 2006/07, had slowed to 0.92% in 2008/9 and could even have fallen to 0.9% in 2009/10, instead of rising to 1%, as anticipated. This was quite low.

DST had high-level outputs for monitoring and evaluation, and had put in place measures to try to ensure the achievement of the objectives, including detailed operational plans, quarterly targets, and monitoring. The Committee would be receiving presentations from the DST’s seven entities over the next two days. Most of the institutional instruments were in place for the NSI, but there was a need to bring industry closer to the DST’s work. He suggested that it would be useful for the Committee to receive a separate briefing on experiences of the DST in working with the private sector in the Centres of Competence. He also noted the need for better coordination of work in the public entities in the NSI. DST wanted to intensify efforts on commercialisation, and funding was needed to get many worthy prototypes that would have significant socio-economic impact into the commercial domain, to avoid South Africa losing its competitive edge. It would like to work with a range of other government departments and other implementing agencies. Monitoring and evaluation systems must still improve. In this year, the NIPMO should provide disclosure on inventions at universities and Offices of Technology Transfer, which would measure whether innovation capacity was improving. The DST was working, with the Minister, to develop a financing strategy for the National System of Innovation.

The Chairperson questioned why the list of public entities did not include the National Advisory Committee (NACHI), and why no reports were received on it.

Mr Thulani Mavuso, Chief of Staff, DST, said that this was not a stand-alone entity, but operated as a component of the Department, and did not have its own budget. It continued to advise the Minister, and should continue to present to the Committee.

Ms Renee Osborne-Mullins, Parliamentary Researcher, noted that no separate report had been given by this entity in the previous year, and she had since been told that there had apparently been a problem with the service provider printing the report. An electronic version of the Annual Report had been sent to Parliament, and a hard-copy version would be available in two weeks time. She was not told why it had not followed the standard process for presenting reports to Parliament in the previous year.

The Chairperson noted that if the entity was unable to present its report on time, it should have written to the Speaker, outlining the reasons, and present the report through the correct channel of the Speaker.

The Chairperson noted that the new science and technology cooperation with Germany was very important but it was disturbing that the Portfolio Committee was not informed of this, nor invited to the launch; it had to read about it in the media.

Dr Mjwara responded that the invitations were sent via a service provider, who had not sent out all invitations as requested. He apologised for the oversight.

Prof Thomas Auf der Heyde, Deputy Director General: Human Capital and Knowledge Systems, DST, confirmed that in view of the logistics, the organisation of the event was outsourced, and this matter would be followed up He too added his sincere apologies and assured the Committee that invitations for other events would be given to the Committee.

The Chairperson stressed that it was a huge omission, and unfortunate that the Committee hear about this only through media reports, although the Deputy Minister had notified him about the developments and had said that invitations would be sent. The Minister was very concerned that the Committee was excluded.

Ms J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) asked for a brief summary on the new relations with Germany.

Prof Auf der Heyde explained that Germany was the third most important international partner of DST, after the United States (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK). In 2011, Germany had proposed to the DST that a Germany-South Africa Year of Science be established to celebrate bilateral relations in science and technology. Germany had launched similar years of science with other key strategic partners, including India, China, Israel and Egypt. In this year, various events would be held, such as workshops, exhibitions of research materials and outputs. The thematic priorities included climate change, human capital development, and urbanisation, and events would be clustered around these themes. The project list was presently being finalised, and could be presented in a few weeks time. He stressed that the Committee should be involved in the events, to take place in a year’s time, in Germany.

The Chairperson asked whether the DST participated in the Euro Science Forum, who would be meeting in July in Durban. Some South African professors were members of that Forums. The Astronautical Congress also wanted twelve students in astro-related science from South Africa for the next congress in Italy in Naples, so the DST should start to look into this.

The Chairperson asked for more information on Technology Innovation Agency, particularly the challenges between business and research, the role of TIA, and whether it was working.

Dr Mjwara responded that TIA was relatively new and it would take three to five years to become fully operational. It was formed from seven entities, into an agency that must deal with different issues and cultures, and focus its activities on DST priorities. DST had met with TIA to address some of the financial issues highlighted by the Auditor-General (AG) and also to discuss key focus areas. The Ministerial Review Committee also had some recommendations on TIA, and he suggested that this be considered in a separate meeting, when the DST could brief the Committee more fully on the challenges.

The Chairperson said it was important for the Committee to know what those challenges were, as some issues had been raised directly to the Committee, and it was necessary to confirm that the parties were addressing the same matters.

Dr Mjwara explained that one challenge was the adverse finding on financial matters. However, the Chief Financial Officer of DST had been working with the Chief Financial Officer of TIA, through the Corporate Services division, to address internal controls and risk. One of the key issues was that TIA had inherited previous entities funded by other bodies, and consolidated financial statements were needed. The DST colleagues were helping TIA also to report on the balanced scorecard, and on its financial sustainability, its staff, and learning in the organisation.

Another issue was concerned with the analysis of the investments inherited from the entities, and whether these should be retained, taken to the next level, and what new investments were to be targeted. DST had also interacted with TIA on its Annual Performance Plans, and the key focus of TIA to work, in the main, with publicly-funded institutions, and OTTs, to identify innovation and take it to the next level of funding by other funding agencies, such as Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).  He recommended that a joint presentation could perhaps be given by DST and TIA.

The Chairperson said that the Committee was aware of at least four challenges. There had been criticisms that TIA seemed not to know what it was supposed to be doing. TIA was not supposed to concentrate on research, and it was also not supposed to concentrate on fields that fell within the purview of the Department of Trade and Industry, but should instead be a tool to move research and development into commercialisation, and act as a “bridge”. He suggested that the DST needed to monitor what TIA should be doing.

Dr Mjwara agreed, saying that there seemed to be some doubt as to the mandate.

Ms S Plaatjie (COPE) also expressed her concern that the Committee was not involved in the launch, noting that Members had to inform their constituents of what was happened. She asked if there were specific areas targeted for pilot centres.

Mr Imraan Patel, Deputy Director General: Socio-Economic Partnerships, DST, noted that DST was, in Kleinmond, working with the provincial government and the City Council to introduce new technologies. Whilst DST was not responsible for developing houses, and contractors attended to building the houses, DST nonetheless had effectively shown how to introduce more energy-efficient technology. It was currently also working with the Department of Human Settlements to consider what had to be done to factor energy efficiency into long- term housing development. This was a prime example of how learning could be implemented in a practical way. There was a broad range of sustainable livelihood type projects. This included using agronomy techniques to assess what plants might be most suitable in an environment, and sustainable methods of aquaculture. Sites where value could be derived would be identified when entities approached the DST, and funding was given. Once the DST started the project, it would then be taken over to ensure sustainability and opportunity for growth. DST spent time working with provincial growth and development agencies, and would use its influence in respect of rural or agricultural development, or water development. A successful project in Limpopo was run on the beneficiation of tea grown in the area. He emphasised that the role of DST was not to roll out, but to investigate and demonstrate new approaches and successful rollout solutions.

Ms Plaatjie was not sure that this answered her question.

Dr Mjwara added that the DST had, as outlined by Mr Patel, piloted a number of initiatives for poverty alleviation, but where the pilot projects needed now to be rolled out more widely, DST was not empowered to do so (as it could not, for instance, roll out housing projects) nor to choose where this could be done. DST had to work with other departments, and should be saying to them that this was the technology that DST endorsed. Fish farming for Abalone was an important programme for the Province of the Western Cape, and DST would like to see it rolled out, but DST had neither the mandate, nor resources, to do this itself, although it could suggest the best way in which it could be one.

Ms P Mocumi (ANC) and Ms Kloppers-Lourens said the document was not reader-friendly.

Dr Mjwara apologised for the layout. However, he explained that the three framework models were listed as types 1, 2 and 3. He noted that although the DST was doing reasonably well in biotechnology, it needed to review the way in which the DST role in relation to other departments was defined. If the DST was required to have an R&D strategy in support of every aspect of other departments’ work, but this was not agreed upon by that other department, there was nothing to allow the DST to proceed. The Ministerial Review Committee, however, had made proposals on governance of S&T, and horizontal and vertical integration systems that would achieve the greatest impact, including in the provinces.

Ms Mocumi noted the challenges the Department faced but strategies to address those challenges were not mentioned in the presentation document.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked why the 1% investment in R&D could not be reached.

Dr Mjwara responded that the Performance Agreement signed between the President and Minister specified that a strategy should be produced to increase the investment to 1.5% by 2014. That strategy document was near finalisation. GDP had grown, perhaps faster than investments earmarked for R&D, bearing in mind that the figures were calculated on a ratio of investment against GDP. The private sector continued to invest, but proportionate increases did not keep pace with the rate at which the public entities had to grow. When the strategy was finalised, it could be shared with the Committee.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked what the obstacles were to international funding.

Prof Auf der Heyde responded that other countries were now tending to regard South Africa not as a development partner but as a member of the emerging economy and an equal partner, in science and technology and other domains, although some international partners did still recognise its development role. The impact of that dual approach was that the amount of funding available to a development partner country was decreasing, but in science and technology, South Africa was being allowed access to larger and more substantive research cooperation and activities with its partners on an equal footing. The international funding to be leveraged in future was falling, as a result of the change in status. Additionally, the international financial crises had impacted significantly on bilateral relations with some countries, and could continue to do so. DST had seen some international partnership initiatives being postponed or cancelled for lack of funding. Access to collateral funding was to some extent being compromised. However, the target indicators in the DST Annual Performance Plan were a rough estimate of the value of the international cooperation relationship, although the precise value of the networks to which DST researchers were exposed in international cooperation activities was very difficult to measure. The best measurement for these networks was the full cost of the research activities supported on the partner’s side; for instance, about R400 million of German research activities were funded by the German government to support cooperation with South Africa, annually, and this was the value to South African researchers.

Dr Mjwara added that the Department would refer to the NRF and come back with more data.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked why the development of the Provincial Innovation System was not successful.

Dr Mjwara responded that DST did not have any provincial competencies, so it was entirely up to the province to say whether the activities that DST might propose were or were not a priority. The DST relied upon universities working with the private sector. Activities were ongoing at programme level, but DST had no legislative force to take these to a higher level of governance.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked about the problems with agriculture, specifically with the Agriculture Research Council.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked for an explanation of the graphs on the average number of Masters students per grant holder, and of Doctoral students per grant holder.

Dr Mjwara explained that the blue graph represented grant holders who received grants from the NRF, and included professors and senior lecturers at universities, who were expected to train students in return for that grant. The middle line showed grant holders who were rated at the NRF, from T ratings (emerging researchers) to A rating. The third line showed grant holders who also held the Research Chair. The average numbers showed how many Masters students would be trained by the grant holder. A person who held a normal research grant trained fewer students than the person who held a Research Chair grant. If the number of Research Chairs could be increased, the number of students trained would also increase. The same applied to PhD students. Centres of Excellence were another targeted instrument of DST, and their introduction led to an increase in the number of postgraduate students. The interventions made a difference to supervisory capacity numbers, and the ability to produce more Masters and Doctoral students.

The Chairperson asked the DG to explain Centres of Competence and their achievements.

Dr Mjwara replied that he did not have that information with him, and was cautious since there might not yet be enough data (gathered over only two years) to do a meaningful comparison. He would send information through.

The Chairperson asked for an explanation of the difference between Centres of Competence and Centres of Excellence, for the benefit of new Members.

Dr Mjwara explained that the salient difference was that Centres of Excellence were usually physical centres, based in a university context, to enhance the ability to produce knowledge in an identified area. A Centre of Competence was interested in pursuing a market opportunity, but was not necessarily focused on increasing knowledge production, but rather on how to exploit knowledge, economically and socially. Secondly, Centres of Competence pooled capacity from a number of institutions. For example, about eight universities participated in the Centre of Competence on Titanium, as well as three science councils and four or five private sector participants, to produce a consortium of the different expertise required for South Africa to establish a global footprint in titanium production of industrial, aerospace and medial products.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens noted the 400 construction jobs to be created in the Northern Cape under MeerKAT, and asked what would happen to these construction workers after the contract was completed.

Dr Mjwara responded that after the construction of the 64 dishes ended, it was possible, if South Africa had won the bid, that the workers might be involved in the construction of other aspects of the telescope. However, the project had a finite time period. Different types of jobs would be required for the MeerKAT, in terms of people to operate the telescope, both on site as well as remotely, with high-end skills required for this operation.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked for more information on the exhibition from 16 to 18 April and asked about DST’s relationship with Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

Mr Mjwara responded that DST had looked at the strategic programme, had introduced the Centres of Competence, and DHET was looking at the R&D Centres and how their burden to industry could be lessened.

Dr Mjwara expanded on the building of knowledge general and exploiting capabilities. He said that although the publication rate was growing, it was not doing so at the desired rate, and so it was proposed that more resources be directed to instruments that were in place, and generally to increase the pool of people who came in to S&T. DST had a strategy for human capital that it was about to finalise, which would be presented to the Portfolio Committee in due course.

In relation to commercialisation, Dr Mjwara also expanded that DST was looking at the financing of prototypes to be fully commercialised, and up-scaling. Internal discussions were being held on how to take this to the next level. Recently, when setting up the National Intellectual Property Management Office, DST realised it would need to have a government component to work with its stakeholders, reporting directly to the Minister. The Department was looking at some of the models for the up scaling of the pilot projects. It was working with IDC to look at funding.

Ms Plaatjie was not sure that her question about the focus for the pilots to be set up as centres was answered.

Ms Mocumi referred to the Centres of Competence, and asked where they were based.

Dr Mjwara responded that there was one on Armed Aerial Systems, to monitor agriculture, people movement and so forth, being hosted by Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), although the competencies rested in a number of institutions in South Africa, so Denel and other aerospace companies were also involved, with universities. A biocomposite Centre was hosted by CSIR, in Port Elizabeth, to investigate technology from raw materials. Agricultural Research Council (ARC) had a project in Stutterheim, Eastern cape, developing fibre from a plant similar to dagga, to produce the fibre used in the biocomposites. A centre on Information Security had projects on the identification systems, including the Smart Card. A hydrogen Centre of Competence was hosted at three universities: infrastructure hydrogen production by CSIR and the University of North West, the catalysts for the fuel cells at  University of Cape Town and Mintek, and the integration and production of small systems at University of the Western Cape and some private sector companies. DST was piloting these, and monitoring how the consortiums were working and how global market penetration could be achieved.

Prof Mayatula asked how far DST had gone to persuade provinces to adopt its blueprints.

Prof Mayatula asked how many Doctoral students were South Africans, and what was being done to improve their numbers.

Dr Mjwara responded that there was a rule to fund 5% of students from the African Continent, so 95% were South Africans.

The Chairperson asked when that percentage had come into effect. One of the frustrations expressed by a former President of NRF was about the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) motivation for human capital development. There had been 23 scholarships, of which nineteen were awarded to white students and four to Africans from the Continent, with only one to a black student from South Africa. The President of NRF had refused to sign the agreements, disputing that there was a correct motivation on human capital development.

Dr Mjwara thought that this might have been the case when SKA commenced, but more recently, out of 398 students on the SKA, 302 students were South Africans and 70 were foreign African nationals.

Prof Mayatula also noted concerns about expenditure on R&D, and asked how the Committee might be able to assist and boost that trend.

Dr Mjwara suggested that the DST should finalise its report, and produce an analysis showing the challenges, and some suggestions as to how the Committee could assist. At the moment, he could advise only that the target was not met, and note that the Minister had to advise Cabinet on how to increase the 51.4% figure quoted earlier. DST was currently analysing the rate at which the GDP had grown, and how much the investment was, and the Committee could certainly motivate for more money for S&T if it felt that DST was working properly.

Prof Mayatula was interested to know how many of thee Research Chairs were held by South Africans, and the race and gender breakdown.

Prof Auf der Heyde, not addressing the question directly, explained that the pattern of enrolment did not match the pattern of bursary awards. About half of the Doctoral students were foreign, and more than half of this figure were from Africa. Many of the NRF programmes were specifically or largely targeted to South African students. The DST had drafted a document, to be discussed with the Minister, to standardise numerical guidelines for the NRF, on how it should be distributing its funds in terms of race and gender, national and foreign students. That would then guide NRF in how to allocate bursaries and would clarify the funding of postgraduate students in South Africa.

The Chairperson said that this then seemed to indicate that there were in fact no rules on 5% of bursaries.

Prof Auf der Heyde replied that there were certain programmes, within the NRF, where bursaries were available only to South African students, but in others there was some flexibility, around SKA for example. The document would be an overarching one but different rules currently applied to different programmes. This was also confirmed by Mr Daniel Adams, Chief Director: Innovative Research and Infrastructure, DST.

Prof Mayatula noted that the Department should be raising awareness and getting communities excited about science and technology.

Dr Mjwara responded that there was public knowledge of South Africa’s  ability to share with the world, and although the achievements in S&T were not optimal,  DST was working with the public entities to accelerate that drive and excite the public. A range of activities was offered at school level and to the youth, and at NRF, its agency SASA could run activities on astronomy, space, nanotechnology, and other areas. A TV programme was aimed at exciting youngsters about science and technology. National Science Week had taken place each year in August, for the past ten years, and ran for a week in the provinces.  He acknowledged that DST had not done so well with the general public and constituencies; although things were done at community level they were perhaps not well enough communicated. He cited a recent launch by the Deputy Minister, for accelerated service delivery, in partnership with the CSIR, in a municipality in the Eastern Cape. Mr Patel had spoken about the work on agronomy where there were funded projects for the planting, development and processing of medicinal plants at community level, involving small and medium enterprises who would export.

Prof Mayatula proposed that the Minister issue a small package of information on science and technology that could be distributed in the communities.

Dr Mjwara said that would be organised.

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) bid process update
Dr Val Munsami, Deputy Director General: Research, Development and Innovation, DST, noted that there were three aspects to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) bid; the decision on the site and outcomes, the African SKA bid with new global partnerships and new private sector partnerships, and the update on key South African activities, the MeerKAT and preserving the pristine astronomy environment.

The Chairperson said the Committee knew of this but was interested to hear about progress on the bid.

Dr Munsami continued that there was a meeting in March 2012, where Canada was welcomed as a new member of the SKA Organisation. There were then eight member countries: Italy, UK, China, Netherlands, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, and on the previous day, Germany announced that it had joined the SKA Organisation, making nine members. In terms of the bid process, six members would be voting (excluding South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, who were the interested parties). In Match, the recommendation that came from the SKA Site Advisory Committee was distributed to the members. A meeting was held earlier in April in Netherlands, which Prof Mjwara had attended. A number of issues were raised by Australia, two were still unresolved, and those were referred to the SKA Organisation board members from the nine countries mentioned (although not the same individuals). It would be the members of the Organisation and not the Board, who would make the final political decision as to where the SKA would be sited. He expanded on what he meant by “political” by noting that the SKA Board oversaw the functions of the SKA Organisation, but it was the members of the organisation who would make the decision, because they, in a sense, owned and funded the facility. The Board was a small structure that ensured that the Members’ interest, like the board of a company, looked at the interests of the shareholders. South Africa was both a member of the Organisation and of the Board. The Board could make proposals on issues that it had deliberated upon. South Africa was represented by NRF on the SKA Organisation but may not sit in board meetings on the bid. The Director General attended meetings of the Organisation to see that the interests of taxpayers in South Africa were being advanced. Members who represented governments and funders made the decisions, and the Board was responsible for ensuring that the interests of the members carried over and did the work in between the meetings.

Dr Munsami continued that at the April meeting, a decision was taken to set up a scientific working group to assess how to maximise on the investments to date by the site candidates. It was agreed to meet again in May to consider a report of the scientific working group. That report would be tabled with inputs to the members as to where the site decision would be made. It was possible for one country to win the bid outright, or to have a shared SKA.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked why it was necessary to wait until April to set up a working group. She noted that nothing new had been said, and asked what the reason, given what Australia had said about the possible leak of information from the Advisory Committee.  The world was expecting an announcement on 4 April, nobody had advised why this was not done, and she wondered what the inclusive process would now entail.

Dr Mjwara responded that South Africa was a member of the SKA Organisation, and because of this, would be involved in eventually funding the project. The meeting in Manchester on 9 March was intended to allow the competing countries to make comment on the report by the SKA Site Advisory Committee. The report was released in February. The issues raised at the meeting in Manchester, by Australia and New Zealand, were being responded to by the Chair of the SKA Site Advisory Committee and the Chair of the Site Selecting Group, which mapped out the process of how the bid should be analysed. These concerns were addressed at a board meeting on 19 March. After the Board received the responses from the two Chairs, it had to advise the members of the Organisation of the outcome, and they must then decide, on 4 April, how to act on the responses to issues raised by Australia and New Zealand. There was a time lag, due to availability of members to meet, but the comments of the Chair and Board were available on the SKA website. Members had, however, wanted to set up a scientific working group that would look at the investment that had been made by the candidate countries over a long period of time, and whether it was feasible to utilise those investments for the benefit of the members. At the end of that process there could still be an outright win scenario, if the Scientific Working Group decided either that it was not feasible, or because of cost implications, to combine, and if further funding was needed, or whether the bid should be awarded to just one country.

The Chairperson thanked the DST, but had expected some comment on whether the feeling tended to be pro-South African, since in Europe many people thought that an award to South Africa would improve economic cooperation between South Africa and Europe, in that South Africa was bringing eight other countries from Africa into the project. Other comments had to do with alignment of the radio telescopes. It was suggested that South Africa was technologically more ready than Australia, but Australia then adopted a political stance.  

Ms Kloppers-Lourens said that both Ministers, in South Africa and Australia, had indicated they were not interested in sharing the bid. She wondered what the outcome would be if the decision was to share the bid.

Dr Mjwara responded that the recommendations of the working group must be awaited. It was possible that a political compromise may be reached, but this was likely to compromise the cutting-edge science. All countries had bought into the SKA, no matter what the outcome, because of the breakthrough of the science.

The Chairperson said there was a concern that the Astronomical Union must not be divided through the decision to be taken, nor must it compromise the future investment market. There were groups of countries, such as Italy, whom he understood were pro Australia, because of some arrangement on a market level. He felt a decision may be postponed because of those considerations, and precautions were necessary as to the announcement of the winner.

Other business: International Study Tour
The Chairperson announced that the formal request had been submitted, via the South African Embassy, for a visit to the Korean Parliament and institutions, although this country had held elections last week and was still awaiting the outcome of those elections. It had been asked to confirm acceptability of the date 30 July to 3 August. The Committee would be updated once a response was received.

Ms Mocumi commented that this was the second application. She asked whether the Committee or Parliament had written a letter of apology to Korea as the Committee was expected to visit earlier this year but was unable to do so.

The Chairperson clarified that the Committee had made an application, but Parliament did not approve the application, due to lack of funding.

Ms Mocumi was under the impression that the January trip was approved, but subsequently cancelled.

Ms Isaacs, Committee Secretary, explained that although the House Chair had approved the visit in principle, the funding application was turned down and the trip was not finalised with Korea. The July trip had been approved, but a new application must be made to add Bulgaria, in this week. She was in contact with the travel agents in relation to the costs.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens said it should be motivated that Bulgaria had been included because of a specific invitation from that country.

The Chairperson said the added cost could compromise the prior approval. He suggested applying separately for Bulgaria; the Ambassador invited the Committee to celebrate 20 years of diplomatic relations.

Ms Plaatjie suggested that before Ms Isaacs put in the application, the Chairperson sit with the House Chairperson and explain the situation. Ms Isaacs would confirm whether the Bulgarian Embassy was prepared to assist with the costs of that leg.

NRF Board appointments
The Chairperson noted that he had received a letter from the Ministry to the effect that a new NRF board was appointed, and the proposed Chairperson had also accepted the appointment. The Minister asked the Committee to approve that appointed, which, according to the Act, had to be made “in consultation with Parliament”. He outlined the qualifications of the proposed Chair and noted that the Committee would deal with the  matter.

Climate Change Conference in Rio de Janeiro
The Chairperson announced that five Members of this Committee were nominated to attend a conference in Rio de Janeiro on climate change, being himself, Ms Kloppers-Lourens, Ms Plaatjie, Mr Nonkonyana, and Ms Ndlazi.

The meeting was adjourned.


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