The National Research Foundation (NRF) outlined its five strategic goals, to achieve a vibrant national science system, to do leading edge research and establish technology and innovation platforms, to have a world-class science benchmarking and grant system, to have a representative research and technical workforce, and run internationally competitive science, technology and innovation systems. All those goals were aimed ultimately at a prosperous and sustainable research system in Africa. It was noted that although ideally the target was to have 1% of gross domestic product invested in research and development (R&D), the NRF would not achieve this, and that South African investment was not keeping pace with that in other countries. Currently, NRF had about 2 500 rated researchers in the system, of whom one third were in humanities. There was also cross-disciplinary research being done. NRF wanted to increase the number of black women researchers, and to boost the numbers obtaining doctoral degrees. Interventions included obtaining nine years of funding for them, split into three-year cycles, through the Thuthuka Programme. Although NRF had been able to operate world-class evaluation systems for awards of grants, it was not in control of how the universities spent the money once they had received it. The number and impact of academic outputs was increasing, and there were about 1 200 doctoral graduates each year, with a target of 2 000, to increase the current 34% of academics with doctoral degrees. NRF’s funding baseline had dropped by 0.8%, but NRF had been able to access additional funding through the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and had made a conscious effort to retain its skills base by using the Parliamentary funding for salaries and other funding for specific projects. It had also achieved efficiency savings, and had reduced the post-retirement medical benefit liability, through a buy-out. It was now tracking students, and had established a system to track existing and next-general researchers and emerging researchers. to get into the system. 20% of funding was allocated to non South African students, with 10% of this for those from the Southern African Development Community, 5% for the rest of Africa and 5% for outside Africa. One critical initiative was the establishment of Research Chairs, of which there were currently 92, although funding was limited to 60 new Chairs in the last year. The demands were huge, but NRF tried to balance these, and would give prime consideration to historically disadvantaged and rural universities, and universities of technology, although the prime criterion was academic excellence of researchers. NRF’s challenges included the limited national skills base, ageing equipment and infrastructure, access to and use of facilities, and the need to evolve new national facilities. The decision on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) was expected shortly, but South Africa had in any event achieved, in the MeerKAT 64 dish array, a world class and competitive telescope for the next twenty years. NRF noted an excellent relationship with DST, and a positive commitment to prioritise research as a driver of the economy.
Members asked how concerns in the previous year, particularly around basic and higher education, had been addressed, and asked how the Research Chairs were awarded, noting the need to try to promote historically disadvantaged institutions. They also questioned the work on Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) research, the value add by the National Institute for Humanities, new developments in education, including basic education, and collaboration with higher learning and other research facilities. They asked for the steps to promote more women, the tracking systems, a breakdown of nationality of those being supported, the need to address the 1% funding requirements, and progress in addressing vacancies, and the points raised in the 2010 Institutional Review. Further questions and implementation interventions would be discussed on 23 May.
The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) outlined its key projects for 2012/13, noting that these included studies on HIV and Aids prevalence, a Nutrition Examination Survey, similar to those conducted in the USA, and links to communicable and non-communicable diseases, cardiovascular disease; hypertension and issues of obesity. Projects on research, innovation and biotechnology were being funded by the DST, whilst the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) would receive support from Department of Higher Education and Training. An African Studies Centre was being introduced, and there would be work done, with the Sector Education and Training Authorities, into skills planning for South Africa. Other studies concerned agrarian reform policy changes, and a Rural Innovation Assessment Tool would be drawn, and then applied in rural municipalities. HSRC outlined the figures for training of masters and PhD interns and post-doctoral researchers, and noted that it had recruited seven African Research Fellows, creating linkages with other African research institutions. It was attempting to increase its numbers of senior African researchers. It had managed to obtain extra-Parliamentary funding, and the targets and performance were outlined. The expected revenue and expenditure for 2012/13 was R360 million, compared to the total of R336 million that it had received as income in the previous year. Its challenges included the refurbishment of its buildings, the lack of enough finance to create an ideal IT infrastructure and knowledge hub, and the lack of sufficient budget for longitudinal studies, whilst cash flow was a constant concern, although this was eased in 2011/12 with funding from DST.
Members asked about the spending on salaries, asked about the Memorandums of Understanding that were signed, questioned the leases and costs, and noted that HSRC leased out some portion of its own building in Tshwane. They asked how the infrastructure requirements that were not funded in the current financial year would be tackled, and where existing projects were located. They questioned whether HSRC had its own soil scientists, and noted the need for soil scientific analyses, and noted the scope of the agrarian reform studies.
Members also questioned the scope of the studies in education, and urged that more attention be paid to skills planning and basic education needs, as well as proper careers advice. It was noted that often there was not so much a shortage of skills as a failure to deploy and match skills properly. The Chairperson was interested to hear more about the public perception survey on nuclear energy, and the international experiences, as well as the studies on maths and science.
The Committee mandated the Chairperson to discuss the Study Tour plans with the House Chair
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson noted a trend of entities to present their documents without page numbers marked, which made it difficult for Members to highlight their concerns during interaction. He further noted that documents seemed to be forwarded only one day before the meeting, or even on the day itself, which hampered the Committee. In future, the Committee would no longer accept any presentations that had not been lodged timeously, and in terms of the Parliamentary Rules.
National Research Foundation (NRF) Annual Performance Plan presentation
Dr Gansen Pillay, Acting Chief Executive Officer, National Research Foundation, tabled an apology for the Chief Executive Officer, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld. He noted that the Annual Performance Plan had been tabled already in March.
The National Research Foundation (NRF) looked at generation of new knowledge, and its research looked also to sustainability. The five strategic goals of the NRF were to have a vibrant national science system, leading edge research, technology and innovation platforms, world-class science benchmarking and grant systems, a representative research and technical workforce in South Africa, and internationally competitive science, technology and innovation systems. All those goals led to the ultimate aim of a prosperous and sustainable African landscape.
The NRF placed a focus on excellence in all it did. It had very robust grant management systems and excellent peer evaluation processes and systems. It had strategic and research information and management and dissemination systems, state of the art research platforms, science and technology management and expertise and specialised research capacity. Through its International Relations and Cooperation Directorate, it acted as a catalyst for local and international research collaboration. It also aimed to advance science, and all of its platforms ensured that it cut across both the school and higher education systems, up to national research facilities.
Dr Pillay highlighted particular areas of progress, and some challenges:
- The ratio of Research and Development (R&D) to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was targeted at 1% for 2015. However, NRF was unlikely to achieve this, as South Africa was not catching up at the same pace as the rest of the world was moving and investing. More had to be invested in R&D and innovation.
- The NRF currently had 2 500 rated researchers, of whom one third worked in social sciences, and there was also inter-disciplinary, science and cross disciplinary research.
- Not enough black women researchers were coming through the system, so there was a need to ensure that more women obtained doctoral degrees and established themselves as researchers. NRF had instruments and interventions and was focusing on this.
- A satisfactory number of people qualified for NRF ratings, through world-class evaluation and grant-making systems, but NRF was not in control of how universities spent the grant funding.
- There was an incremental increase in cutting-edge research, technology and innovative platforms, NRF national research facilities, and numbers and impact of journals, related to the number of high level personnel and NRF researchers.
- NRF had a target to achieve 2 000 doctoral students graduating each year, by 2015. Currently about 1 200 doctoral students per annum were graduating.
Dr Pillay described the value chain, noting that NRF was involved in the generation of knowledge and basic research, applied research, technology development, product development and commercialisation. NRF acted as a grant making and funding agency, as well as providing national research facilities for cutting edge research, such as astronomy. In addition, the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) provided funding for the Technology for the Human Resource Industry Programme (THRIP), largely in collaboration with industry and academia, as well as for the new Technology Innovation Agency (TIA). All these organisations should work together to identify and incubate projects that were capable of commercialisation.
R&D investment was done through ten channels of “Grand Channels” and areas of geographical advantage. The “Grand Challenges” appeared to be skewed towards space science and technology and astronomy, because of the investment made in the Square Kilometre Array project (SKA). High-end research platforms also played an essential role. Dr Pillay congratulated the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and national government for recognising the need to invest in high-end research equipment, to make South Africa globally competitive.
Dr Pillay then presented the financial statements. The baseline allocation was reduced by 0.8%, but this must be seen against the background of additional funding from DST for salary increases in the human capital development programme. The NRF tried to find a balance between a strategy-driven and demand-driven approach. It took into account competition, merit based peer review funding and transformation imperatives. Transformation and excellence were not mutually exclusive, and could be addressed as long as targets were set and interventions put in place to ensure they were reached. NRF also applied fairness, transparency and accountability, regarded service delivery as of prime importance and tried to invest in rotation of expertise. If the NRF did not have the requisite expertise, then it would look outside of itself to try to drive interventions forward. The doctoral degree was a very important driver in the NRF system and in the transition from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy.
He then went into the specifics, noting that the baseline allocation for 2010/11 it was R1,078 billion, but in 2012/13 it was R1 071 billion. NRF had put austerity measures in place, and achieved efficiency savings of R45 million across the organisation. The Post Retirement Medical Benefit liability was reduced from R136 million to R12 million through a buy-out. NRF also rolled out a student tracking system.
Dr Pillay presented the human resources plan (see attached presentation), and staffing details. He noted that research, innovation, support and advancement comprised about 80% of NRF’s work. There were six directorates within the system, which he outlined. He emphasised the Centres of Excellence, which were critical drivers in delivering high-end appropriate human capital.
The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and DST had contributed over R100 million for the Scarce Skills Development Fund to deploy into scarce skills programmes within Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Other designated income included special projects research, including the SKA, the Research Information Management System (RIMS); and hosting the International Council for Science Regional Conference for Africa, a platform that would provide access to the rest of Africa. Over time, funding was growing and DST was constantly lobbying for more resources to ensure that NRF would be able to deliver to the full.
Dr Pillay also outlined and explained the Human Capacity Development Excellence Pipeline, which summarised research support through from undergraduate students to post doctoral researchers, working professors and specialists, as well as next generation researchers, emerging and established researchers and strategic investors. The Thuthuka Programme was aimed at university academics, especially black African women, to enable them to access three years funding for their PhD, plus another three years post-PhD and another three years of funding to allow them to establish themselves as researchers. That meant nine years of dedicated funding to allow them to get into the system. Only 34% of staff at universities in South Africa had a doctoral degree, and the target was to increase this to at least 50% over the next five years.
The large increase in next-general researcher funding was attributed to once-off R53 million funding, which was included in a R255 million grant to the NRF. More resources would enable more student output. The budget for emerging researchers was increasing, and NRF was seeking how best to prioritise investments to graduate more doctoral degree holders.
The number of students supported by the NRF for B Tech/Hons degrees increased from 1 696 to 2 718, although there were also thousands of other students whom NRF could not fund. NRF and DST funded only four out of every ten eligible students. The number of post doctoral bursaries increased from 304 to 405, but NRF also realised that post-doctoral candidates needed to obtain international experience before returning to South Africa to benefit the system. NRF was constantly increasing the targets for assistance to black students. At BTech and Honours level, it had increased the targets from 75% in the previous year to 80%, and Dr Pillay noted that this would be tracked carefully. The gender demographics looked fairly acceptable but in fact there were far more women who had the potential and the capability to be able to deliver high-end skills and supervise students, and they must be identified and nurtured, and NRF was doing this proactively, rather than waiting to identify them once they had entered universities.
NRF regarded citizens and permanent residents of South Africa in the same light, and 20% of funding was allocated to non South African students, split between 10% for those from Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, 5% from the rest of Africa, and 5% outside of Africa. They were supported largely on a first-come, first-served basis, but demand exceeded supply.
Dr Pillay noted the importance, once again, of supporting emerging researchers. Grants had increased, due to the once-off funding mentioned earlier, but post-doctoral support was needed. An increase in funding for established researchers was due to rollout of new bilateral agreements.
Dr Pillay turned to the Research Chairs, noting that internationalisation was a strategic driver to expand South African universities’ supervisory base, and gave access to equipment, expertise, laboratories and research facilities in other parts of the world. The South Research Chair initiative was a significant initiative that NRF managed for DST. There were currently 92 Research Chairs in South Africa, although the historically disadvantaged, rural-based and universities or technology did not have many Chairs. NRF had advertised for 62 chairs, and received 406 applications. Finally, 270 were recommended for funding, but NRF could only afford to award 60. Excellence remained the critical cornerstone for the decision on what Chairs would be awarded, although those universities and universities of technology that now did meet the requirements must be given due consideration. The University of the Western Cape had the most number of Chairs, and each was worth R2.5 million for fifteen years, representing a huge investment by government and the DST. In order to be awarded a Chair, the university must make a compelling case proving itself capable, have the right curriculum and necessary infrastructure. Competence and excellence within universities, no matter where they were based, was key. A number of universities of technology and a number of historically black universities were also now the recipients of Chairs.
A minimum of 16 chairs was awarded for social science and humanities, and he outlined the topics for those (see attached presentation for details), including several around African languages and multilingualism. The disbursements were discussed with the DST, as well as the value and numbers of bursaries. Three main areas of science advancement were science awareness, science communication, and science education. The challenge was to increase the core funding to 70%.
Dr Pillay described the national research facilities, which were the South African Environment Observation Network, the iThemba Labs, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Hartbeespoort Radio Astronomy; and the National Zoological Gardens. He noted that NRF now had a Group Executive: Astronomy. The Deputy Chief Executive Officer position in two clusters was vacant, but the position was not filled pending further discussion with the Ministry. In the past, there had been two Vice Presidents, one for research and one for the National Facility. The future of the National Facility was still under discussion. Astronomy was no longer included as a cluster, but there were clusters for National Botanical Gardens and SANBI.
The Chairperson asked about the Nuclear cluster.
Dr Pillay responded that that was still in place, managed by the Chief Executive Officer.
Dr Pillay continued to outline challenges and mitigatory actions taken to address them. The challenges included a limited national skills base, ageing equipment and infrastructure compared to advancing technologies, access to and use of facilities, and the need to evolve new national facilities. An infrastructure roadmap was needed as well as thought as to future research facilities. There was a need to promote internationally competitive research and grow a representative science and technology workforce in South Africa.
He mentioned that the SKA decision was still awaited, but irrespective of whether South Africa was chosen to host the SKA, the MeerKAT 64 dish array would be a world class and competitive telescope for the next twenty years, and would allow South Africa to create a strategy around a demand-driven industrial technology cluster.
Dr Pillay summarised that NRF had an excellent working relationship with the DST. It had developed documents and a funding framework that was, in principle, endorsed by the Minister, although some changes were to be made. In conjunction with the DST, NRF was developing an overall strategy for human capital development. It recognised science as an overarching national strategic framework and so national research facilities had to be repositioned strategically. Overall growth in NRF funding reflected a positive commitment to prioritise research as a driver of the economy.
Mr M Nonkonyana (ANC) appreciated the presentation, and noted that the NFR had applied its mind to the concerns raised in the previous year, but asked NRF to outline what those concerns had been, and what plans were in place to address them.
Dr Pillay responded that there was a major challenge to address the rural areas and particularly the education there. However, NRF could not look at higher education and training in isolation, since research, innovation and development essentially depended on what had been done also at primary education levels and how the next generation’s capacity was being built. NRF recognised the need for full consultation with the Council for Higher Education, TIA, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and DST to address those challenges.
Mr Nonkonyana asked whether there were any challenges in terms of financial control.
Dr Pillay responded that NRF recognised the need to comply fully with corporate governance, supply chain management and fiscal responsibility, when using taxpayers’ money. Tight controls were in place, including an Internal Audit Task Team, internal auditors, and external auditors.
Mr Bishen Singh, Chief Financial Officer, NRF, added his assurance that the NRF complied fully with the King 3 Code, and all aspects relating to public entities and the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). NRF tabled compliance reports quarterly with its Audit and Risk Committee, had received an unqualified audit report in the previous year, and expected to deliver another unqualified report for the 2011/12 financial year.
Mr Nonkonyana noted, in regard to the Research Chairs, that he was pleased to hear of the Minister’s intervention, and improvements in the gender ratio, but was still concerned that the historically disadvantaged institutions of higher learning were still coming off second best, and asked if there was more that could be done for those institutions.
Dr Pillay responded that not everyone would be happy with the decisions made, although guidance was given through the Minister’s directive. NRF did not want to adopt a geographical spread approach, wince it could impact upon an open and competitive system, and instead tried to isolate pockets of excellence. There was a need for more Research Chairs, but only 60 could presently be funded.
Mr Nonkonyana asked about current trends in nomenclature and the issue of international standards.
Dr Pillay noted that the changes proposed to the NRF Act would be cosmetic. The change from “President” to “Chief Executive Officer” title was in line with other organisations in South Africa. The work, and the standing of the NRF was more important than the title of its head.
Mr Nonkonyana asked about the plans for affirming indigenous knowledge, and ensuring that there were Chairs to advance indigenous knowledge in the country.
Dr Pillay responded that the idea was that ultimately the Centres of Excellence would attend to these issues, but NRF had to bring together competent and like-minded people to do Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) research. R10 million had been set aside for IKS.
Ms P Mocumi (ANC) suggested, in light of the time constraints, that Members ask their questions but that NRF respond in writing.
Dr Pillay indicated that the NRF would be very happy to respond to any further questions that Members had.
The Chairperson agreed that responses could be given in the meeting, but urged that questions be focused.
Ms J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) thanked the NRF for the presentation, but did not think the document was very user friendly, since some printing was difficult to see, and it was presented very fast. She also asked that a list of acronyms be provided.
Dr Pillay noted these comments.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens also questioned the number of Chairs awarded per institution, noting that six were awarded to the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), which had its own troubles, and it was strange that it received so many if competence and excellence were the criteria. She also asked why only one Research Chair was given to UNISA.
Dr Pillay responded that the NRF did not want to make judgements on institutions based on what kind of administrators they had, but looked at excellence of competent researchers. He added that the awarding of a Chair was only a first step and an institution still had to put through a winning research proposal and an appropriate body to deliver that proposal. TUT advertised all over the world for these Chairs, and the award was based on written documentation.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens referred to a slide not included in the written document, and asked about the value of the National Institute for Humanities announcement by the Minister on the previous day. She noted that research was done in the last year on the state of humanities and social sciences, and questioned why there were only 16 chairs for this.
Dr Pillay welcomed the Minister’s announcement, adding that this was an opportunity to bring more resources together, and that the Chairs could sit with the National Institute.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked it there was a connection between the NRF and high schools, and asked also about any new developments and support to basic education.
Dr Pillay apologised for failing to mention basic education, and noted that any national strategy should start from basic education level, but at the moment this was not done. NRF was trying to deal with this.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked for details on promotion of collaboration between HEIs and research facilities.
Dr Pillay explained that HEIs were important stakeholders, but the NRF also wanted to ensure that there was collaboration across HEIs, where each had particular areas of expertise. NRF tried to work with the HEIs to identify and bring together appropriate researchers in different fields.
Ms S Plaatjie (COPE) asked what NRF was doing to try to promote more women.
Dr Pillay explained that the NRF felt there was more that could be done. There was a huge demand from women who wanted to do research, but the resources did not allow that all be supported, and NRF was trying to lobby for more resources to reach equity in demand and supply. There was also a difference in the “research life” of males and females, and NRF was targeting supporting 80% black and 60% female researchers.
Ms Plaatjie noted the rollout of the student tracking system, and asked what NRF would do once this tracking was done.
Dr Pillay responded that the NRF not only had to report on inputs and outputs, but also on outcomes and impact. Student tracking allowed the NRF to track the impact, and it was now working with Siemens on tracking systems that would allow for this.
The NRF was previously not able to do that because it did not have the systems but now it was working with Ms Mocumi asked for a nationality breakdown of the 1 519 students supported in 2011/2012.
Dr Pillay undertook to provide this in due course.
Ms Mocumi wanted something on paper to hold NRF more accountable to achieving the 1% ratio of research output.
Dr Pillay responded that the NRF was not shying away from the target, and agreed that 1% was an appropriate target. However, this goal kept shifting, in relation to other countries who were investing more and moving forward faster. It was necessary to bear the global realities in mind.
Ms Mocumi noted the challenges, but requested that challenges and the mechanisms to address them should be separated out, in the Annual Performance Plan document.
Ms Mocumi noted that in September last year, National Treasury noted 109 vacancies in the NRF and asked what the progress was in addressing this.
Mr Patrick Thompson, Group Executive: HR and Stakeholders, NRF, responded that these vacancies existed in high-end skills of technicians and scientists, and engineers for the SKA. The SKA started as a small project with seven dishes, but was now moving into a phase with 64 dishes. NRF was concerned about the time taken to fill the vacancies and was exploring more recruitment options, other than advertising in the press, perhaps using targeted social media. The current vacancy rate was about 10%, but ideally should be at 5% or below.
The Chairperson said he was not referring to the NFR, but noted a general experience that institutions would provide a number of excuses for skills not being available, and he believed that they tended to try to stick to their comfort zones rather than really explore the situation. A technical audit would no doubt discover a variety of skills that were not being properly used.
Ms Mocumi asked about the progress in implementing the recommendations from the 2010 Institutional Review.
Dr Pillay responded that progress was ongoing. At this stage, about 60% of the recommendations had been implemented, but some recommendations were time related. The NRF was constantly monitoring the implementation.
Ms Mocumi also asked what progress had been made on the Governing and Coordinating Body for Cooperative Science, Technology and Innovation.
Dr Pillay responded that bilateral relations had been established with TIA, with whom NRF worked consistently, and TIA had asked that NRF be part of the Assist Group to take over some projects.
The Chairperson commented that IKS was a very important issue, and one that was close to his heart. It was necessary to understand the basis for deep science. Two universities were identified to offer degree courses in IKS, as an applied science. He asked NRF to track the progress on that, and consider how it could support it.
The Chairperson also noted that NRF would not succeed if it did not make more input and progress in the pipeline of basic education. He also noted that some of its proposed interventions were not being properly implemented, and wanted to discuss this further. The Chairperson noted that further questions would have to be deferred to the next meeting with NRF on 23 May.
Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan
Dr Olive Shisana, Chief Executive Officer, HSRC, outlined the strategic business objectives for 2012/13 to 2016/17 as including:
- Knowledge advancement through institutional collaboration, conducting public dialogue, policy briefs and publications
- Contribution to development and social progress in Africa, through research informed by government, civil society, and community needs
- Development of a skilled and capable workforce
- Preservation and sharing of data with others for further analysis
- Contribution to the ongoing transformation of the organisation, in terms of both gender and race
- Development and implementation of strategies to ensure financial sustainability of the organisation
Dr Shisana noted that HSRC had done about 150 projects in 2011/12, covering areas of science system and innovation, poverty, quality of education, human and social advancement, skills development, service delivery, crime, early childhood development and learning (ECD), as well as children, youth, families and social cohesion. Further projects concerned health promotion, health systems and well being, HIV/AIDS, TB and Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) control; and nutrition and food security. In summary, HSRC would deal with anything that affected human beings.
Dr Shisana the outlined some of the key projects for 2012/13. In the area of dynamics of human and social behaviour, there were two projects. One, a study on HIV and AIDs prevalence, would collect data from over one thousand people throughout the country. The second was a Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES), which mirrored studies conducted in the USA over the last fifty years, and would assist HSRC in establishing the population’s status, addressing communicable and non-communicable diseases, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and issues of obesity. Both studies would be making a very big impact and both were supported by the Department of Health (DOH).
In the fields of science, technology and society, three surveys were funded by DST on R&D, Innovation, and Biotechnology, to understand the science landscape, the extent of innovation and status of biotechnology in South Africa. Another study, a Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), would be done, with support from the DHE, and this was part of an international study assessing how South Africa was achieving in the field of maths and science. That would inform government investments in maths and sciences.
In the field of social cohesion and identity, she noted that HSRC undertook the major South African Social Attitudes Study (SASAS) each year, to assess the public viewpoint on a number of issues. The Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA) had asked for a particular study on the public’s stance on nuclear power, and the results would be released at the end of the year.
In the field of promoting the African research agenda, an African Studies Centre was being introduced which would be able to give a Pan African view on a number of humanities issues, and the HSRC Board was making recommendations, with encouragement of the Minister of Science and Technology.
In the area of skills development, HSRC was given a large grant, over a three year period, from DHET, and HSRC would, with the Sector Education and Training Authorities, do research informing how government should plan for skills in the country. South Africa currently had a mismatch between what industry required, and the qualifications of the population, and HSRC’s data would guide the planning. HSRC also decided to introduce a talent management programme and succession planning for internal staff.
Dr Shisana noted that agriculture posed a challenge as so many farms were not being utilised properly, whilst the population remained jobless and hungry. HSRC was doing a study on the impact of Agrarian Reform policy on poverty, and the effect of the making available agricultural land and development support in that process.
She then outlined the Rural Innovation Assessment Tool (RIAT) project, noting that very little work had been done to get innovation to the rural areas. With the support of the DST, HSRC would be developing a Rural Innovation Assessment Tool, drawing lessons from earlier innovation assessment tools used, and trying to apply this to rural municipalities. This was also something that affected the international side of DST, being an important new development.
A Green Economy and the Resilient Cities project of HSRC would attempt to address global warming, and try to combine environmental and economic development (‘green growth’) to cut poverty and create more resilient cities.
Dr Shisana noted that HSRC had 69 targets for the year, and by the fourth quarter had achieved more than 75% on these targets, and had, overall, done very well. HSRC was generating knowledge through its publications of books and in journals. By the end of March 2012 it exceeded its target on peer-reviewed journal articles. It was expected that each senior scientist would publish, on average, 1.5 articles in internationally accredited journals each year. The HSRC had done exceptionally well on this, and this knowledge would now be broken down into policy recommendations, so that policy was evidence-based. The targets for the next year would be higher.
In the area of training and development, the HSRC trained 38 Masters Interns; 38 PhD interns; 17 post doctoral interns, and also recruited seven African Research Fellows, creating linkage with other African research countries. There were challenges around finding African senior researchers but HSRC was working hard to promote this area, as it still had too few African researchers at the most senior levels, despite its equitable demographic position overall.
HSRC was aware that it would not receive the full funding it requested, but DST had helped it to obtain some extra-Parliamentary funding. The multi-year grant situation had improved. HSRC met its target of five seminars, had achieved 14 out of the target of 19 preserved datasets, and exceeded its target of signing six Memorandums of Understanding with other institutions, by achieving 25.
Mr Peter Pedlar, Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Financial Officer, HSRC, presented the draft financial statements for the previous year, noting that these had not been audited, and the 2012/13 budget. HSRC had managed to get 98% of the anticipated funding from external sources, and had achieved 58% more than the target for other income. It had slightly overspent on its budget, by 1%, but overall it had used R330 million of the R336 million received. The budget for the 2012/13 year was R360 million for revenue, and the expense were R360 million, so HSRC was not budgeting for a surplus or a deficit.
He noted that particular financial challenges included to Capital Expenditure, and the need to refurbish the HSRC building. In respect of budgeting for performance targets, he noted that the HSRC had very competitive performance targets, particularly since it was competing on the open market for the scarce skills. HSRC lacked the finance at present to invest enough in IT infrastructure to create a proper “knowledge hub” for dissemination of information. HSRC would also ideally like to have more budget for longitudinal studies, as this would help with sustainability. The Parliamentary grant was currently growing only at the inflation rate, and 97% of this grant went towards salaries. HSRC was constantly under pressure in terms of cash flow, although in the last financial year this had eased with the DHET grant. It had introduced austerity measures.
Dr Shisana noted the appreciation of the HSRC for all assistance, from the Ministry, DST, the Portfolio Committee, and Members, as well as other government departments who assisted with HSRC projects. She also noted her appreciation to the HSRC Board, the agencies who funded research and her staff, who worked tirelessly to ensure a successful organisation.
Mr Nonkonyana asked why 97% of the Parliamentary grant was utilised for salaries.
Dr Shisana clarified that a strategic decision was taken to try to retain scientists in the HSRC, and give them permanent posts, in order to strengthen the long-term capacity of the HSRC to deliver all its objectives. A decision was taken to use the Parliamentary grant for salaries, and then apply for external funding to do the research, so all research funding came from non-parliamentary grants. Money from the DST, DHET or DOH was used for specific project funding, but this was also augmented by international and domestic funding. About R98 million of HSRC funding came from international sources, and that money went largely to projects. The projects themselves had more than 1 500 staff, so while the HSRC’s figures reflected about 500 staff in the organisation, the total number of people working on HSRC matters was around 2 000.
Mr Pedlar added that it was important to constantly generate extra income to achieve the objectives of government funded projects.
Ms Mocumi asked for clarity on the number of Memorandums of Understanding that were signed. She also noted that there was mention of the need for collaboration, but that financial constraints impeded this, and she asked for clarity, and what was being done to ensure that those objectives were implemented.
Mr Pedlar responded that the HSRC budgeted for all its objectives, and grouped them together in the Annual Performance Plan submitted to the DST, following advice from the Auditor-General on how this should be done. This was very well documented on page 40, along with all other costs.
Dr Shisana clarified that the target of MOUs was 20, for the 2012/13 year, and the number of 25 represented the number of MOUs signed in the previous year.
Ms Mocumi asked how much office space was leased, and the cost.
Mr Pedlar explained that the HSRC did not lease offices but owned the building in Pretoria, and sublet a portion to get extra income. The buildings in Cape Town, Durban and Pietermaritzburg were leased, as well as a small building in Port Elizabeth. The leases amounted to about R2 million per annum. Further information could be supplied, but details were also in the Annual Report.
Dr Shisana clarified that further information would be submitted.
Ms Mocumi noted that the current strategic plan did not contain anything about the 2010 Institutional Review, and asked if this was an oversight.
Ms Mocume asked what interim measures were put in place to deal with the infrastructure requirements that were not funded in the current financial year.
Mr Pedlar responded that was an area highlighted as a challenge, and HSRC had to be very careful how it used its money. The lease income from part of the Pretoria building was used to refurbish and maintain that building, and because the building was quite old, the maintenance costs were quite high. The generator was not able to cope with the demands placed on it as a result of electricity supply challenges in Tshwane, and would have to be replaced. The maintenance of the building was important, but was flagged as an ongoing challenge.
Ms Plaatjie asked where the existing projects were located.
Ms Plaatjie, commenting on the projects for Agrarian Reform, asked if HSRC had any soil scientists in its employ, and noted that this was a very scarce skill, with few students in this field.
The Chairperson added that Professor Maxwell from Stellenbosch University would be participating in the Rio+20 Conference in June, and he had mentioned research done, but noted the serious lack of study and analysis of soil in the country. Soil changes were symptomatic of, as well as a result of climate change. None of the universities focused on soil.
Ms Margaret Chatiga-Mabugu, Executive Director: Economic Performance and Development, HSRC, responded that HSRC had made mention of both an agrarian reform and the rural assessment tools. Both looked at grass roots issues, tried to understand the phenomena, examined any innovation being instituted by farmers, and what assistance was needed by emerging agriculture programmes, after the land reform process. HSRC hoped to isolate all issues and challenges. These would undoubtedly include issues of soil and how soil was understood and used. The HSRC’s perspective would be based on rural household surveys. The HSRC team for Economic Performance and Development were not soil scientists, but agricultural economists would attend, as well as AgriSA, to give assistance. At this stage, this project aimed to gather information.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens was particularly interested to hear what HSRC was doing in the field of education. Education was currently burdened with many challenges and the state of affairs in some of the provinces was desperate. Dr Shisana had touched on education as one of the mandates, and quality of education was mentioned in relation to projects. She asked if Dr Glenda Kruss, Research Director: Education and Skills Development, HSRC, was involved in the previous Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) dispensation, and for more details on the Continuous Assessment (CAPS) process.
Dr Kruss responded that, historically, HSRC, in its applied research, had worked closely with and often in direct response to the Department of Basic Education (DBE). One of the members of HSRC was seconded to act as an advisor to the Minister of Basic Education on OBE curriculum and research. HSRC recently completed a number of projects around assessment. She described the TAMI Project, a large scale multi area project, with a number of partners, funded by the Netherlands Royal Embassy, noting that the HSRC had developed computer-based software to assist teachers in setting tests and assessment exercises, and in recording marks and tracking students. The project also included implementation and rollout to schools. HSRC also conducted a number of annual assessments, in partnership with the DBE, and also conducted a number of smaller and larger qualitative projects on teacher education over the years, and on teaching and learning.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked if, in the science and technology area, the HSRC had a system to monitor the standards of subjects presented in schools.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked whether the skills development project was the same one that the NRF made reference, and asked if she was correct in her understanding that this related to gathering of information and advice for skills and curriculum development.
Dr Kruss responded that the HSRC’s new partnership with DHET was unique and was intended to provide direct support to the Minister’s Performance Agreement with the President, particularly the development of a credible institutional mechanism for skills planning. The project began only in February 2012, and the approach was still being developed, but in principle the HSRC was trying to assist the DHET in establishing the architecture around a national data set for monitoring and evaluating skills development. HSRC was also trying to develop frameworks for skills planning and skills forecasting, and would work with the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) to develop templates to advance their work in understanding skills demands. HSRC would coordinate the universities, research organisations and stakeholders. It was trying to distinguish between labour market information, derived from basic monitoring and evaluation, and labour market intelligence, which would analyse specific skills in areas, such as soil scientists or nuclear scientists. HSRC had done a number of smaller scale projects in the past, including basic research to inform the human resource needs for the SKA in the planning stages. The HSRC was involved with regional provincial governments on their human resource development (HRD) strategies. The current project drew on past experience, and tried to work towards institutionalised approaches and frameworks.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens also referred to a statement that, in preparation for the Rio+20 Conference, there was a need for curriculum planning on the green economy, sustainable development and global warming. She asked if the HSRC was involve in the curriculum, or cooperated with the DBE on it.
The Chairperson commented that he was interested to hear about the survey on public perceptions around nuclear energy, and believed it was important. Recently the Committee had learned that Sweden had held a referendum on its nuclear technology programmes, and when 80% of the population voted against them, the nuclear programme was brought to a halt, although studies continued to be conducted on nuclear energy, it was introduced as a course at the universities, and public perceptions were addressed through education programmes. Sweden was now competing for nuclear power stations, and its nuclear power programme was resuscitated, with consensus from the public.
Dr Shisana said the HSRC would be interested in discussing that issue further with the Chairperson. The HSRC had also done a study into Germany, where public perception was also not in favour of nuclear energy.
The Chairperson said the international study on maths and science was also very important, and he noted the involvement of the Netherlands.
The Chairperson urged HSRC to make strong recommendations on skills deployment. The skills shortage in South Africa was real, but often was also linked to mismatching or wrong deployment of skills, which impacted negatively on socio-economics. Having even one skilled person in the right place could have a huge positive social impact.
The Chairperson also commented on the surveys, and added that correct career guidance was sorely lacking, and he suggested that HSRC needed to work on that issue.
Committee business: International Study Tour
The Chairperson reminded Members that the Portfolio Committee had planned a study tour to Korea in January 2012, which, having initially been approved, was then turned down, due to shortage of funds. New proposals were made for a visit in July 2012, but the Korean Parliament would be holding elections and suggested a postponement to September, which was, in turn, a bad time for the Committee, as this month was given to consideration of Annual Reports.
Given these difficulties, the Committee had now suggested a study tour to China. He also noted that the Bulgarian Ambassador had invited the Committee to celebrate 20 years of diplomatic relations with South Africa in Bulgaria.
Members agreed that the Chairperson should explore the options of a study tour to China, via Bulgaria, further with the House Chair.
The meeting was adjourned.
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