The Academy of Sciences of South Africa (ASSAf) outlined its annual performance plan and described its primary function of ASSAf to recognise and award excellence in all the fields of scholarship in the country. The word “science” was used in the generic sense, and its membership was multi-disciplinary. It promoted innovation and scholarly activities, gave advice to policy makers and civil society, and promoted interest in and awareness of science education, as well as national, regional and international linkages with other science academies. It promoted government’s goals of strengthening skills and the resource base, as well as regional development, and worked in areas of health, rural development, food security, and environmental assets and natural resources. Its Scholarly Publishing Programme enhanced capacity of individual researchers and visibility of South African research publications. ASSAf was current peer-reviewing all South African scholarly journals, and intending to upload them on to its Open Access Platform. The Scientific Electronic Library Online was being accessed widely, and this, together with publication on the Web of Knowledge (WoK), would give huge visibility to South African scholarly publications, and be of great importance for the development of indigenous knowledge. An online scientific writing course was also offered, together with workshops. ASSAf was negotiating for a national subscription to commercial scholarly databases on behalf of all universities. On the policy side, ASSAf’s members were able to give policy advice speedily on a number of issues, and some specific projects were outlined in the fields of biosafety, Science for Poverty Alleviation, agriculture and nuclear energy safety. A South African Nobel prizewinner had donated part of his prize money to set up a post-doctoral fellowship and ASSAf was seeking additional funding. It had launched the South African Young Academy of Science, leased with African Union ministers of science and technology, and undertaken joint activities with a number of listed countries. It had a long-standing collaboration with the
Members asked for more details on the work on rural development and food security, how it would address the financial and staffing challenges, the likely outcome of the funding requests and the Young Scientists Conference. The Chairperson questioned why there did not appear to be ASSAf representation at a number of conferences, but was told that often ASSAf members attended in a dual capacity. The Chairperson also suggested that more attention had to be paid to soil science, and asked for more detail on the controversial generation of flu viruses in laboratories, as well as what Mauritius was offering in the science field, and what was being done by ASSAf in relation to nuclear energy and safety. Further details were also sought on collaboration with TWAS, the African Science Academy Development Initiative, and links from the African Union to the World Science Forum.
The Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA) was a statutory body, that aimed to provide research and policy development support for programmes that contributed to the development of the African continent, as well as researching and offering training programmes that fostered patriotism, awareness and understanding of the African continent. It also established and participated in continental and global networks that would contribute to the peace, development and prosperity of the Continent. Its strategic objectives included encouraging knowledge production and dissemination on African affairs, increasing the number and quality of researchers, building visibility of AISA, developing a performance led culture within AISA, and improving the control and governance environment and compliance with legislation. A SWOT analysis was given, and AISA aimed to focus on communication and marketing, further partnerships and further funding. It dealt with challenges common to all African states, focused on government priorities of education, employment creation, health, rural development, and safety and security. In the research and publications area, it had published one, and was busy with another book on the divide between
Members asked how promotion and knowledge of African affairs could be enhanced, asked how the schools were identified, and if they included schools in rural areas, and asked for more details on rumours about misuse of research funding, and failure to exercise proper performance reviews. In future, those making these allegations would be asked to submit affidavits. Members also asked about collaboration with the Human Sciences Research Council, noted the need for dialogue on reconciliation and a more cohesive society.
The Committee resolved to accept the invitation of the German Deputy Minister, to mark the Germany/South Africa Year of Science, which took place in the same time as the planned overseas study tour.
Professor Robin Crewe, President,
He noted that the primary function of ASSAf was to recognise and award excellence in all the fields of scholarship in the country. The word “science” was used in the generic sense and was not limited to the natural sciences, and the Academy’s membership was broad and multi-disciplinary, including those working in engineering, law, the health sciences, the humanities and the social sciences.
One of the primary functions of ASSAf was recognition and reward of excellence, and the promotion of innovation and scholarly activities. ASSAf also provided effective, evidence-based scientific advice to policy makers and to civil society, whilst another important function was the promotion of interest in and awareness of science education, ensuring that school learners received a very solid foundation in science education. It also promoted national, regional and international linkages with other science academies.
ASSAf was aligned to government’s goals of strengthening skills and the resource base, as well as regional development and the development of academies on the Continent. The Academy also focused on improving the health profile, rural development, food security, and environmental assets and natural resources.
A new Council and new President would be elected in October 2012, as the recent amendments to the legislation reduced the term of office to two years. There had been significant engagement with the Auditor-General (AG) in the last few months, and audit requirements were being implemented.
The Scholarly Publishing Programme, consisting of a number of activities, was a major intervention in the knowledge environment. The strategic goals of this programme were to enhance the capacity of individuals to produce and publish research, and to increase the quality and the visibility of South African research publications. The programme was initially funded, under a three-year contract, by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) but ASSAf was looking at supporting the programme even further.
ASSAf, following a request from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), was currently peer reviewing all South African scholarly journals, in order to make recommendations on subsidy recognition for various journals. The fields already reviewed were listed (see attached presentation), and only high quality journals would be taken onto the Academy’s Open Access Platform.
Prof Crewe gave more details on the Open Access Platform, which was offered through the Scientific Electronic Library on Line (SciELO), and noted that journals were being uploaded whilst the accreditation applications were being considered. He tabled the access figures of SciELO, which illustrated how the Open Access Platform had grown over the past 18 months, as well as the international impact. The Open Access Programme was started in collaboration with
DST and the Brazilian Embassy.
Another component was the online scientific writing course, funded by the International Academies of Medical Practice (IAMP), and the ASSAf had recently hosted a workshop for young medical science graduates, based on those online modules.
DST and DHET had both requested ASSAf to review access to commercial scholarly databases, and negotiate a national subscription so that all universities would have equal access to databases.
Prof Crewe then turned to the Policy Advisory Programme, which gave advice on issues in health, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, Science for Poverty Alleviation, Biosafety and Biosecurity, Humanities, and Water. ASSAf placed emphasis on policy commentaries, and in the previous year had commented on the Department of Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan. Its members were able to supply commentaries speedily, and ASSAf intended to localise the information in a number of reports from various international academies to the South African context.
He outlined some aspects of the Policy Advisory Programme in each category. In the Biosafety and Biosecurity area, he noted the major controversy around synthetic laboratory generation of flu viruses, but said this was a very important emerging technology that needed funding and further research. The main focus in the area of Science for Poverty Alleviation, was the dissemination of a policymakers’ booklet on ‘Regulation of Agricultural Biotechnology in
Prof Crewe noted that Sydney Brenner, a South African who had won a Nobel prize, donated part of his Nobel prize winnings to ASSAf for establishment of a post-doctoral fellowship, on condition that the holders could be nationals from any country, but must do their research in
A South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS) was launched in October 2011, and the annual meeting of the Global Young Academy of Science (GYAS) would be held in
Prof Crewe listed ASSAf’s activities and liaison internationally (see attached presentation for details), noting that these included liaison of the African Union Science and Technology Minister’s group, joint activities in the Southern African Development Community, the
The Chairperson interjected that another four countries considered were
Prof Crewe said it had always been an anomaly that some countries, like
He continued that ASSAf also had long ongoing collaboration with the
Prof Crewe finally outlined the financial statements, noting that the baseline allocation for 2012/13 was R13.47 million, whilst anticipated expenditure amounted to R17.2 million, giving a projected deficit of R2.76 million. ASSAf had plans to deal with some financial challenges, including exploring separate funding for the Open Access Platform.
Ms S Plaatjie (COPE) asked if there were specific areas on which the Academy was working, especially around improvement of rural development and food security.
Prof Roseanne Diab, Executive Officer: ASSAf, responded that the Academy looked at the overarching role of government, and tried to align with areas where it felt it cold contribute. In 2008, ASSAf had published a report how rural subsistence agriculture could be promoted, and in 2009 had published another report on local economic development in small towns. In future, it would be working on revitalising education in the agriculture sector, was making a proposal for a consensus study, and hoped that would be completed before the end of 2012. In addition, ASSAf was focusing on GMOs in African agriculture, for both
Ms Plaatjie asked about how ASSAf would address its financial challenges, and also asked about staffing.
Prof Crewe responded that the Academy had 21 positions, of which 19 were filled. A conscious decision was taken not to fill the other two posts, but to address the financial challenges.
Ms Plaatjie asked whether DST had given any positive response to funding requests.
Prof Crewe noted that ASSAf was still in discussions with the DST, and that was likely to be resolved during this financial year.
Ms Z Ndlazi (ANC) asked for clarification on alignment with government goals, and how rural development could lead to improvements in food security.
Ms Ndlazi asked for more detail on the Young Scientists Conference, and how this was communicated to the communities.
Prof Diab responded that the conference was normally held in October each year, and that notices were circulated to the Academy’s membership and universities, but she would also notify the Committee.
The Chairperson noted that he had attended the World Science Forum, but did not see any representatives from ASSAf.
Prof Crewe said he had attended the World Science Forum in 2010, as well as the meeting for the Presidents of Academies of Science. ASSAf had to make a choice what meetings to attend, and in 2012 had decided to attend the TWAS annual conference, in
The Chairperson asked if ASSAf was looking into the challenges facing soil science, water scarcity and water stress in
Prof Diab responded that some members of the Academy had expertise in soil science and would probably make out a good case for focusing attention on this area, but ASSAf could not focus on every area. It had touched on soil science through its committee on Science for Poverty Alleviation, but had not yet specifically promoted this field, other than recognising its importance to ground water, through the study on the state of water in
The Chairperson said Prof Maxwell of
Prof Crewe added that perhaps ASSAf should extend the discussions with the Agricultural Research Council to include this issue well.
The Chairperson asked that the Committee to be invited to the conference on the La Main a la Pate Project in
The Chairperson asked for clarification on the controversy and significance of synthetic generation of flu viruses in the laboratory.
Prof Crewe clarified that, in an attempt to understand flu pandemics, there had been an attempt some years ago to reconstruct the flu virus of the early 1900s. More recently, laboratory scientists were investigating the reconstruction of the H5N1 virus (Avian ‘flu virus), and whilst it was possible to do so, for the purposes of producing vaccines, there were concerns about biosafety, as it was not yet known whether this would result in a mild or aggressive form of flu.
The Chairperson further noted that he had also attended the Astronautical Congress, as well as the Scientists Forum of Japan, but again had not seen an ASSAf representative there, and asked why.
Prof Crewe responded that the Academy tried to identify members of the Academy who would be attending, and ask them also to represent ASSAf. He pointed out that many South African delegates would be representing both their own institutions and ASSAf.
The Chairperson asked what
Prof Diab responded that the Mauritius Academy of Science and Technology, with whom ASSAf had collaborated, was new but quite active, despite not receiving funding from the Mauritian government. ASSAf had useful interaction in a number of areas, particularly water and GMOs. This country was also active in the fields of agriculture, energy, particularly renewable energy, and the well established sugar industry.
The Chairperson asked for more information on what ASSAf had done in nuclear energy and safety, noting that he would be participating in the South African International Nuclear Conference at the end of May. ASSAf would be central to guiding institutions of government in that respect.
Prof Crewe responded that one aspect concerned safety of the plants themselves, which was quite well established, but the other aspect concerned the critical safety controls over nuclear fuels, from production, to use in the reactor, through to disposal, and this would be the main areas of focus. A number of ASSAf members, and one of its Council, would attend that conference.
The Chairperson said consideration also had to be taken in the design stage and one of the papers to be presented at that conference was concerned with design and relative safety, cost and ease of maintenance of the various options.
Prof Crewe agreed that essentially the question came to whether the design of the reactors was inherently safe and would allow for automatic shut down. In
The Chairperson said TWAS was one of the organisations very active in the World Science Forum in
Prof Crewe responded that ASSAf would engage via other members of the African network who had dual membership, such as
The Chairperson asked if there had been collaboration with Prof Janice Simpson, who used to edit science journals.
Prof Crewe responded that Prof Janice Simpson produced a web-based publication, called Science for Africa, which summarised some of the scientific discoveries in
The Chairperson asked for more details on the status of African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI)
Prof Crewe responded that ASADI was coming to an end, and after its last annual meeting in Nigeria, in November 2012, its functions would be transferred to the Network of African Academies of Science (NASAC), who would then run the annual meetings from 2013, with the support, in 2013, of the Ethiopian Academy of Science, the Royal Society of London, Leopoldina of Germany and the Canadian and US Academies of Sciences.
The Chairperson wondered if this would be similar to the ESAC network.
Prof Crewe replied that ASSAf currently was engaging with ESAC, who had a well developed mechanism for interacting with the European Union, from which ASSAf and NASAC could take lessons.
The Chairperson commented that
Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA) 2012 Annual Performance Plans & Strategic Plan
Dr Matlotleng Matlou, Chief Executive Officer, Africa Institute of
Dr Matlou outlined the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, both internal and external (see attached presentation) and said AISA took active steps to deal with both. It aimed to strengthen its niche in dealing with African issues, look at recommendations from the 10 Institutional Review, develop greater visibility through communication and marketing strategies, seek more partners in and beyond South Africa, and seek further funding.
Challenges that were common to all African states included the state of development in
Key business drivers were the South African government priorities of education, employment creation, health, rural development, and safety and security. He also tabled a vision for the African Union, mentioning dignity, development and prosperity, and making
Dr Matlou summarised some of the work in which AISA was involved, tied in with the research agenda. In the past year it had published a book on the divide between North Africa and Sub Saharan Africa, primarily looking at the Arab Spring, and would continue to look into lessons learned and the current
He noted that AISA partnered with other organisations in
AISA had met most of the targets for the last year, and, in response to suggestions, had produced more policy briefs and produced a number of books (see attached presentation for details). It had held a conference at the
AISA also dealt with a number of monographs, and was hoping to publish a special edition of the Africa Insight journal to mark the tenth African Union anniversary. A conference would be held on 23 and 24 May, as a side event of the Africa Diaspora Summit.
In respect of the programme on governance and democracy, Dr Matlou said that AISA had done research into
AISA also continued to work on 21st Century Global Governance, and was working on special economic zones, and reviewing FOCAC plan 2009 to 2012 and researching Africa’s relationship with
In the area of Peace and Security, AISA was undertaking a book project entitled ‘Peace from Within’, and noted a conference dealing with issues of child soldiers, rehabilitation and reconciliation.
AISA collaborated with
In the education field, The Archie Mafeje Memorial Lectures were held on 28 March, dealing with African centred education, and a further conference would be held, in conjunction with the Human Sciences Research Council later in the year. The Archie Mafeje Memorial Institute would be launched by UNISA. again, recognising a widely known South African scholar that made an input in the country. It was also investigating
AISA was also researching rights of indigenous people, and cited a court case in which the Kenyan government was ordered to take indigenous rights into account when planning development. In
AISA investigated organic farming in
It was noted that AISA worked with a number of external partners, including Standard Bank, who had a large footprint on the African continent, and wanted to understand more about the communities where it worked. Seminars were held covering issues not only in Africa, but also
One of AISA’s researchers was working with the African Standards Organisation on food in the tourism industry, and it was interesting to note that
Research outputs in the last year had matched the targets for the most part, but some journal articles were still undergoing peer review. AISA sought to grow young researchers and publish their papers. The State of Africa was one of its flagship publications. In 2012/13 it would publish chapters on the Second Decade of Education, whilst Africa at a Glance and Africa A-Z would be updated.
Summaries were given of a number of partnerships in
Special projects and initiatives for the current financial year would include the electoral monitoring project in
AISA had visited schools in the last year, reaching over 1 000 young learners, following up with some attending the programme ‘Man in the Making’, and it continued to build its library and use conferences and seminars to network.
Ms Elsie Maritz, Chief Financial Officer, AISA, tabled the financial statements, and noted that the main source of income was the grant allocation from DST, which contributed 90% of the total revenue, whilst the remainder was derived from sale of books, maps, special project income, partnerships, membership and royalty fees, as well as interest. AISA’s employee costs and running costs accounted for 70% of expenditure, which meant that only 30% was left for research and delivery of outputs. It had managed, in the last year, to reduce employee costs from 63% to 51% of budget, although this had resulted in restrictions of human capital. It projected no deficit and no surplus and would try to save costs wherever possible, although this was a challenge, given that it had received only a 4.3% increase in the grant for 2012/13. Costs saved were put towards research.
Dr Matlou summarised that AISA would continue to build quality assurance, and reconstitute the editorial board of the Institute’s journals, under Professor Chris Landsberg as editor. AISA would be strengthening its relationships with Fellows, was looking to produce more policy briefs and changing the ways it communicated, including blogs and social media. It aimed to foster a growing interest in science, apart from the Science Week, and adopt best practices from other countries
Ms Plaatjie asked how the promotion and knowledge of African affairs could be enhanced, particularly if AISA had insufficient IT and assets.
Dr Matlou responded that the younger researchers, in particular, tried to publicise their work on the social media, and internet was used as much as possible. All policy briefs were uploaded to the website, and AISA reduced its production via the print media, concentrating rather on radio, including African language stations.
Ms Plaatjie asked how AISA identified schools for its programmes, which areas it targeted and whether rural areas were included.
Dr Matlou responded that AISA would work with provincial and district levels of the Department of Basic Education, to target a number of schools in one area.
The Chairperson noted that AISA had a number of foreign researchers, including those from other African countries, and he had heard rumours that these researchers were sub-contracting their research work to academics in their own countries, for a portion of the research funding. He asked if there was any truth in this.
Dr Matlou responded that similar questions had been raised in the previous year, but this was not the case. AISA had two researchers from
The Chairperson said that there was also an allegation that there were no criteria for determining salary increments, and these were given without assessment of abilities.
Dr Matlou responded that there was a set system for salary increases, passing through the HR Committee, the full Council, and taking into account DST recommended increases. AISA could not implement increases until they were signed off by Council. A moderating committee dealt with performance management, and researchers had to meet their research output requirements before being considered for performance bonuses. There was also a process for appeal if researchers were not satisfied.
The Chairperson noted that in future, when such complaints were noted, he would call for written reports or affidavits.
The Chairperson noted that the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) had informed the Committee of its research surveys, including one analysing sustainability of communities, and another on HIV and Aids, on the Continent. He asked if AISA collaborated with HSRC on these surveys.
Dr Matlou responded that AISA collaborated with the HSRC on other projects, but not necessarily on these. It would participate in the Social Sciences Conference in September, had participated in the 80th anniversary of Prof Ben Magubane in 2010, and had worked with HSRC in the
The Chairperson noted a recent radio interview that noted that reconciliation dialogue was vital, lest
Dr Matlou responded that the issue on South African dialogue had come to the fore since events in the previous month, and the increasing violence during strikes. He agreed that AISA could draw lessons from other countries, and their processes of restorative justice. Discords arose through differences in culture, power relationships, and gender, as well as through perceptions of corruption and wealth.
The Chairperson mused that many parents today were activists in the 1970s, and neither they, nor the schools, were disciplining their children enough to achieve a stable society.
Dr Matlou responded that this was not only found in South Africa, and although the form that violence took differed, it had been seen in the riots in the UK, whilst Twitter and IT revolutions had offered advantages, but also disadvantages in easy access to undesirable sites, including pornography. He noted that parents were faced with many constraints, including single parenting, and government, schools and parents had to work together.
Other business: International Study Tour
The Chairperson stressed that Members who did not attend meetings and did not take an interest in the work of the Committee would not be included in the study tour.
He noted a personal invitation to the Chairperson from the German Deputy Minister, to mark the Year of Science in
The meeting was adjourned.
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