Cooperation Agreements between SA and Saudi Arabia, France, Switzerland and Mexico: briefing by Department of Science and Technology

Science and Technology

31 October 2012
Chairperson: Mr N Ngcobo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Science and Technology briefed the Committee on science and technology agreements between SA and France, SA and Switzerland, SA and Saudi Arabia and SA and Mexico.
The Committee was given insight into each of the agreements by way of noting the reasons for the agreements, the actual programmes initiated and also what future plans were.

The Department pointed out that France had a highly educated population and that it had good research and development (R&D) intensity. Switzerland was recognised as world leaders in R&D spending, publications and patents per capita. The current focus between South Africa and Saudi Arabia was on institutional collaboration as well as collaboration between universities.

Members mostly asked questions of clarification. However there was interest shown over the manner in which programmes were allocated to universities as it seemed that previously disadvantaged universities especially in rural areas were overlooked. There was also interest on how students were chosen to participate in programmes and whether it included students from other racial groups and gender other than the traditional white male student. The Department was encouraged to enter into international agreements with African Countries.

Meeting report

Department of Science and Technology (DST)
The Department of Science and Technology briefed the Committee on science and technology agreements between SA and France, SA and Switzerland, SA and Saudi Arabia and SA and Mexico.
Mr Mmboneni Muofhe, Chief Director: International Relations and Resources, DST, undertook the briefing. There were a total of 53 agreements of which 33 were active. One of the reasons given for international cooperation to take place was that research was too costly for one country to bear alone. Modalities of cooperation include policy dialogues, student and staff exchanges and workshops and conferences.

SA – France  
Why France? The French were highly educated and they had good research and development (R&D) intensity. They were also amongst the top knowledge generators in the world. One of the major programmes with the French government was F’SATI (Frenco South African Technical Institute) training in electrical and electronic engineering. The French Embassy had allocated R5.1m for the training of 28 B.Tech; 63 M.Tech; 14 D.Tech; 8 PhDs and 2 Post-Docs students. Another venture undertaken was trilateral cooperation between SA, France and Senegal on a laser research project. A meeting with the French was scheduled for early 2013 to map the way forward for cooperation.

SA – Switzerland
Why Switzerland? The Swiss were world leaders in R&D spending, publications and patents per capita. With the help of the Swiss, SA had its first pharmaceutical plant to manufacture Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) for Anti-Retroviral Medicines in SA.  There were prolonged research projects until the end of 2012 but there was a new call for research proposals in 2012.

SA – Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia had a high standard of economic development but was weak in most science and technology indicators. Only 0.2% of its Gross National Product (GNP) was invested in R&D. It also lacked human resources for science and technology development. Its focus was on energy, water, agriculture, the environment, computational science and engineering. The current focus between SA and Saudi Arabia was on institutional collaboration as well as collaboration between universities.  In the future there was interest to collaborate on astronomy by way of training students in SA.

SA – Mexico
In Mexico the focus was on macroeconomic stability and growth. There was little incentive to innovate and invest in R&D. The Gross domestic expenditure on R&D was 0.5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). International linkages were well developed especially with the USA. Some of Mexico’s key challenges for innovation were its education levels, low budget allocations, insufficient infrastructure and weak political commitment. At present there was collaboration at institutional level especially with universities. An inter-government agreement was signed in April 2010. Research and development projects had been identified for the future but were halted due to a lack of funding.

Mr P Smith (IFP) asked why the Department was focused on the aforementioned countries. Active versus inactive agreements, what was the difference? He referred to the France-SA technical institutions training and asked was it full on training from scratch or was it add ons to existing studies. Was it done in France or was it offered at colleges where students studied.
He referred to slide 14 which spoke about SA not being able to match funding. It was a bit concerning and gave the impression that SA was a bit tardy. What was the purpose of the SA-Saudi Arabia Agreement? Having an agreement with Dubai would be understandable as Dubai had an innovations hub. Was there an agreement with Dubai? He asked why real growth domestic expenditure on research and development in Mexico was robust.

Mr Muofhe explained that the four countries were chosen on the basis that the agreements with them were tabled for discussion in Parliament. Active agreements were those where the parties were actively involved. Inactive agreements were those signed but the other party did not honour the agreement and was not active. Many agreements were signed but not all were active. Nigeria was one such country which was inactive as they did not collaborate.
SA not being able to match funding was a real problem as there were limited budgets. The Department had used its international budget to leverage international funding. R20m was used to leverage R100m.
He agreed that Saudi Arabia was an oil rich country but the Department looked for areas of mutual benefit. Even though Saudi Arabia was an oil country, it was looking at diversifying in order to have a knowledge based economy.
He was unsure as to why he had stated that real growth domestic expenditure on R&D in Mexico was robust as it was one of the weakest.

Ms J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) referred to the modalities of co-operation with the French and asked what needed to be done to extend training facilities. Relating to programmes which SA had with the French, was the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) involved? She pointed out that the University of Stellenbosch was involved in space science, was the French involved? 
She asked if the work that Saudi Arabia was doing on radio astronomy was related to work on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Would telescopes be placed in Saudi Arabia?

Mr Muofhe noted that the Department had tried to avoid using the term “SKA” but rather used the term “radio astronomy”. The greater the concentration of satellites the better the quality of images. 
He added that SA used its international agreements to build its capacities. SA did not have the facilities to train space scientists. Countries like Thailand had sent its people to France for training. In the end individuals were capacitated.  SA could learn a great deal from its counterparts.
There would be radio satellites in Saudi Arabia but not SKA.

Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) asked what the criteria were used to identify technikons which would get involved in projects. Technikons in rural areas rarely benefited. She referred to slide 8 which spoke about the involvement of various categories of students in programmes and asked whether there were monitoring and follow ups on the migration of students. Were students participating in SA or did they go overseas.
She also referred to slide 15 and asked about the criteria that were used to identify students. Science had traditionally been dominated by rich white males. She asked for a breakdown of students.

Mr Muofhe replied that there was a F’SATI at the Tswane University of Technology. There was a whole bouquet of training taking place. The training was strengthened by the fact that French lecturers from French Institutions lectured students. F’SATI was funded by the private sector in courses relevant to the sector. Where a student for example in electronic engineering went on to do post graduate studies he or she would come aboard the F’SATI Initiative. It was true that follow ups needed to be done on students but many students were absorbed in SA companies. There were students from France that came over to participate who afterwards went back home.
On the issue of how institutions of training were chosen he noted that the first point was the realisation that SA needed space science capacity training. Another point to consider was how to attract students who were not white males to participate. The programme covered the building of cube satellites. Cube satellites might be small but it was the same technology as larger satellites. The reason why programmes were not offered at some previously disadvantaged campuses was because they did not offer engineering as a course of study. For example the University of Venda did not offer engineering.

The Chairperson responded that the University of the Northern Cape which was to be built would have an astronomy department and offer courses in that field. The Minister of Higher Education needed to be influenced so that universities should have their own programmes. Lecturers from abroad could be used initially.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens pointed out that the University of Stellenbosch was very advanced in micro-satellites. She asked why the French was being used to train when training could take place at the University of Stellenbosch.

Mr Muofhe stated that the University of Stellenbosch was involved but that the programmes were based at CPUT. He further added that micro-satellites were different to cube satellites.

Ms Dunjwa asked if the Department had a relationship with the Department of Higher Education so as to influence it.

Ms H Line (ANC) referred to slide 15 and asked for more information on the pharmaceutical plant mentioned. What were the future plans with Saudi Arabia and how was the SKA to benefit from it. She being a representative from Carnarvon in the Karoo and asked what the economic spinoffs if any were. What benefits were there for locals?

Mr Muofhe said that he needed to confirm what the relationship between the Department and the Department of Higher Education was.

The Chairperson pointed out that in 2005 the Committee had held a workshop with the then Department of Education with the focus that the two departments needed to work together. In successful economies science and education was often placed in the same ministry.
He observed that it seemed that a great deal of work was being done with France. He was aware that a great deal of work was also done with South Korea. With which country was more work done? He asked where the Astronomical Commission and Federation fit in on all of this. Did the Department have plans on nuclear involvement on the Energy Bill Programme? The briefing alluded to the fact that the Swiss was ranked the highest as far as publications were concerned. He pointed out that the USA said that there was no agreement or collaboration on publications with SA. Was there collaboration with the USA?

Mr Muofhe said that if he had to provide a list of SA’s top partners the European Union would top the list in terms of partnerships and funding. Thereafter Germany, France and Switzerland would follow. He did not feel that Korea was strong enough. In his view SA could strengthen the effectiveness of Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) by partnering with Korea. The Director General was presently in Korea to look at ways in which the TIA could become effective in terms of its mandate.

The Chairperson asked what the strategy was with France on the Nuclear Build Programme.

Mr Muofhe responded that the Department would like to see clear engagement. There would have to be conditionalities and it must include how SA should build its own science and technology capacities. It was all good and well to have programmes but capacity should also be built.
He added that the UK and SA did not have agreements on publications but that there were partnerships.

Mr Smith asked how the Department ranked countries with which SA had no agreements with those which SA had agreements with.

Mr Muofhe stated that where no agreements existed institutions would be monitored. For example with Canada there were no agreements but there were partnerships. Canada would be ranked quite high even though there was no agreement. With the UK it was more about relationships between universities. The process had not been government driven. There was also no agreement with the USA. In the USA programmes were run by institutions.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked if the Department cooperated with Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA (BRICS) countries.

The Chairperson asked whether there was a relationship with the Institut Polytechnique des Sciences Advancees (IPSA).

Mr Muofhe said that in 2011 a meeting was held to identify broad areas of co-operation with BRICS. Specific areas of focus had been identified and would be expanded upon. His view was that IPSA had been disappointing on the implementation platform.  Partners did not come back on board.

Ms Dunjwa suggested that the Department focus on agreements with African countries especially Southern African Development Countries (SADC).

Mr Muofhe agreed to forward information on international co-operation to the Committee.

The Chairperson suggested a two-day workshop be held with the Committee.

Mr Muofhe said that SA had a good reputation in Africa. There were trilateral partnerships where other African countries were brought on board. He noted that when the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) started SA had seconded people to them. Science programmes had to be dropped.

Mr Smith asked why the agreement with Nigeria was not working.

Mr Muofhe said that the Department could only speculate why it was not working.

The meeting was adjourned.


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