The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) presented its annual report for the 2012/13 financial year. The report assessed five key focus areas: human resource management, research and development (R&D) outputs, R&D outcomes, contract R&D, financial sustainability and corporate governance. Other important considerations included the number of CSIR projects, the challenges they were facing, research and development, the outcomes of projects in the industry, defence and security, health, natural environment, built environment, education and the enterprise creation for development. The CSIR received an unqualified audit report and almost all of its targets were achieved or exceeded, with only the number of staff with doctorates failing to do so.
In the discussion Members expressed appreciation for the work that CSIR was doing. They asked what technology was being developed to help in detecting and diagnosing diseases such as cancer or high blood pressure, how CSIR could encourage students in basic education to take up science as a field of study, and if there was technology that could protect the South African Navy.
Members further asked what number of potential HIV antiretroviral medicines would be patented. Why did the technology developed by CSIR not concentrate on treating diseases such as high blood pressure and cancer? Was research being done to develop technology that used platinum for fuel cell? How could CSIR use science to tackle climate change?
Members asked what the relation between CSIR and the Department of Basic Education was and how CSIR could encourage students at basic levels to take up science. Why did CSIR not achieve its target number of staff with doctorates? Was this a problem with higher education?
The National Research Foundation (NRF) explained the annual report of the NRF. The presentation covered Research and Innovation Support and Advancement (RISA) and its investment into various areas of geographical advantage. It also looked at the number of PhD students that it offered funding to, the established and next generation researchers that it funded, as well as the programs aimed at encouraging more students at basic education levels to take up science as a field of study.
Members asked how the NRF was providing support, especially for students at the basic education level, in order to improve the spread of science that may encourage these students to take up science as a field of study. Members also asked how and if NRF offered support to part time and working students, as well as students that study abroad. Why had the NRF not built a computer that would capture the information obtained from the SKA?
Members asked why there were not enough teachers qualified to teach math and science in the basic education sector. What was NRF doing to improve the number of teachers teaching these subjects? What was being done about the lack of labs and equipment in schools? What was the aim of science festivals? How much funding went to research in indigenous knowledge systems (IKS)?
Briefing by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
Dr Rachel Chikwamba, Group Executive: Strategic Alliances and Communications and Acting Chief Executive Officer, CSIR, presented the annual report for 2012/13. The presentation outlined the CSIR’s mandate and objectives and organizational structure.
CSIR’s priorities were designed to reflect those of the National Development Plan. For maximum impact, the research impact areas included industry, health, energy, defence and security, national environment and the built environment. CSIR was making a tangible social and economic impact in a number of ways. This was done through innovations such as the development of a satellite-based fire information tool that reports active fires in near-real time, technology to produce titanium powder directly in a continuous manner, an ultrasonic system that detects railway breaks to prevent derailments and a wireless mesh network for rural access to broadband.
Key Performance Indicators
The key performance indicators were divided into the following strategic focus areas: human resource management, research and development (R&D) outputs and incomes, contract R&D, financial sustainability, and corporate governance and citizenship.
Performance in terms of human resource management was good. CSIR had exceeded its targeted size of science, engineering and technology (SET) staff base, reaching a total of 1 587 (65.4%). Of this number 48.6% were black and 32.1% were female. The only human resource management area in which the target was not met was the number of staff with doctoral level qualifications. The target had been 310 and only 301 were achieved.
With regard to R&D outputs, 503 publication equivalents were achieved out of a targeted 575. 26 new technology demonstrators had been targeted and 33 were achieved. The targeted Value of investment in property, plant and equipment was 93.5 m, 130.1 m was achieved.
Under R&D outcomes, 35 new patents were granted, and R14.8 m was made in royalties and licence income. Both of these figures were well in excess of the target.
Contract R&D income was targeted at R1 275.8 m but R1 403.1 m was reached. R364.1 m was targeted for private sector and international income, R364.7 m was made.
Mr Chris Sturdy, Chief Financial Officer, CSIR, presented financial sustainability and good corporate governance, where targets were again exceeded. The total income was R2.02 b and net profit was 48.4 m. CSIR had achieved an unqualified audit report. It had aimed for a Level Three contributor BBBEE rating but had achieved Level Two. A 1.2% reduction in energy consumption had been targeted, but instead a 0.98% increase had occurred. Energy saving initiatives had been implemented, but the increase occurred because business grew. The targeted disabling injury frequency rate was <0.3, but 0.04 was achieved.
Therefore almost all of the targets were achieved or exceeded with only the number of staff with doctorates failing to do so.
Achievements also included innovative programs such as the world’s first digital laser technology developed by Sandile Ngcobo, and publications, with 309 articles published in accredited journals. CSIR staff had invented the digital laser, a milestone in laser technology and likely to spur future laser-related developments. This allowed scientists to digitally control laser beams. The ensuing press conference had resulted in coverage worth R2.3 m to date.
Laser leak-sealing technology had extended the lifetime of water tanks at nuclear power stations by five to ten years. Border safeguarding had been improved through better integration of existing platforms in command, control, communication and surveillance and the use of unmanned aerial systems to capture video views, cell phone intercepts, jamming of global positioning systems (GPS) and video conferencing. New anti-HIV drug targets had been found using new microscopy techniques.
Contributions to education had been made as rural schools had limited access to Internet and educational resources. In response wireless Internet network was developed and installed in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, online math tutoring through Mxit was set up and made available to 40 000 users, and the Digital Doorway was redesigned to accommodate printers, tablets, and a screen incorporated into one side wall of containers.
Through these and other innovations the CSIR remained committed to research, development and innovation for national benefit.
Science and Technology
Ms D Rantho (ANC; Eastern Cape) asked why the use of science and technology was not really implemented in basic education like it was in the Further Education and Training (FET) colleges in the Eastern Cape. Knowledge of CSIR and what they do was only at the national level and not much was known about it at the ground level. What number of potential HIV antiretroviral medicines would be patented? Why did the technology developed by CSIR not concentrate on treating diseases such as high blood pressure and cancer?
Mr Molefi Motuku, Group Executive: Research and Development, CSIR, replied that CSIR worked in various communities and provinces and with time it would educate people of the work that it did. A lot of work was being done on diabetes, malaria, and TB. Efforts were being made in many areas of health in which science and technology would be used to diagnose and treat diseases.
Platinum use in fuel cell
Mr T Makunyane (ANC; Limpopo) said he was very impressed with the work of CSIR. There was a need for technology that used platinum for fuel cell, as South Africa was the largest producer of platinum in the world. He asked if there was research being done to develop this.
Mr Motuku responded that a lot of research was being done in developing technology that looked at the use of platinum in fuel cell. He stressed that it did not only look at platinum but at the Platinum Group Metals (PGM).
Mr Makunyane asked how CSIR could use science to tackle climate change.
Mr Motuku replied that CSIR was involved in the Southern Ocean Carbon-Climate Observatory (SOCCO) program that looked at understanding the link between climate change and the carbon cycle in the Southern Ocean.
South African Navy
Mr M De Villiers (DA; Western Cape) appreciated the presentation and the work of CSIR. He asked if CSIR was working to develop technology that would protect marine activities of the Navy. As this was a sensitive topic he said that if CSIR could not talk about the matter it did not have to do so.
Mr Motuku replied that CSIR developed technology for Defence Peace Safety and Security. Mr Sturdy added that it had also done a lot in terms of developing technology for the SA Navy such as the Wireless Application Service Provider (WASP) short range visual surveillance system.
Number of PHD staff at CSIR
Mr De Villiers asked why CSIR did not achieve its target number of staff with doctorates. He asked if the problem was at the higher level of education that did not produce enough doctorates.
Mr Thabo Pooe, Group Manager: Internal Audit Services, CSIR, replied that CSIR had 25 PhD graduates in its staff and 230 staff currently registered to study masters and doctorates programs. These would graduate over time increasing the number of staff with doctorates.
Mr De Villiers asked what technology CSIR had developed to warn people of the detection of wild fires.
Mr Pat Manders, Group Manager: Planning, CSIR, replied that the Advanced Fire Information System (AFIS) technology could only be used to detect and reduce the risk of wild fires and it could not be used to prevent these fires.
The Chairperson asked what the relation between CSIR and the Department of Basic Education was, as the presentation mostly referred to relations with the Department of Higher Education and Training. She asked how CSIR could encourage students at basic levels to take up science.
Dr Chikwamba replied that stories such as the success of Sandile Ngcobo and his invention could be used to sell more science and technology to younger students. He would act as inspiration to the young people to take up science as a field of study because young students would be encouraged by his achievements.
The Chairperson asked how CSIR could develop technology that would link science and crime considering the high levels of crime in the country.
This question was left unanswered due to the time constraint that the delegation had.
The Chairperson thanked the CSIR delegation for their presentation and said the delegation had another meeting to attend and that some questions would have to be left unanswered.
National Research Foundation (NRF) Annual Report 2012/13
Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, Chief Executive Officer, NRF, presented the annual report for 2012/13. The presentation outlined the legislative mandate of NRF, its organisational structure, and income trends. NRF’s total income for 2012/3 was R2.3 m, an increase from the previous year’s R2.1 m. It looked at the Research and Innovation Support and Advancement (RISA) and its investment into various areas of geographical advantage. NRF had increased spending in the investment into the Department of Science and Technology (DST) grand challenges and Research and Innovation Support and Advancement (RISA) Human Capacity Development Excellence pipeline.
There was an increase in the number of PhD graduations per million of the population per year from 2002/3 to 2012/13, when there were 32.56. There was investment in research equipment at all research institutions, including higher education institutions and National Research Facilities. The bulk of this investment went to high end research platforms, as well as cutting edge research equipment investments and SKA investment.
NFR funding streams came to a total of R1.3 m for 2012/13. Human capacity development included investment in established, emerging and next-generation researchers, as well as cross-cutting instruments and strategic investments. Next-generation researchers were supported through free-standing scholarships, grant-holder linked bursaries, other development grants and the Thuthuka PhD track. The NRF had targeted to support 7 865 students in 2012/13, the actual number supported was 9 309. The majority of these were master’s students. There was a growing student throughput, as the number of 3rd/4th year and Btech/Honours students had doubled in 2012/13. 284 female students and 341 black students were funded by the centres of excellence.
There was an upward trend in the number of peer reviewed journal articles published with a total of 488 in 2012/13. RISA funded researchers had published 4000 peer reviewed articles, 70 books, 240 chapters in books, and 20 patents, exceeding all targets. The targeted number of rated researchers, black rated researchers and female rated researchers were all exceeded. 517 interns were placed in 2012/13 – almost double the number placed in the previous year. The number of interns employed had increased fourfold since the inception of the internship programme.
The Science Advancement Program aimed to raise science awareness through science education, science communication and science awareness campaigns. The programme would build a supply of future scientists, share science and technology achievements with the public in order to increase the appreciation of science, and use infrastructure platforms to engage the learners and public. SET careers tracking assessed the impact of the project. Of the 2 555 students, 1 386 were tracked. 612 were not studying, 147 were in engineering and 774 were furthering their studies. Dr Jaarsveld said the science advancement program reached out to millions of students but the program did not turn out into students pursing studies in science. NRF did not have the ability to track these students.
Through the different initiatives the programme reached 334 674 learners against the target of 305 000; 15 243 educators against the target of 11 000; 2 112 visitors to the science awareness platform (Johannesburg Observatory) against the target of 8 000; and 143 394 participants in science festivals against the target of 120 000.
National Research Facilities
491 postgraduate students were making use of National Research Facilities for training out of a targeted 546; 255 students were supervised by staff, outstripping the target of 231; 160 funded collaborations took place with institutions abroad, with 132 targeted; there were 27 postdoctoral posts at facilities, where 26 had been targeted. The number of journal articles, research reports, books and chapters of books published reached or outstripped the targets set.
The presentation detailed the funding for the National Research Facilities – the bulk of which was designated to SKA – and the budget and expenditure for infrastructure and equipment.
Through the different initiatives the National Research Facilities reached 180 115 learners against the target of 221 000; 26 479 educators against the target of 5 366; 738 371 visitors to the science awareness platform against the target of 702 534; and 21 community projects in collaborations with disadvantaged communities against the target of 27.
Key achievements were highlighted in astronomy, biodiversity, conservation and environment, and nuclear science. The success of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project was a great accomplishment. Activities of the project for 2012/13 included a presidential visit to the SKA SA site, activities at the site including the construction of roads, builds, and information technology (IT) infrastructure, R120 m received from the African Renaissance Fund, and the establishment of an SKA SA international task team.
Mr W Faber (DA; Northern Cape) asked why the NRF had not built a computer that would capture the information obtained from the SKA.
Dr Jaarsveld replied that developing a computer to extract information at this stage of the SKA project would result in them building one that would be outdated by the time the SKA project was fully operational. He said that the plans to develop a computer to capture information from the SKA were aimed at 2025.
Lack of educators teaching maths and science
Mr De Villiers asked why there were not enough teachers qualified to teach math and science in the basic education sector. What was NRF doing to improve the number of teachers teaching these subjects? There was also a lack of labs and equipment in which teachers could teach learners and NRF needed to facilitate education departments and schools.
The Chairperson asked what the aim of science festivals was and how NFR could assist educators to give a better quality of education to learners in basic education schools.
Ms Beverly Damonie, Group Executive, NRF, replied that SASTA was in support of basic education and NRF was not responsible for the qualifications. NRF held science festivals in communities where both learners and teachers were trained in maths and science activities which would improve science and development in schools. The provision of science labs and equipment was the responsibility of the Department of Science and Technology.
Funding in research for IKS
Mr Makunyane asked about how much funding went to research in indigenous knowledge systems (IKS).
Dr Jaarsveld replied that a lot of funding was given to research in IKS and a lot of work was being done in the development of indigenous pharmaceutical knowledge.
Mass communication to attract students to science
Mr Makunyane asked if mass communication would work to improve social capacity that would encourage more students to take up science as a field of study.
Mr Jaarsveld replied that mass communication was a tool which they used to get information about science and technology to the public.
Achievements and Challenges
Ms M Moshodi (ANC) asked what some of NRF’s key achievements and key challenges were.
Mr Jaarsveld replied that Human Capital Development was at the heart of what NRF did. One of the key achievements was the SKA project which was attracting and keeping SA’s best researchers. One of its challenges was in competing as a science system. NRF needed to step up its scale of investments in order to compete with other global competitors in order to retain a higher number or researchers in the country.
Funding for part time students
The Chairperson asked how NFR looked at assisting part time and working students in their studies as it mostly looked at funding full time students without much support offered to those studying part time.
Mr Jaarsveld responded that NRF provided funding largely for post graduate studies from honours to post doctorate degrees. NRF did not provide funding to undergraduate studies as funding at undergraduate was provided for by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme of South Africa (NSFAS). Unfortunately, NFR could only fund 30% of all students that had applied for funding but wished they could look at more students. They did offer support to part time PhD students.
Mr Makunyane asked about funding for students to other universities.
Mr Jaarsveld replied that NRF did provide funding to students that were sent out to study and retained them in order to reduce the brain drain in the economy. They sent students abroad and hoped that these students came back after their studies. Even those who did not come back immediately eventually come back.
Mr Gansen Pillay, Deputy CEO, NRF, added that those that chose to stay abroad and work eventually come back after years abroad with massive experience and a wealth of knowledge that they injected into the knowledge and development of the county.
The Chairperson thanked the delegation from NRF for the report.
The meeting was adjourned.
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