Department of Science and Technology on its 2014 Strategic Plan

Science and Technology

02 July 2014
Chairperson: Dr M Goqwana (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee in its first meeting received a briefing on the annual performance of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and its entities. The Director General and a team of Deputy Director Generals presented the annual performance plan and budget briefing for the years 2014/15.The presentation comprised of the background of the work of the department with all policy, including the White Paper and the flavor in which work was structured in the department. The last part focused on addressing challenges within the department’s work.

The Committee asked questions on measurement of returns to investment in research, indigenous knowledge, South African Scientists, identifying talent and gross expenditure in Research & Development sector. The Director General gave brief answers to the questions asked.
Further discussions on the annual performance of the Department and its entities were scheduled to take place during the next Committee meeting to be held on 9 July 2014.

Meeting report

Opening Remarks

The Chairperson welcomed Members and allowed for a round of introductions. The Minister and Deputy Minister had extended apologies due to cabinet meetings coinciding with the Committee meeting. Two other members were absent.

Department of Science and Technology Presentation

The Director General, Dr Phil Mjwara, started the presentation by an introduction of the team of Deputy Director Generals (DDGs).

Overview of Presentation

The first part of the presentation comprised of a background of the Science and Technology Department, its mission, vision and goals. The second part of the presentation focused on how work was structured in the Department of Science and Technology to achieve the goals consistent with the New Growth Path and the National Development Plan. Lastly the challenges facing the Department (DST) and the ways of dealing with them were addressed. The meeting proceeded with discussion on all that has been presented, questions and answers by Deputy Director Generals in conclusion of the meeting.

Background of the Department of Science and Technology

The Department’s journey started in 1996 when the White Paper was introduced as a legal document for the work of the DST. In 2002 the Department adopted the research and development strategy that structured the ideas of the White Paper. In 2004, a White Paper set up as a separate ministry and in 2007 a ten year innovation plan was developed. Between 2009 and now, the Department had been looking at deepening implementation of these ideas. A management strategy on work the Department did had been proposed.

One of the things the Science and Technology White Paper introduced was the concept of National Science Innovation (NSI). In 2007, performance of the NSI was subjected to review conducted by stake holders from outside of the country. The ten year innovation plan was responding to recommendations of the review. The documents also introduced the idea of the knowledge based economy .The new set of instruments were introduced to accelerate ability to convert ideas from research to commercialisation and consolidate work already done. Particularly the Intellectual Property Right Act of 2008 and setting of institution called the National Intellectual Property Management Office that helps institutions manage intellectual property. The agency called the Technology Innovation Agency had a purpose to finance these institutions.

The White Paper Introduced the notion of NSI meaning the Department needed to look at utilizing science, technology and innovation. There was always a debate on how much was invested in Science as opposed to investing in attempts to translate science into useful products. The NSI was a set of functioning institutions, organizations and policies which impacted constructively in pursuit of common set of socio economic goals. It also ensured that policies across all institutions using Science and Technology were operating. The NSI raised the importance of leadership coordination and government’s role in ensuring that components of the NSI were in place and interacted with agreed set of goals.

The 2002 National Research and Development Strategy (NRDS)

The NRDS was a document to impact on quality of life and wealth creation using Science and Technology; quality of life measured by technology achievement and percentage growth in Gross Domestic Product from implementation of Science and Technology; human capital is essential for technology progress; also excellent business performance meaning industries and ensuring that knowledge is renewable by importing knowledge the country lack. The global share of knowledge was important, concerns about capacity and future capacity of knowledge and adequate number of PHD graduates in Science and Technology are all important.

The NRDS of 2002 rested on 3 pillars: Human Capital development; Innovation; Government and coordination of institutions. It also proposed a target of 1% of gross expenditure in Research and Development (R&D). The target was not yet reached as only 0.76% - 0.8% of GDP was invested in R&D.

Areas where advancement was to be done included manufacturing using Science and technology, poverty reduction, resource based industries for example mining, information technology, earth system and environmental science, biotechnology and nuclear reactions and chemical technology as a next generation of technology. Also investment was to be done in Astronomy and Paleontology due to a lot of fossils found in Gauteng.

The 10-year Development Plan

This was a plan of knowledge based economy through education, innovations and economic and institution regime that ensured that Science and Technology economy work hand in hand. Information and infrastructure had to work in harmony for a knowledge based economy. It identified areas shared in NRDS bio- economy, space-science, climate change and energy. The plan was to take advantage of the space available and look at efficient use of energy and renewable energy. Therefore human capital was needed and research chairs for additional funding.

The 10-year Development Plan was a document aligned to the NDP and NGP. The analysis of researches done showed that there was a productive and efficient research community. However there were concerns that the researchers and professors were old, thus producing emerging researchers was essential.

There was also a gender demographic challenge that needed to be addressed. Measurement strategies to track down the information on exact numbers for right innovations are implemented. There was a lack of critical math for socio economic transformation to work. Large scale innovation processes were needed; there was a need to upscale. There were 152 research chairs in total and these instruments do better. Investment in infrastructure was to be achieved through partnership for expensive material that South Africa cannot afford in order to develop the next generation of researchers. The pipelines of Mathematics and Science need to be implemented for revised strategies to build research and innovation. There was the aim of producing 100 PHD graduates per million by 2030. The industrial policy plan was an attempt to industrialise the country and there is innovation involved there as well.

Outcomes to be achieved by the DST

In measuring the contribution in GDP by the R&D work done, technology balance of payments was used, that was receipt of import and exports of technology. In the balance of payments about 4% of deficit came from imports of technology in South Africa. This is due to South African technology not being able to be commercialised. Knowledge generation is tracked publications and the number of students that are in Universities and Science Council. Knowledge exploitation is measured by the extent to which communities improve their life, the way in which knowledge fit in government priorities and the technical patterns. In the review of performance of work that has been done in knowledge generation and exploitation, on knowledge generation side data from institutions on number of publications have increased and more students are in University. This is due to innovations such as bursary schemes. There are 14 centers of excellence.

In knowledge exploitation some priority outcomes supported are basic and higher education. In higher education, it was ensured that the numbers of Masters and PHD students needed by the economy were funded. Looking at basic education an innovation had been piloted in Cofimvaba, between DST and Department of Basic Education. Rural development and localisation opportunity program were also supported by DST.

R&D had been used to facilitate development in Fluorine expansion initiative and Hydrogen South Africa. South Africa was endowed with the mineral fluorspar when the mineral is exported R2 per KG is obtained whereas when refined into products like hydrogen-fluoride R25- R275 per KG can be obtained. An investigation on whether large volumes can be produced for larger sales is conducted.

Hydrogen Fuel cell was a device that used Hydrogen to generate energy and produces water. In converting Hydrogen to energy requires platinum as a catalyst to produce carriers of energy. The country had platinum, what was needed was knowledge to use platinum in the energy producing membrane. The DST has funded 3 centers in South Africa, one in University of Cape Town develop the catalyst, the other in North West University looks at how Hydrogen can be converted to energy and the last one was at University of the Western Cape to build small power hydrogen fuel cells.

Localisation was supported by supporting technology of local firms for growth and expansion in order for local firms to be competent. The industries were in need of technology renewal.

Furthermore in support of education and development, medicine plant program was implemented to support rural development in cultivation of plants that can be used as treatments .The aquaculture program was also an initiative that provides infrastructure in fishing in Richard’s bay and Nelson Mandela Bay. The Cofimvaba initiative mentioned was the 21’st century educational environment that leads to quality learning and teaching in rural areas, to see whether tablets and other technological devices in rural settings can provide teaching of the 21st century.

There was a programme to support the development of new mining equipment, using innovations. In farming, genetically modification of trees such as sugarcane was suggested. Science and Technology could help in moving South Africa forward.

DiscussThe Chairperson noted few interesting things including the technology balance of payment, import and exports of technology. He suggested that in Science there is formal and informal education, whereby in informal education no documentation of qualifications. He asked the ways in which the negative influences of creativity can be managed. He commented on the point that Scientist work behind to bring ideas and somebody therefore implement these ideas, he wanted to know whether there is data on the number of Scientist in South Africa. He wanted to know how intelligence can be protected.

Dr A Lotriet (ANC) wanted to know where the indigenous knowledge features and how were returns to investment measured. She asked whether the DST have instruments to measure whether students qualify and plough back to the society.

Ms L Maseko (ANC) asked about the effectiveness of the innovation plan in utilisation of Science and Technology in Paleontology. She wanted to know about the program of identifying talent locally and ensuring that it is taken forward. On the notion of 1% target for gross expenditure in R&D, she asked about the time frame that was the expected time of achieving the target. She also wanted to know whether Law graduate have recommendations in the programs of DST.

Mr C Mothale (ANC) wanted to know whether the 100 PHD graduate was measurable and whether it will be achieved by 2013. He stated that Northern Cape also had plants for medical use, and wanted to know whether the DST has looked at that. He asked the same question of the number of Scientist the country have and things that can be further done to improve. He asked in line with NDP’s unemployment reduction plan about the number of vacant post and when will they be filled.

Ms J Terblanche (DA) wanted to know the result in terms of mark improvement in matric of the e-learning program and what is happening currently in the program. She asked whether it was still in the Eastern Cape only and if it was going to be rolled over to other provinces, which provinces will get the program.

Mr N Khoza (EFF) asked about marijuana and whether any research has been done to find out whether it had the ability to cure cancer.

Responses by the DST

On the question of indigenous knowledge features, Dr Mjwara replied that there was a program called IKS which was a study on indigenous knowledge whereby students can study and have Degrees of Bachelor of IKS in University of North West. It involved mainstreaming, advocacy and commercialisation.

Dr Mjwara said in measuring returns to investment in knowledge production, a tracking study will be done of student coming from the system and their contribution in where they work. Quality of life will be measured in knowledge exploitation. In protection of intellectual the patents will be tracked. Tracking returns to investment is something the Department is working on. He further suggested that the 1% target in investment in R&D any guess in time frame is as good as the DG’s guessing. Modeling work is being done on the time frame and how much money will be needed. It is not easy to reach that target international funding must be attracted, Chinese has shown interest.

On the question of PHD graduate production, Dr Mjwara said a model will be done, taking the limiting factors into consideration. Early next year, the DST should have an estimated number of students it could take abroad as well.

Dr Mjwara said in reducing unemployment, there were internship programs for young graduates, and new opportunities were developed for entrepreneurs to create employment. On the medicinal plants in the Northern Cape, the DST had not looked at that hopefully the center for medicinal planting will look at all available resources. He said for disability, no program in particularly had been implemented within DST. There were activities within other programs.

Mr Imraan Patel, a Deputy Director General (DDG), said that development was not the DST’s programme. The DST worked in partnership with the entities where development initiatives were concerned.

Mr Patel said Cofimvaba was used to understand impact in education; Gauteng had also started the e-learning. However Cofimvaba would continue operating, the budget available was for piloting not enough money to take in other provinces yet. Improvement in education could not be determined with available data; victory cannot be claimed where it was not clear whether it was brought about by the program. One year’s matric results were not sufficient to make conclusion.

On gender issues, Ms Nombuyiselo Mokoena, a DDG, said there was a 49% target on female management. Currently the DST was sitting at 46%. There was a budget of R 500 000 per annum in program that empower women. In vacancy filling there was a 7% target per annum.

Dr Daniel Adams, a DDG, addressed the question on the identification of local talent. He said it was in the program of Science, engagement science awareness where students were made aware. There were Science week competitions that encouraged students to learn science through competing, for example the undergraduate competition of building super computer.

Dr Adams addressed the question on the number of scientists in South Africa. He replied that it was very small as there were under 20 000 scientists in the country. The PHD target was not unrealistic, given that currently there were 36 PHD per million taking the limiting factors into consideration. The main funding program to achieve this was the NRF.

Dr Mjwara finalised the answering session by noting that in an existing sectors new technology was used, such as mining, farming whereby plants were genetically modified. Some innovations might not work even though they were good.

The meeting was adjourned. 

Share this page: