The Department of Science and Technology (DST) was responsible for research development and support, and innovation across the national system of innovation. It had a budget of R6.5 billion, which supported 720 000 learners and 9 771 students. The National Development Plan (NDP) required that more than 100 doctoral graduates per million of the population should be produced, with an increase in the number of Africans and women. By 2030, an additional 100 000 PhDs should be produced and at least 75% of university academics should have doctoral degrees. Over the past ten years, the Department had increased the number of PhDs from a 1 000 per year, to just over 1 800 annually. This was not nearly enough progress to reach the NDP targets by 2030. The Department was currently producing fewer than 35 PhDs per 1 million of population -- only one-third of where the NDP suggested it should be by 2030.
Systemic challenges were the supervisory capacity to improve postgraduate completion rates and low bursary values, resulting in low progression ratios and a high demographic drop-off. Other challenges were poor demographic representation at ‘established researcher’ levels, and a relatively small science system. The gross expenditure on research and development as a percentage of the gross domestic product was calculated to be less than 1%.
The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) intended to expand and renew the South African scientific research base and to address historical racial, gender and age imbalances. A total of 149 chairs had been awarded to ‘established researchers’ to conduct research and provide mentorship at universities. The next call for at least 20 chairs would prioritise female and international candidates, where two or three would be co-funded with industry.
Significant investments had been made in the ‘emerging researcher’ category, and although this had not led to a significant growth in the number of supported researchers, it had resulted in a growth of the average grant. Up to 70% of about 700 000 participants in the National Science Week (NSW) and festivals were learners, mainly in the Further Education and Training (FET) band, and up to 65% of the 1.6 million visitors to science centres in 2013 were learners. The DST had supported eight Science, Engineering, Mathematics, Innovation (STEMI) Olympiads and related competitions, which had collectively contributed to 28% of the just above one million people who had participated in DST-supported science engagement programmes in the 2013/14 financial year.
About 2 500 black women at universities were eligible to receive a grant in the ‘emerging researcher’ category, but only a very small number had actually applied to the NRF for funding. There needed to be discussion with the universities to determine why this demographic section did not use the opportunities offered by the Department.
The Committee focused on the Department’s initiatives to include black, and especially black female, representation among the next generation researchers, emerging researchers and established researchers. The initiatives by the Department would be informed by research and collaboration with other departments and institutions, which had been highlighted as an important aspect of human capital development. Members discussed whether the NDP targets for producing PhDs were achievable, as well as what the targets represented for South Africa’s ability to become an innovative society. The Committee examined the importance of initiatives like the National Science Week (NSW) and the demographics of the students and the public that had been attracted. There was also focus on the spread of centres of excellence across the provinces, the funding challenges, and the retaining of PhD graduates in the national system of innovation.
Briefing by Department of Science and Technology on its Human Capital Development (HCD) landscape and initiatives
Dr Thomas Auf der Heyde, Deputy Director-General: Research Development and Support, Department of Science and Technology (DST), extended the apologies of the Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Naledi Pandor. The Department had brought along examples products that were being produced by the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) projects, as promised to the Committee.
The DST was responsible for research development and support, and innovation across the national system of innovation. It had a budget of R6.5 billion, which supported 720 000 learners and 9 771 students. The National Development Plan (NDP) required that more than 100 doctoral graduates per million of the population should be produced, with an increase in the number of Africans and women. By 2030, an additional 100 000 PhDs should be produced and at least 75% of university academics should have doctoral degrees.
The Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF), which was a five-year plan, would implement the first three phases of the NDP. A graph showed that over the past ten years, the Department had increased the number of PhDs from a 1 000 per year, to just over 1 800 annually. This was not nearly enough progress to reach the NDP targets by 2030. The other graph showed that the Department was currently producing fewer than 35 PhDs per 1 million of population -- only one-third of where the NDP suggested it should be by 2030. The National Research and Development Strategy (2002) and the Ten Year Innovation Plan talked to human capital development (HCD), investment in science and technology infrastructure, knowledge generation, strategic management of the public science and technology system, and "centres and networks" of excellence.
Systemic challenges were the supervisory capacity needed to improve postgraduate completion rates, and low bursary values, resulting in low progression ratios and a high demographic drop-off. Other challenges were poor demographic representation at established researcher levels and a relatively small science system, with the gross expenditure on research and development (GERD) as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) calculated to less than 1%.
Dr Phetiwe Matutu, Chief Director: Human Capital and Science Promotion, DST, showed the budget allocations to the categories termed ‘next generation researchers’, ‘emerging researchers’, ‘cross cutting instruments’, ‘established researchers’ and ‘strategic investments’, which included the centres of excellence, the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) and similar initiatives. A number of graphs showed the black male and female representation as established researchers, and a breakdown of the support given by the National Research Foundation (NRF). She said there needed to be negotiation with Treasury to increase the per capita grant values.
SARChI intended to expand and renew the South African scientific research base and to address historical racial, gender and age imbalances. A total of 149 chairs had been awarded to established researchers, to conduct research and provide mentorship at universities. The next call for at least 20 chairs would prioritise female and international candidates, where two or three would be co-funded with industry. In 2013, research chairs had supervised a total of 1 612 students, with 662 funded through SARChI and 950 funded through external sources.
Centres of excellence were physical or virtual centres of research, which enabled collaboration across disciplines and institutions. They were student training environments, where locally and internationally relevant competitive research was conducted. An overview of the areas of research in the different centres was presented.
DST interventions were yielding results in terms of the expansion of the supervisory capacity of the science system. The initiatives were gradually succeeding in improving the race and gender inequity among the students supervised, and additional investments in these initiatives would be essential to expand the system further, while concomitantly improving student representation.
Dr Matutu gave an overview of the budget allocation within the ‘emerging researcher’ category, which included post-doctoral support, the Thuthuka programme, competitive funding for unrated researchers and the research career advancement fellowship programme. She also gave an overview of the number of grants allocated annually since 2008, and the average grant value. A graph showed the demographic profile of emerging researchers and while significant investments had been made in this category, it had not led to significant growth in the number of supported researchers, but had led to growth of the average grant. In terms of equity, consistent growth had occurred in the proportion of white women, and careful implementation of these programmes was necessary to improve black (particularly black women) participation.
Over the past five years, government had supported at least 34 030 postgraduate students (5 131 in 2009/10 to 9 771 in 2013/14), with the financial investment more than doubling during this period, from R194.77 million to R541.18 million. Black representation had improved significantly over the past six years, and the targeted female proportional representation was close to being reached at masters and doctoral levels.
In February 2014, the DST had adopted the “Framework for the DST’s activities in support of basic education” (2014-2019). The Framework supported basic education through the promotion of public engagement with science, and enhancing an effective teaching and learning environment through technology and educational research. Activities like the annual National Science Week (NSW), science festivals and science centre-based science awareness exhibits had stimulated learners’ interest in mathematics and science, which enhanced the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE’s) intentions to increase learners’ participation in these learning areas. Up to 70% of about 700 000 participants in the NSW and festivals had been learners, mainly in the Further Education and Training (FET) band, and up to 65% of the 1.6 million visitors to science centres in 2013 had been learners. The Science, Engineering, Mathematics, Innovation (STEMI) Olympiads and related competitions had created an opportunity for learners to apply and refine knowledge gained from formal classroom learning and teaching. The DST had supported eight STEMI Olympiads and related competitions, which had collectively contributed to 28% of the just above 1 million people who had participated in the DST-supported science engagement programme in the 2013/14 financial year.
More resources were required to grow the ‘established researcher’ initiatives and increase the values of average grants. More funds would be invested in the post-graduate category, but tighter monitoring of demographics and completion rates would be essential. Graduated PhDs needed to be tracked to establish the level of retention in the system, and strategy documents, legislation, and more funds were required to improve science promotion initiatives.
Dr Auf der Heyde showed the pool of male ‘established’ and ‘emerging’ researchers at universities, as well as the female composition of ‘established’ and ‘emerging’ researchers. About 2 500 black women at universities could qualify to receive a grant in the ‘emerging’ researcher category, but only a very small number of those women had actually applied to the NRF for funding. There needed to be discussion with the universities to determine why this demographic section did not use the opportunities offered by the Department.
(See attached presentation)
Mr M Kekana (ANC) urged the Department to refrain from using percentages, and asked for the exact number of centres of excellence that were fully equipped. He also wanted to know the exact locations of the 33 centres, and said the establishment of more centres of excellence should be a priority for the Department. The issue of extending ‘Science Week’ had been brought up before, and he asked if one week dedicated to the cause was really enough. The NDP required more than 100 doctoral graduates per 1 million of the population to be produced, and he asked if this was an annual objective, because it seemed like a lot, especially with all the initiatives the Department was busy with. He asked for clarification on the additional 100 000 PhDs that needed be produced, as well as what the 75% of PhDs at university level translated to in numbers.
The 2013 review of the DST and the NRF centres of excellence had highlighted a few issues. What was being done to evolve the mandates of the major centres of excellence? What were the DST and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) doing to ensure that universities created posts for scientists? What were the roles of the DHET and DST in supporting the centres of excellence, and what had been done to address the budget for student stipends? It seemed that SARChI had never consulted students, because it appeared that the small stipends were the only reason students left the system, which was basically an assumption. He asked what roles mentorship and supervision played in the drop-off rate of students, and whether the importance of mentorship and supervision were understood.
Dr Matutu said the centres were predominately in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal. Although the centres were represented in each province, they were sparsely distributed throughout the other six provinces. The Eastern Cape had only two centres, in Uitenhage and at the University of Fort Hare. Universities were crucial for science promotion activities, because they hosted most of the centres, and those centres located within universities were much more sustainable.
To increase science promotion, the legislation needed to be addressed and more funds were needed. Once the science engagement strategy was finalised, it should enable the DST to formalise larger-scale projects. The DHET did not fund centres of excellence, but funded the salaries of individuals that had to pull the different sources of excellence together.
The DST had about three different programmes that focused on work-based placement for students. There was an internship programme for about 1 000 science, social science and humanities graduates, where they were placed in science councils, universities and private sector companies. The professional development programme looked at giving masters and doctoral students research based experience at science councils and universities, with the expectation that they would be absorbed by institutions while gaining work experience. The research career advancement fellowship programme was for those that completed at least two years of post-doctoral training, to establish themselves in a work environment while continuing with research.
Some of the issues highlighted by the review had been the small bursary values and stipends, which were not ideal but had since increased substantially. The centres of excellence were initially meant to be ten-year instruments, but had since been extended by the Minister for another five years. The Minister had said the focus should be on ensuring that funds were shifted more towards research and student funding, rather than salaries.
Dr Auf der Heyde said the NDP meant, as a measure of South Africa’s ability to become an innovative society, that there should be at least 100 PhDs per million of the population. The NDP had also set a target to produce an additional 100 000 PhDs between now and 2030. This target implied that starting now, at least 7 000 or 8 000 PhDs had to be produced annually. Only 1 800 PhDs were currently produced annually, so it was a difficult target.
Dr A Lotriet (DA) asked for what period research chairs were assigned to a university, and why some of the chairs that had been awarded were inactive. Could the distribution of universities in terms of grants awarded to black female students, be provided to the Committee? Universities had students that were not yet ready for studies, so the lecturing staff had such a major task of helping them catch up on reading and comprehension skills. Lecturers were bogged down with the additional tasks of assisting undergraduate students with studying, so it was not surprising that so few grant applications were submitted. She asked how graduates could be kept in the system, because the private sector usually made offers that universities could not match as soon as students obtained their PhDs.
Dr Matutu said the period for research chairs was renewable at five years, for up to 15 years. The inactive research chairs had been appointed recently, and therefore could not be accounted for in the 2013/14 financial year.
Dr Auf der Heyde said the NRF distributed bursaries through an open call, where students across universities applied and the NRF did the selection process. Bursaries were also distributed as part of a research grant for senior researchers or through a block grant given to universities with certain guidelines, where universities selected students according to special criteria. All these bursaries were open to all universities, and the specific distribution could be given to the Committee.
It had been shown that the most active academics at the teaching level also had the most energy at the research level. This was not true in all cases, but the large majority had a passion and energy for both research and teaching. At a leading American university, all the senior professors taught undergraduate students because they believed that future researchers should be identified in their first years of study. It was not the case in South Africa, where senior professors taught only post-graduate students.
It was true that some doctoral graduates would be lost to universities, but they were not lost to the national system of innovation. PhDs were trained for South Africa, and the university sector needed to make sure it retained as many graduates as they needed, because the Department could not micro manage universities. PhDs were also trained for the private and public sectors, which also needed PhD level skills.
Mr C Mathale (ANC) said it was very clear that there should be a relationship between the departments of Basic Education, Higher Education and Science and Technology. Previously, black universities had had very poor research capacities and the implementation of programmes to improve black (particularly black women) participation would need to be approached from the entry level. He asked about the apparent spike in publications by research chairs in 2011/12, and what the demographics were in the subsequent decline in publications. The Committee should look into interaction with the DBE, because any concrete changes started at the basic level.
Dr Auf der Heyde said there were a number of issues that could contribute to the transformation and growth of science and technology, but the Department needed to identify key factors. The DST had active and formalised relationships with the DHET and DBE, with memorandums of understanding in place on the responsibilities of each department. The responsibilities around post-graduate research training with the DHET were divided, and it was agreed that the DST would provide the funds for post-graduate research activities and also extend access to research facilities in certain cases. The pedagogic aspects and the supervision of the training was the responsibility of universities and the DHET. On the Cofimvaba technology project, it had been clearly stipulated what DBE needed to do, what the responsibilities of the Eastern Cape Department of Education were, and what the DST needed to do. The Department tried to systematise partnerships with other departments on HCD, and meetings were scheduled accordingly. The NRF was at the interface between the DHET and the DST. The Department tried to tailor their support programmes as much as possible to the specific circumstances of different institutions. It required universities to stipulate what they wanted to do, and the DST -- with the NRF and the DHET -- engaged with the institutions.
The spike in 2011/12 was the result of a review of the research chairs, because they had produced a lot more publications just before the review of the process. South Africa’s research output in published international journals had increased steadily and more than doubled in numbers over the last decade.
Dr Matutu said the Department had assessed that the interventions to increase black representation in ‘emerging researchers’ had not been successful. The Department planned to approach the NFR with the proposal that the grant values had to balance with the numbers, and a specific percentage of the numbers had to be black.
Ms L Maseko (ANC) asked about the extent of consultation the Department had with the DBE and DHET. Were the NDP targets of 100 PhDs per 1 million of the population achievable? The Committee was committed to supporting the Department, especially in improving the contribution of research and development to the GDP. She asked about the grant application process, and what the ratio of applications and acceptance was. Some institutions made it very difficult for some students to access or participate in a certain field. She asked for elaboration on the two or three research chairs that would be co-funded by industry, and what the private sector’s contribution would be. Where exactly did the ‘external funds’ come from that would fund 950 research students? Did the Department track the performance of the centres of excellence? There needed to be more focus on legislative research, because government needed strong researchers that informed strategic processes. She asked if the research grants were properly advertised, because the numbers needed to increase. The increase in the demographic profile for ‘emerging researchers’ seemed to work well for white females, and she asked why the DST did not research the phenomenon and use the outcomes of the research on the black female and black male demographics. The Committee should be informed of the achievers in the STEMI Olympiads. She asked if was the project was open for public participation or access.
Dr Aud der Heyde said the STEMI Olympiads was only for school children. The Department worked with the DHET and universities and met frequently to discuss mutual concerns. The targets were achievable if they were focused on as part of national transformation, in a broader sense. South Africa had done this before when the tide against HIV/AIDS had been turned. It was a national effort that had been led from the top, and the same could be done for education. The PhD target was a sub-sector of the bigger education transformation challenge, and needed to be approached on the same scale with which South Africa had dealt with the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Dr Matutu said the Department planned to do the research on the demographics, and on that basis there should be a shift in the interventions which the DST would implement.
Ms N Louw (EFF) commended the Department for their accomplishments, as well as for the work envisaged to be done. Finance was clearly a challenge for the goals the Department had set, and she asked that the Committee come together to address this concern. The science weeks should also be taken to disadvantaged communities, because a recent science programme in George was held at a mall, where the majority participants were white students. It would also be helpful if the Department could present the possible interventions to the challenges experienced.
The Chairperson said the onus was on the Committee in the Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR), where the Committee could make recommendations with regard to the budget of the Department. It was important that the Committee familiarise themselves with the NRF funding model. The NRF should also track how universities used the money allocated to them.
Dr Auf der Heyde said the NSW launch was circulated through all the provinces, and would never be located in a shopping centre in a geographically quiet area. There could have been isolated events during science week that had happened there, but it was not a characteristic of the NSW as a whole.
The DST spent more than 99% of its allocated funds annually. If funding was to be increased in one area, in the absence of new money being allocated, money would have to be moved from one area to another. The Department tried to maximise the returns and impacts on investments made, but ultimately funds were needed to grow programmes. It should be said, however, that other constraints existed, like collaboration with other departments and the workload of active researchers within the Department, and these would not necessarily be entirely solved by an increase in the budget.
Dr Matutu said that if anything, the Department had been battling to attract white people. The launch of the NSW two years ago at the University of Fort Hare had attracted many, but more white students and white citizens needed to participate. The subsequent launches of the NSW in Soweto and Mangaung had attracted predominantly black students and black public interest. Close to four million people had been reached through media initiatives during the NSW.
The Chairperson said that unfortunately time was limited, and thanked the Department and the Committee for their input.
The meeting was adjourned.
- PC Sci: Department of Science and Technology on its human capital development initiatives 1
- PC Sci: DST on their human capital development initiatives to ensure necessary skills are produced to meet needs of science 1
- PC Sci: Department of Science and Technology on its human capital development initiatives 2
- PC Sci: DST on their human capital development initiatives to ensure necessary skills are produced to meet needs of science 2
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