The Committee was briefed by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) on its International Cooperation and Resources (ICR) programme, covering agreements tabled in Parliament as well as other South African strategic agreements and international relations activities related to science and technology.
The Department had five high level priorities. These were to grow and transform South Africa’s Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) human capital; to boost investment in research and development (R&D) by government, business and universities; to develop entrepreneurial skills to translate research results into new products and services to fight poverty, inequality and unemployment; to ensure Africa’s successful hosting of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) global radio telescope project; and to foster a dynamic STI partnership portfolio with other African nations in order to develop Africa’s STI capacities.
The DST aimed to make South Africa a preferred investment destination for multinational companies, international foundations, philanthropic organizations and development cooperation agencies. It would promote participation in competitive research and innovation funding programmes. For 2014/15, its goal was to secure R354.6 million from international partners. The annual target of secured funds would increase annually to reach a cumulative amount of R2 billion over the next five years.
International partnerships would be actively sought to achieve the DST’s human capital development (HCD) objectives, specifically PhD training, and to help build South Africa’s innovation management and entrepreneurial skills. Specific attention would be paid to the involvement of historically disadvantaged institutions. STI cooperation in Africa would see the DST step up its efforts to play a critical, but constructive leadership role to ensure various African regional and continental STI policies and initiatives were concretely implemented, with international partner support. International STI cooperation was a valuable tool for South Africa’s foreign policy, often enabling strategic political and economic relations.
The Department listed a number of major achievements during 2014-2015. A total of R634.5m in foreign funding had been secured for investment in the National System of Innovation (NSI) against a target of R354.6m. National funds amounting to R119.6m had been invested in international cooperation, against a target of R84.3m. The number of South African researchers and students participating in international human capital development opportunities had totaled 2 143, against a target of 1 456.
Strategic targets for 2015-16 involved 50 South African students participating in international training programmes offering a postgraduate qualification; 400 international partner organisations collaborating with South African partners; and ten international technical exchanges to build or reinforce South Africa’s capacities in key STI domains. Strategic interventions included promoting STI foreign investment in South Africa, encouraging multinational companies to locate R&D facilities in South Africa, and securing access for South Africa to international venture capital.
The Committee warned against the danger of accepting overseas funding which forced local researchers to work in areas which were not related to South Africa’s priorities. It wanted a breakdown of the overseas countries from which the R634m funding had come. Members asked how the Committee could intervene to ensure continued foreign investments into South Africa, and wanted to know if the cumulative R2 billion target of secured funds over the next five years was achievable. They asked if there was a signed agreement between the Department and PhD students to return to contribute to their country’s development after training abroad. The Committee expressed concern over South Africa’s capacity to deal with big data, with particular reference to the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project.
The Committee considered and adopted the report on the strategic plan and budget of the DST and its entities, but recommended that the Minister report back to the Committee on the Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (THRIP) funds in order to ensure that funding remained in the Department.
Briefing by DST’s International Cooperation and Resources
Mr Daan du Toit, Deputy Director-General: International Cooperation and Resources (ICR), DST, briefed the Committee on the ICR programme on agreements tabled in Parliament and other strategic agreements and international relations with regard to science and technology.
The Minister had five high level priorities. These were to grow and transform South Africa’s Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) human capital; to boost investment in research and development (R&D) by government, business and universities; to develop entrepreneurial skills to translate research results into new products and services to fight poverty, inequality and unemployment; to ensure Africa’s successful hosting of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) global radio telescope project; and to foster a dynamic STI partnership portfolio with other African nations in order to develop Africa’s STI capacities.
Priorities for international cooperation in the DST strategic plan for 2015 to 2020 would include a programme to continue building a diverse and vibrant portfolio of international partnerships to support national priorities with special focus on:
- Greater geographic diversity among international partners, with an increased focus on Africa;
- Greater focus on innovation, commercialization and market-oriented research; and
- Greater participation by South Africa’s historically disadvantaged institutes.
The Department’s activities to promote international cooperation would align with the National Development Plan’s (NDP’s) Chapter 7 -- positioning South Africa in the world -- and would respond directly to the medium term strategic framework’s (MTSF’s) outcome 11 -- creating a better South Africa and contributing to a better and safer Africa in a better world.
The DST aimed to make South Africa a preferred investment destination for multinational companies, international foundations, philanthropic organizations and development cooperation agencies. It would promote participation in competitive research and innovation funding programmes, such as the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, and prioritize foreign investment in joint ventures targeting commercialization and product and service development. For 2014/15, the DST’s goal was to secure R354.6 million from international partners. The annual target of secured funds would increase annually to reach a cumulative amount of R2 billion over the next five years.
International partnerships would be actively sought to achieve the DST’s Human Capital Development (HCD) objectives, specifically PhD training, and to help build South Africa’s innovation management and entrepreneurial skills. Specific attention would be paid to the involvement of historically disadvantaged institutions. The five-year target was to launch a comprehensive national programme, similar to Brazil’s “Science without Borders”, for international researcher (PhD) training. By 2019, the DST aimed to secure 900 new international bursaries or fellowships for South African researchers to gain postgraduate qualifications.
STI cooperation in Africa would see the DST step up its efforts to play a critical, but constructive leadership role to ensure various African regional and continental STI policies and initiatives were concretely implemented, with international partner support. The five-year target was to ensure that the DST made an annual, active contribution to the implementation of at least 45 major African STI partnership initiatives, as well as the STI Strategy for Africa framework.
Mr Du Toit said international STI cooperation was a valuable tool for South Africa’s foreign policy, often enabling strategic political and economic relations. The DST had a direct contribution to make to the achievement of MTSF outcome 11, including sub-outcome goals. These included advancing South Africa’s national priorities in bilateral engagements; achieving an economically integrated Southern Africa; fostering a sustainable and economically integrated Africa; building strong and mutually beneficial South- South partnerships; and developing beneficial relations with strategic formations in the North).
The target was to shape global STI governance strategically by ensuring that South Africa occupied 15 leadership positions in international STI governance structures.
The purpose of the International Cooperation and Resources programme was to strategically develop, promote and manage international partnerships that would strengthen the National System of Innovation and enable an exchange of knowledge, capacity and resources between South Africa and its international partners, with a focus on supporting STI capacity-building in Africa. Furthermore, it aimed to support South African foreign policy through science diplomacy.
The ICR programme had three chief directorates -- International Resources, Multilateral Cooperation and Africa, and Overseas Bilateral Cooperation. There were also two representatives based abroad at SA’s diplomatic missions in Brussels and Tokyo, and an official seconded to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) secretariat in Gaberone, Botswana.
The International Resources chief directorate works to increase the flow of international funding into South African STI initiatives as well as African regional and continental programmes. It did this by promoting investment and fostering strategic partnerships with, for example, the European Union, foundations and philanthropic organizations. There were three directorates for European Union partnerships, development partnerships and foreign investment promotion.
The Multilateral and Africa chief directorate advances South Africa’s participation in bilateral STI cooperation initiatives with other African partners, as well as in African multilateral programmes and broader multilateral STI partnerships, with a strategic focus on South-South cooperation. It also had three directorates -- Africa bilateral, Africa multilateral, and multilateral cooperation – and a specialist on multilateral environmental agreements.
The chief directorate for Overseas Bilateral Cooperation promotes and facilitates South Africa’s bilateral STI cooperation with partners in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australasia, especially for STI, HCD and collaborative research and innovation. The chief directorate also secures their support for cooperation with other African partners, and has directors for Europe and Gulf States, and the Americas, Asia and Australasia.
Mr Du Toit listed a number of major achievements during 2014-2015. A total of R634.5m in foreign funding had been secured for investment in NSI against a target of R354.6m. National funds amounting to R119.6m had been invested in international cooperation, against a target of R84.3m. The number of South African researchers and students participating in international human capital development opportunities had totaled 2 143, against a target of 1 456.
The strategic objectives for 2015-16 were to:
- Access international funds to support the growth and development of the NSI;
- Enhance South Africa's national STI capabilities through access to international knowledge, capacities and resources;
- Strengthen STI cooperation in Africa; and
- Support South Africa's foreign policy through science diplomacy.
Strategic targets involved 50 South African students participating in international training programmes offering a postgraduate qualification; 400 international partner organisations collaborating with South African partners; and ten international technical exchanges to build or reinforce South Africa’s capacities in key STI domains. Strategic interventions included promoting STI foreign investment in South Africa, encouraging multinational companies to locate R&D facilities in South Africa, and securing access for South Africa to international venture capital.
The Chairperson asked how much was known about South Africa which could be exploited, before the ICR embarked on international interactions, as African countries -- including South Africa -- were lacking in researchers and biotechnology.
Mr Du Toit agreed with the Chairperson, saying the Department was mindful of the hidden cost or risks associated with attracting foreign funding, as it could distort the national agenda or priorities. This had been seen in other developing countries, where the lack of national research funding had forced researchers to do whatever the funders wanted, and not what was related to the country’s socio-economic priorities. The cooperation framework was negotiated at the inter-governmental level, where the DST was informed about the government’s strategic priorities. The DST had a Minister who always said that it was not necessarily the amount of funding that mattered but the impact of the funding on the national priorities. The DST was in the process of developing departmental guidelines to sensitise its officials on the potential risks of foreign funding for the country. South Africa had a strong knowledge base in the area of agricultural research on the continent. The DST did significant work in this area, given the importance of biotechnology. It had invested in initiatives like the Southern African Network of Biotechnology, and the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology was hosted at UCT to enhance the South African scope.
Ms Mmampei Chaba, Chief Director: Multilateral and Africa: DST, said that when South Africa engaged abroad it had a lot to offer in terms of joint cooperation research. South Africa was a bio-diverse country in the continent, which made it a destination of choice in terms of research cooperation, plant genetics research and human genetic mapping, when it engaged with partners abroad. The DST was trying to address these strengths through a number of initiatives such as the UCT International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, which focused on cancer research -- a major killer in Africa and globally – and the CSIR’s Network for Bio-scientist Research. The DST did not have enough capacity at the continental level to deal with all the issues, so it was working with international bodies such as the European Molecular Biology Council in order to access research infrastructure and training to help South African academics to obtain knowledge, expertise and access to funding to carry out research.
Mr N Koornof (ANC) commented that the European Union (EU) had decreased their foreign funding quite considerably due to the financial problems in the EU. He asked if ICR had felt the impact in its interactions with the EU. He asked for the breakdown of the R634 million foreign funding in order to know where the investments came from, and to establish whether there had ben a shift to a specific region. He asked how the Committee could help in ensuring that foreign investments got to South Africa.
Mr Du Toit replied that the DST had felt the impact of the decreased funding from the EU. There were two envelopes of funding from the EU -- development programmes and research programmes. The typical development cooperation aid budget for developing countries and emerging economies had been scaled down, and even for SA the budget had been significantly cut. The innovation for poverty alleviation programme, which was currently being funded by €30 million might be reduced to €,0 million after some time, as development funding had certainly decreased. The Department also engaged in comparative research and innovation programmes. The development and research programmes were the EU programmes that were open to participation by researchers from across the world, because the EU benefited from the knowledge contribution. The DST was smart at positioning its researchers to access these opportunities. The DST would keep the Committee informed of its strategies at accessing foreign investments.
He said the Committee could play an important role in marketing science and technology internationally. The DST was engaging foreign chambers of commerce in South Africa to understand their perspective on what the constraints or inhibiting factors were that could impact on foreign investments in South Africa without compromising the national policies, and the interventions that could be provided to create an enabling environment.
A full breakdown of the R634 million would be provided in the DST’s next report. The funds came from the EU and the United States National Institute for Health (NIH), which gave significant funds for HIV/AIDS and research in South Africa. The DST was working hard to diversify its portfolio -- for instance, to the Middle East -- in order not to be limited to one area.
Ms Isayvani Naicker, Chief Director: International Resources, DST, said that the directorate had just approved a draft strategic framework on promoting foreign investment in the South African national system of innovation, which would be a guiding document to assist in improving foreign investment in R & D, human capacity development, and in direct investment within the NSI. It was important to diversify funding streams from traditional partners like the EU to other identified areas, such as engagements with the private sector. South Africa was a good place for investment, as it had a strong STI base, a strong national system of innovation, and when people came into the country they should be encouraged to invest in science and technology, rather than the traditional manufacturing industry. There had been successes in this area, as recently the Minister had opened a centre for broadband which had been a partnership between the DST, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, and others. The SKA project was a key attraction for international investment.
She urged the Committee to take back the news that South Africa had strong STI for international investment capacity. It was important for the ICR to work closely with other departments. It had a dialogue with the EU which was a good platform for departments to engage and a rapid mechanism for people to access funding to undertake research. ICR participated in development partnerships through Treasury, where there was Overseas Development Coordinates (ODA) and representation from all government departments. ICR was building relationships with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) on the emerging foreign investment portfolio. It was important to engage with research communities in South Africa, as feedbacks from them had shown that participation in these international networks gave access to people working in those areas. International engagement also made people to realise the kind of excellent level of science happening in South Africa.
Ms L Maseko (ANC) commented on the foreign funding for growing and developing the NSI. Was the DST’s target of reaching a cumulative amount of R2 billion over the next five years achievable? She asked if the PhD training was focused on South Africans only. If it included foreigners, was there a signed contract with the foreign PhD students to work in South Africa for some time before returning to their own countries. She asked if DST had representatives in Australia, apart from Belgium and Japan, as South Africa had SKA links in Australia. She commended the DST for outperforming its targets. She asked if the strategic target of 2015/16 of having 50 South African students participating in international training contributed to the intention of training 10 000 per annum. She asked about the collaboration with other departments, especially telecom and postal services, which dealt with ICT. She asked for details of the treaties that bound the country in the area of science and technology. She said it was very important to remain vigilant while engaging with international bodies in terms of maintaining the DST’s strategic plan and national policies.
Mr Du Toit replied that the R2 billion was achievable, based on the DST’s past performance and the support of the Minister, who ensured that the Department did what was necessary to achieve its targets. If the DST worked smartly, this figure could be achieved and surpassed. The PhD training was mainly for South Africans, as it was international training opportunities for South Africans abroad. It was important to do it as a structured cooperation programme to ensure that students returned to South Africa. The DST was obliged to ensure that there was a retention capacity within the system, so that when students returned they were absorbed into the system. When South African partners were involved in training opportunities in South Africa, the DST worked with the government and organisations of the countries concerned, to ensure that there was sustainability and an opportunity for the trainees to go back to their countries. For instance, for the SKA, students from other African countries were trained in astronomy, but the DST worked closely to ensure that there were programmes in the students’ countries that they could go back to.
The DST had not thought about an office in Australia. International offices were usually expensive and with the current financial constraints, it was not a priority that the DST would pursue. It did a lot of video conferencing and used Skype for international conferences. Their offices in Asia and Europe remained for one-on-one contact for international relations. DST’s priority would be to open an office in Addis Abba if necessary.
He said the 50 PhD South Africans were part of the overall targets. The figure was low this year because the DST was creating an international programme that had to be launched first.
He mentioned the impact of international investments, which included the benefit from accessing international experience and expertise. The DST’s core mission was to connect South Africa to the global knowledge community. There had been a significant increase in the numbers of South African researchers with international counterparts in international journals, which impacted on the global production of knowledge. International cooperation played a role in retaining people in the country, as scientists often left in order to progress their careers through new opportunities, but through vibrant ICR programmes people could be made to stay in South Africa and have access to work with the best people abroad -- for instance, on new vaccines, drug developments or climate modeling, that resulted in international cooperation.
The DST worked with the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services in the ICT domain. There was a document on socio-economic partnerships which was the ICT roadmap for research and innovation, and the DST worked closely on international partnership opportunities.
There were not many international treaties specifically related to science and technology, but there were global treaties related to intellectual property on the regulatory environment for biodiversity that applied to scientific cooperation. The DST worked closely with colleagues in international relations and the DTI to ensure that South Africa, in its scientific cooperation, was mindful of these international treaties. The DST was focused on ensuring that its multilateral engagements created an enabling environment for international partnership.
Ms Chaba said that the DST was about to sign an agreement with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy ,where 50 South African students per annum would be training for Masters and PhD qualifications. The contractual agreement requiring them to come back to contribute to South Africa’s development was in place. The DST was entering into an agreement with the World Academy of Science on programmes that students in South Africa could be exposed to, and was also working jointly with other international researchers to promote internationalisation of research by working with researchers abroad. The impact of the ICR had been seen by the increase in the number of requests for South Africa to partner with international bodies by reason of its biodiversity. There had been increased investment in research cooperation with international bodies and on the African continent, which had not been the case before. There was also recognition on the continent of the value of science and technology. The DST was assisting the historically disadvantaged universities in their work with international partners like UNESCO. There had been over 1 000 female students interested in studying engineering.
Ms J Terblanche (DA) commented that the Committee had carried out an oversight visit to SKA and UCT where they had had a presentation on big data, which showed that South Africa was not geared to deal with big data. On one hand, South Africa was advanced with technology in SKA, but on the other hand, it had to send their data to other countries to analyse.
Mr Du Toit said that the sketched scenario contradicted the whole reason why the DST was involved in the SKA. From an infrastructural point of view, the DST was investing in the South Africa National Research Network, which was dedicated to high speed bandwidth capacity for data management between institutions. There was a centre for high computing in Cape Town associated with the CSIR which was important for SKA data management as well. Large scale data management was already happening in South Africa in areas such as life sciences and climate modeling. The SKA investment was to prepare South Africa to access and leverage the opportunities of the big data economy --for instance, a national cyber infrastructure roadmap. He said the UCT presentation was a reminder that there was a need to invest in the big data economy. The DST had a partnership with SADC on its high performance initiative to help Southern African countries to build high performance computing infrastructure so that they could also develop the skills.
Ms Terblanche agreed that the SKA was a long term programme, and it would take time to get skills transferred to people and for people to be motivated to study at the universities. People were not motivated enough to realize what big data meant. She asked what could be done to make students realise the route to follow in terms of career choices. There was a scarcity of mathematics and science skills in South Africa, which was important for big data, and she asked if the DST was interacting with the Department of Higher Education.
Mr Du Toit replied that the DST was working with the Department of Higher Education and Training to reinforce data science management capacity at the universities. He agreed on the need to link with mathematics and science education. He said there was a programme to encourage students to be enthusiastic about astronomy, and how astronomy could be used to improve the quality of science and technology at the tertiary education level and secondary school level. There was an initiative called the PAN African University, championed by the African Union, which would have five regional nodes across the continent, and South Africa would host the one for astronomy and space science.
The Chairperson commented that the onus was on the Parliamentarians to talk about some of the information provided. He added that some nurses were complaining on Nurses’ Day that nurses were leaving SA due to the conditions in the country’s health system. It was important to talk about the social conditions in order to compete globally in science and technology. He thanked the DST for its presentation, and said it had been accepted.
Committee Report on Department of Science and Technology Budget Vote
The Chairperson asked members to note that the Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (THRIP) funding had been withdrawn by the DTI.
The Content Adviser commented that when the National Research Foundation (NRF) had presented their plan, they had stated that they were concerned that the DTI had withdrawn the THRIP funding, which represented a large portion of the funding which they allocated to emerging researchers. The Minister had also mentioned that she had been informed that the funding had been withdrawn. The NRF had asked the Committee for support to access additional funds. In the 2014 budget report of the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry, the Members had asked the DTI last year what was going to happen to THRIP funding, because they had felt that the targets were not being met. The DTI had responded that due to poor performance, they would be withdrawing the funds from the NRF and would be administering the funds themselves. The current estimate showed that the THRIP fund would still be allocated to the NRF and would be increasing up until 2018. Considering that it was a large amount of money, she asked Members to decide if it had been well captured. The issue had been raised by the NRF and the Minister during the briefing session on the budget to the Committee. There had been confusion over why it had been cancelled or whether it was still being allocated. She asked the Committee to decide on which way it should be handled.
Mr Koornhof commented that THRIP belonged to the DST, and suggested that the Minister should report to the Committee on her interaction with the concerned departments to make sure that funds that belonged to the DST eventually stayed in the Department.
The Chairperson commented that this should be added to the Committee’s recommendations.
Ms Maseko commented that there should be consistency in the use of “Trade and Industry” instead of using “Trade” on page 12.
Ms Lotriet commented that the last bullet of the Committee recommendation should reflect the DA’s reservation, as they needed to meet with the DA caucus.
The Committee adopted the report.
The meeting was adjourned.
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