The Department of Science and Technology (DST) briefed the Committee on its preliminary First Quarter Performance and Financial Report. The briefing touched on the policy mandate, vision, mission statement and key goals of the DST. The Committee was provided with an overview of the five programmes of the DST, with a general overview of performance. It was noted that during this 2015/16 first quarter, the DST achieved 82% of its 45 planned targets. Members were then provided with details of the performance in each of the DST’s programmes for the same time period. Particular highlights included that 95% of all staff (exceeding the target of 92%) had submitted performance contracts and reviews. The Minister had launched the Covimvaba Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology on 12 June 2015 and the DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre National Cleanroom Facility was launched on 8 April 2015. On the international front, DST achieved collaboration with 171 cooperation initiatives, including partnerships with Namibia on the Namibian National Science and Technology Festival, and with Sudan on a joint Space Sciences workshop. Minister Pandor’s visit to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) opened opportunities for the benefit of Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Continent in systems analysis and evidence-based policy advice and development. The DST managed to place 727 graduates and students placed in DST-funded work preparation programmes in Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation (SETI) institutions by 30 June 2015. Furthermore, a remodelling exercise was carried out to ensure that by 2030 South Africa would produce 100 PhD graduates per million population per year. A worrying trend of declining proportions of black students in higher postgraduate studies had been observed, and the DST was studying the reasons behind this. However, the DST did manage to fund 40 masters and PhD students.
In this quarter, DST had established the Waste Research Development and Innovation Roadmap Programme Implementation Unit at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), launched the Propella Business Incubator in the Nelson Mandela Bay, a jointly-funded initiative that would focus on the advanced manufacturing and renewable energy sectors. However, the targets that could not be achieved included targets for the numbers of postgraduate students, which impacted on the numbers of bursaries awarded, and delays in holding consultations on the Draft Basic Sciences Development and Support Framework.
Members commended the DST for its excellent work. They questioned, however, the challenges and frustrations the DST was experiencing. They asked for reasons behind the targets not being achieved. They commended the collaboration with other countries but wanted to know what the expected outcomes from these collaborations would be and what benefit would accrue to South Africa. They were concerned at the declining proportions of black postgraduate students, and they suggested that instead of focusing studies on the reasons behind poverty, more should be focused on finding solutions. DST was asked to confirm whether the USA wished to come on board on SA’s Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Programme.
Department of Science and Technology (DST): 1st quarter 2015 performance briefing
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director General, Department of Science and Technology, together with other delegates Mr Thomas Auf der Heyde, Deputy Director General, Mr Tommy Makhode, Acting Deputy Director General, Mr David Mmakolo, Chief Director, Ms Nandipha Tsetsane, Assistant Director, briefed the Committee on the First Quarter 2015 performance of the Department of Science and Technology (DST or the Department).
Dr Mjwara touched on the policy mandate, vision, mission statement and key goals of the DST. The Committee was provided with an overview of the five programmes of the DST in Administration, Technology Innovation, International Cooperation and Resources, Research Development and Support and Socio-Economic Innovation Partnership. He continued with the DST’s First Quarter Performance Overview. During the 2015/16 first quarter, the Department achieved 82% of its 45 planned targets.
Members were then provided with Quarter 1 performance highlights for each of the DST’s programmes.
Programme 1: Administration
A target was set that a minimum of 92% of DST personnel should submit performance contracts and reviews by 31 March 2015.In Quarter 1, 95% of personnel submitted performance contracts and reviews by the deadline.
Programme 2: Technology Innovation
For Quarter 1 a target was set to have one evaluation and assessment report developed and approved by the Exco by the 30 June 2015, and this was achieved. Some other highlights identified were the launch by the Minister of the Covimvaba Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology on 12 June 2015, and the launch of the DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre (NIC) National Cleanroom Facility on 8 April 2015.
Programme 3: International Cooperation and Resources
The target was to have 50 international partner organisations (legal entities) collaborating with South African partners within the formalised framework of collaborative research, innovation or Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) human capital development projects as part of cooperation initiatives facilitated by the DST by 30 June 2015. This was exceeded and the actual target achieved was 171. Some highlights were that South Africa, through the Multilateral Cooperation and Africa (MCA), partnered with Namibia on the Namibian National Science and Technology Festival. It also partnered with Sudan on a joint Space Sciences workshop. Minister Naledi Pandor’s visit to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) opened opportunities for the benefit of SADC and the African Continent in systems analysis and evidence-based policy advice and development.
Programme 4: Research Development and Support
The Quarter 1 target was set to have 630 graduates and students placed in DST-funded work preparation programmes in Science, Education, Technology and Innovation (SETI) institutions by 30 June 2015 and the actual figure achieved was 727. Highlights included the fact that a team comprising the DST, Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), and National Research Foundation (NRF) staff members had completed the modelling of the required enrolments of masters and doctoral students, which would ensure that by 2030 South Africa would produce 100 PhD graduates per million population per year. Progress was also made with the next generation of researchers. A trend of declining proportions of black students in higher postgraduate studies had been observed, and the DST had completed a study to establish the reasons for this trend.
Programme 5: Socio-Economic Innovation Partnership
The Quarter 1 target was to have 35 masters and doctoral students fully funded or co-funded in designated niche global change areas supporting the green economy and sustainable development, by 30 June 2015. The DST managed to surpass the target and funded 40 masters and PhD students. Some other highlights for Quarter 1 were that the Waste Research Development and Innovation (RDI) Roadmap Programme Implementation Unit was established at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. In addition the Propella Business Incubator was launched in the Nelson Mandela Bay on 24 June 2015. Propella was funded by the Industrial Development Corporation, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and Innovolve and Engeli Enterprise Development. It would focus on the advanced manufacturing and renewable energy sectors.
Dr Mjwara also pointed out to the Committee that there were some Quarter 1 targets that could not be achieved. These included the target of having 7 117 postgraduate students. He said that the quarterly target could not be predicted or managed within closer margins. As a consequence 323 fewer bursaries were awarded because this award depended on the pool of applicants, which could not be predicted accurately.
Another target, of having consultations on the Draft Basic Sciences Development and Support Framework by June 2015, could not be achieved as delays in consultation with the National Research Foundation (NRF) delayed broader consultation as consensus was needed with the Foundation first.
Additional information was provided to the Committee on its budget and on its financial performance (see attached slides for detail).
Mr N Koornhof (ANC) commended the DST for the excellent work that it was doing. He asked what challenges and frustrations the DST was experiencing. If the DST achieved 82% of its targets, then he also wanted to know what were the chances of the figure increasing or decreasing. He asked whether white researchers were also supported by the NRF.
Dr Mjwara pointed out that the DST was concerned that when it rolled out its pilots to demonstrate its work there would be no uptake from the rest of government. A broad framework was needed in government which allowed work to be done at different levels, so that the innovations could get somewhere. Industrial financing was also needed for industrial related innovations and pilots. The DST needed partners. The DST was working with the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Department of Economic Development. He repeated his concern that the right numbers of qualified persons were not coming through the ranks, and particularly that there was a lack of black students in higher education studies like Masters and PhDs programmes.
Dr Auf der Heyde added that there was a mistaken assumption that the NRF did not support white researchers. There were in fact two categories of researchers. The first category comprised established researchers and the second comprised emerging researchers. He did point out that the majority of rated (established) researchers were still white and were funded by the NRF. Support was also being given to white emerging researchers, both male and female, and the percentage of white emerging researchers was between 25%-35%. White post graduate students also received financial support by way of bursaries. 20% of bursaries were to be awarded to whites and 80% to blacks. This was the breakdown stipulated in the Ministerial guideline. He did note that the NRF was not yet on par with the guideline. The fact of the matter was that the DST was driving the transformation imperative. Black empowerment was taking place but this it did not mean that whites were not being given anything.
Ms A Tuck (ANC) referred to Slide 35 which spoke about some of the reasons for DST’s non achievement. She asked how the DST intended to overcome the delays in stakeholder consultations on the draft Basic Sciences Development and Support Framework. Her main concern was the effect that these delays might have on the whole process.
Dr Auf der Heyde stated that the Meerkat project was a learning experience for the DST as well. It was the first of its kind. Describing the main challenges, he noted that four dishes had been erected already. These, however, must be tested before the remainder -six dishes - could be erected. The six dishes were ready but he repeated that testing had first to be done on the existing four. The target for the current year was to erect 16 dishes. He noted that there were sometimes external influences which affected roll out. In the last , strikes had impacted upon roll out.
The Acting Chairperson noted that the DST was one of the better performing departments.
Mr N Paulsen (EFF) referred to Slide 22 and said that it was good that SA was collaborating with African countries like Namibia and Sudan. He asked what the expected outcomes were from these collaborations and asked what was intended to be achieved and what was the benefit to SA?
He also referred to Slide 26, which spoke about the trend of declining proportions of black students undertaking postgraduate studies. Slide 27 spoke about Centres of Excellence (CoE) that were established to support established researchers. He asked what the expectations from the CoE were, and how they were monitored. Speaking to the research that was being done, looking into reasons for poverty, he suggested that the focus should rather be on finding solutions to overcome poverty.
Dr Mjwara confirmed that efforts were being made to collaborate with countries in the African continent. The DST had a policy training programme with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) two years ago. The intention was to grow research capacity in the continent. Namibia modelled its own science week on that of SA. There was also a Sudan-SA science and technology bilateral cooperation. He stated that the DST could provide the Committee with more detailed information of the DST’s activities in Africa.
Dr Auf der Heyde also spoke to the declining numbers of black students doing postgraduate Masters and PhD studies and said that the DST was conducting a study to look into the issue. The numbers were even low internationally. Lack of finance to pursue postgraduate studies was not the only contributing factor. Once the DST presented the final outcome of the study to the Minister, it would be presented to the Committee, and he anticipated this could be done during the Third Quarter briefing. DST had briefed the Committee on the DST’s human capital development approximately six to eight months ago, but would be happy to do this again.
He referred to Slide 27 and said that Centres of Excellence had been established to ramp up research in SA. Doing this would improve economies of scale. The primary aim was to drive take up by postgraduate students and the research that they produced. The aim now of research was being changed, to address more strategic government imperatives like the eradication of poverty. There were 150 Research Chairs. Research being done could now be tweaked. He conceded that sources of poverty were being looked at, but the aim was to move beyond that.
Mr Paulsen asked how Research Chairs were selected.
Dr Auf der Heyde noted that the NRF had a process for the selection of Research Chairs. Areas were identified where research needed to be strengthened. He explained that the NRF had a sophisticated process to appoint Research Chairs, that involved not only the evaluation of the incumbent but also of his or her theme.
He said that the DST supported Centres of Excellent (CoEs) to the tune of between R8m to R15m per year. CoEs had a Board, also constituting people other than persons from universities; perhaps representatives from the DST or from an industry. The Board monitored the operations of CoE. CoE had to submit quarterly and annual reports to the NRF.
Mr Koornhof asked whether the USA was coming on board with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) programme.
Dr Mjwara noted that Spain was one of the countries present in meetings as observers. A discussion between the USA and Germany with SA and Australia, to join the Intergovernmental Discussion Framework was taking place. He pointed out that the USA could join in Phase 2 of the SKA.
The meeting was adjourned.
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