South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP) objectives & operations

Science and Technology

09 September 2015
Chairperson: Dr B Goqwana (ANC), and Acting Chairperson Ms L Maseko (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP) briefed the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology on its objectives and operations. The SACNASP Act of 2003 set up the Council with the intention that it should be a credible professional registration and regulatory body for natural scientists, to ensure a high level of professionalism and ethics. It also aimed to improve the standards of services rendered by natural scientists and to enhance their status in their respective fields. There was a wide range of natural science classes covered, and within those a scientist could register in various categories that included professional, candidate, trainee, student, technical associate, and specialist. A new Council was inaugurated in June 2015, consisting of councillors who were nominated by voluntary associations, the State and the public, and it had a number of different committees. The numbers of jobs created and the number of new registrations were shown, and it was demonstrated that not only had membership increased, but the numbers of women and young members was also increasing every year. The body was currently a self-funding statutory entity, with its prime source of income being membership fees, but this position might not be sustainable in future. It was looking to increase partnerships with government and voluntary associations, and to gain more visibility in science communities, whilst its members strove to be more inclusive, relevant, and efficient in their practices. Some amendments to the Act may be needed, and the Department of Science and Technology later added that it was assisting the Council in this regard.

Members asked if temporary employees were being trained to be absorbed into permanent positions, whether they had been absorbed, and questioned the split of demographics and age. Members were interested in how ethical conduct would be addressed, and the disciplinary process was explained. The Council was asked if it vetted qualifications and how this was done, and how it planned to supplement the income it was currently getting, as this did not seem sufficient to fund all endeavours. Members were interested in finding out how it was currently being promoted, and heard the suggestion that this could possibly start at lower school levels. Members were interested to hear how it engaged with any other councils in other fields, and how it would be enhancing relationships.

Meeting report

The Chairperson apologised for not having been able to attend Parliament on the previous day, and said that he would have to leave today's meeting shortly, so Ms L Maseko (ANC) was asked to be Acting Chairperson.

South African Council of Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP): Briefing on operations and objectives
Dr Gerda Botha, Council member, South African Council of Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP), briefed the Committee on the current operations and future objectives of SACNASP. She explained that the purpose of the group is to assist with standards in the professions of the natural sciences. This was a legislated group, which was created by the SACNASP Act of 2003. The purpose of the Act was to provide for a credible professional registration and regulatory body for natural scientists, to ensure a high level of professionalism and ethics. In addition, the organisation aimed to improve the standards of services rendered by natural scientists and to enhance their status in their respective fields.

She noted that in order to be more inclusive, there were many different categories that a scientist could register under: professional, candidate, trainee, student, technical associate, and specialist. In addition the organisation included many fields of practice, including fields related to agriculture and food security; mining, environmental and conservation; Square Kilometer Array (SKA); and biology and green sciences.

Ms Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and Technology, had inaugurated the new SACNASP Council on 25 June 2015. Council members were nominated in one of three ways: by voluntary associations, by the state, or by the public. The Council members served on a number of different committees, which served the different purposes of the organisation.

Dr Botha showed the Members the growth that SACNASP had undergone since its creation. She highlighted the number of jobs that it had created between 2011 and 2015. The organisation has also seen new registrations per year grow significantly since 2006. Additionally, the number of women and young people are increasing per year.

SACNASP is a self-funding statutory entity. Dr Botha explained that the organisation was primarily funded by the fees that were levied from its members, with very little outside help. This could lead to issues, however, as the organisation continued to grow.

As it moved into the future, SACNASP would like to strengthen partnerships with government and voluntary associations, in efforts to gain more visibility in science communities. In addition, its membership hoped to become more inclusive, relevant, and efficient in their practices. In addition, the entity hoped to eventually revise the Act to help achieve these goals.

The Acting Chairperson wanted to know if the temporary employees were being trained to be absorbed into permanent positions.

Dr Rolf Becker, Executive Director, SACNASP, explained that so far SACNASP had been able to absorb all of the temporary employees, however it was not likely to be always possible. He was, however, confident, however, that even if SACNASP could not create permanent positions for the employees, they would at least leave with very relevant training and contacts to find another job.

The Acting Chairperson asked why the older age groups were decreasing as the younger age groups registering were increasing, and if the Council was concerned about that.

Dr Botha said that the numbers regarding age, race, and gender were based on ratio. The general numbers in every category were increasing, but they were increasing more in other categories so the general ratio was falling.

Dr A Lotriet (DA) asked about slide 8 and wanted to know if there was a process to ensure ethical conduct, or if it was just promoted by the organisation.

Dr Botha replied that when members registered, they pledge to adhere to a code of ethical conduct. If there was an issue with this, SACNASP has an Ethical Conduct committee that handled those issues. All complaints made by one member against another were investigated.

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) appreciated the work SACNASP does, because it allowed for unqualified people to get jobs and experience without having to follow all the red tape which was one of the issues plaguing the departments in the South African governments.

Mr Paulsen asked if the Council was vetting qualifications, and who was involved in this process.

Dr Botha explained that there was not enough room in the slides to explain the vetting process. Each member who registered with the SACNASP must go through a process in order to become a member. There were many checks and screens that must be completed. She explained that if applicants did not complete any single part of this process, then their application would be considered incomplete until they submitted all the details. If there was any duplication or doubt, the committee would go to the applicant for clarification.

Dr Becker agreed that the vetting process was very important, because SACNAPS had a responsibility to provide services from qualified individuals to South Africa. He said that the great lengths that it had to go through to make this possible were completely worth the effort.

Mr Paulsen wanted to know exactly how SACNASP planned to supplement the R10 million that it would receive, because clearly that was not enough to fund their endeavors.

Dr Botha explained that SACNASP was working on expanding the R10 million budget , because before it asked for more money it must justify the request, with project proposals. She explained that it planned to supplement this by eventually engaging more with governments and other groups on how it could sustainably continue to grow without raising members' fees too much.

Mr Paulsen also asked how SACNASP was being promoted in educational institutions.

Dr Botha explained that promotion in educational institutions was very important to SACNASP. The Council did make a great effort to engage with students before they graduated so that they were able to complete all the necessary steps and apply for membership as soon as possible after they finished school. The Council also participated in programmes and conferences with similar organisations to increase visibility.

Dr Becker added that he had met with nearly all of the deans of science at all of the universities in South Africa to make them aware of SACNASP. He said that the deans have promised  to make their staff aware of the organisation and encourage students to register. In addition, SACNASP sends representatives to universities to give talks and interact with students. He argued that, while there was always room for improvement, the increase in young people becoming members was evidence that the engagements have been successful.

Dr Khathu Nephawe, Professor of Animal Sciences, Tshwane University of Technology and SACNASP member, added to this response. He said he felt encouraged that the number of young people registering for SACNASP was increasing.  However, it was important to promote SACNASP at all levels of education, even as far down as the primary level. He believed that this would help increase the number of students becoming involved in the natural sciences, in addition to increasing presence of under represented groups, such as women.

Mr C Mothale (ANC) asked how SACNASP engaged with other councils that dealt with similar fields, such as engineering.

Dr Becker said that, thus far, SACNASP had had good relationships with other councils, and that it was continuing to work on how best to cope with the inter-twined boundaries of engineering and natural sciences. He would like to see more sustainable relationships with other councils grow and form.

Dr Thomas Auf der Heyde, Deputy Director- General, Department of Science and Technology, said that the Department was very impressed with SACNASP, especially because it had been established on the basis of a voluntary organisation. The community was able to organise itself without direct facilitation of the State. The Department was working closely with SACNASP on the amendment to the SACNASP Act, because SACNASP had been given an enormous responsibility. He was worried that it did not have the capacity to execute everything that it had been asked to do. He expects the Department to enter into a stronger relationship with SACNASP so that the Department can assist the Council with its expansion.

Dr Botha thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present and said that she was looking forward to a bright future and strengthening of science and technology in South Africa.

The meeting was adjourned.


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