Department of Science and Technology on its 2014/15 Annual Report

NCOP Public Enterprises and Communication

04 November 2015
Chairperson: Ms E Prins (ANC, Western Cape)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Science and Technology briefed the Select Committee on it 2014/2015 Annual Report. Of the 65 targets set for the 2014/15 financial year, the Department had achieved a total of 55 (85%), with 9% partially achieved and only 6% not achieved. The Committee expressed its appreciation that the Department had achieved a clean audit.

The Committee asked about the Centres of Excellence; the Minister’s intervention regarding the appointment of South African female Research Chairs; the tri-partite bio-entrepreneurial programme, and if it was in existence; the consortium of research institutions, its nature and participants; genetically-modified animal models and their benefit to South Africa; how to achieve the National Development Plan (NDP) goal of 100 000 PhD candidates per annum; improving equity for previously disadvantaged students engaged in post-graduate study; and the safety of running clinical trials in this country.

The Committee heard about the Ministerial intervention to have more black female Research Chairs. The only downside at the moment was that the Research Chairs were occupied mainly by white women. The Department had committed itself to improving this situation. Written reports were to be submitted on the reasons for the fallout of black post-graduate students, and the provincial breakdown of black post-graduate students.

Although apologies had been tendered, the absence of the Minister and Director General were noted. A message would be sent to them about the importance of attending these meetings.

The minutes of 5 and 11 August, 2 September, 21 October and 28 October 2015 were adopted.

Meeting report

Department of Science and Technology on its 2014/2015 Annual Report

Mr Imraan Patel, Deputy Director General: Sector Innovation Programmes, Department of Science and Technology (DST), reported on the Department’s performance trends over the four-year period from 2011 to 2014. He said its performance against targets had increased from 67% in the 2011/12 financial year, to 85% in the 2014/15 financial year. This could be attributed to the Department’s performance information management strategic interventions. The implementation of the Performance Information Management Systems (PIMS) had resulted in an improvement of performance compliance standards -- validity, relevance, integrity and usefulness of performance information.

Of the 65 targets set for the 2014/15 financial year, the Department had achieved a total of 55 (85%), with 9% partially achieved and only 6% not achieved.

Performance per programme was as follows:

Programme 1:    Achieved 15 (88%) of its annual targets, and two (12%) targets were partially achieved;

Programme 2:    Achieved nine (64%) of its annual targets, two (14%) were partially achieved and three (22%) were not achieved;

Programme 3:    Achieved all ten (100%) of its annual targets;

Programme 4:    Achieved 11 (84%) of its annual targets, one (8%) was partially achieved and one (8%) was not achieved; and

Programme 5:    Achieved 10 (91%) of its targets and only one target (9%) was partially achieved.

Mr Patel said that its portfolio of human settlements projects had started the year before last and would unfold in the next few years. The Department had received a clean audit and achieved most of its targets. Science and technology had increasingly become acknowledged as central to the national development objectives to address social ills in the country and the Department felt that it had all the systems in place to do this. Challenges like improving the performance management system, were being addressed. It would like to achieve another clean audit in the next financial year.

Mr J Parkies (ANC, Free State) asked how the Centres of Excellence assisted people in the country, and where they were located.

Dr Phethiwe Matutu, Acting Deputy Director: General Research and Development, Department of Science and Technology, replied that most of the Centres of Excellence were located in the research-intensive universities. Their nature there would be as host institutions. The intention was to draw out and utilise existing excellence in universities in a particular area. They had been designed in one of two ways -- there was a bottom up approach, in which institutions bid for a Centre of Excellence where they knew where there strengths lay; and there was a top down approach, in which the Department identified areas of importance which were largely aligned with government priorities.

The area where great strides had been made, was health. It was one of the five priority areas of the government. Health had three different Centres of Excellence: tuberculosis, epidemiology and a more recently developed Centre of Excellence in human development. The key studies in the human development Centre of Excellence were the tracking of the population in Soweto and food security. There was also a mathematics and statistics Centre of Excellence,

Mr Parkies asked the Department about health in rural development.

Dr Matutu replied that the food security area had been established only recently. The issues related to food were not so much about the absence of food, but about what prevented the nation feeding the country, as there was a lot of wastage. This was not so much about food production, but about how to ensure a clear value chain. At the moment, there was no Centre of Excellence that focused specifically on rural development, but there were programmes that dealt with issues which mainly affected rural people, like HIV and Aids.

Mr Parkies asked for an explanation of ‘… the appointment of female South African citizens and permanent residents,’ which was on page 49 of the Annual Report.

Dr Matutu replied that the Minister had looked at the data of the South African Research Chairs, and had come up with an intervention. These Research Chairs were researchers who were at the top of their game and considered to be world leaders in their fields. This programme focused largely on the production of human capital. The intervention involved appointing women, who were also South African residents, as Research Chairs. At the moment there were 42 of such Research Chairs, but the only problem was that they were mainly white women. The Department was going to look into the racial dynamics of this instrument in the future. Funding was provided for the salaries of the Research Chairs and for bursaries for post-graduate students. The top researcher received about R2.5 million from the Department. There had been about 153 of these Research Chairs.

Mr Parkies asked the Department to unbundle the statement: ... (Copyright on Moringa Vitamin Water). In addition, a total of 154 post-graduate  students were supported in the bio-economy-related RDI initiatives’, which was also on page 49 of the Annual Report.

Ms Christina Pinto, Acting Deputy Director: General Technology and Innovation, DST replied that the Department would provide additional information in writing about this issue. This also held for providing a provincial breakdown of the total number of post-graduate students specifically involved in the bio- economy plan.

Mr Parkies referred to the following statement on page 49: ‘A new tripartite bio-entrepreneur programme aligned with the industrial bio-economy plan.’ He asked, if the Committee visited this programme, whether it would be in existence, and whether it conformed to a new unfolding bio-economy strategy.

Ms Pinto replied that this was a successor to an existing programme. It was unclear whether it was a formal programme that could be visited, as there was not a set centre. There was a relationship between the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)  and the eGoli Bio Life Sciences Incubator, which was one of the incubators being supported through the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) programme. Linked to that, there was a relationship with the Swiss Development Programme, which provided some international exposure and expertise. The intention was that entrepreneurs in the bio-economy area could then apply to be part of this programme so they received training and exposure and then, from an international perspective, they received opportunities to approach international markets. The Department could arrange for the Committee to meet some of the entrepreneurs who formed part of this programme.

Mr Parkies asked about the nature and participants of the consortium spoken about on page 50 of the annual report.

Ms Pinto said that this consortium had been in place for quite a long time, and was made up primarily of research organisations like the CSIR, the University of SA (UNISA), the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), as well as a non-profit traditional healer’s organisation.

Mr Parkies asked how the ‘… genetically modified animal models’ spoken about in the second paragraph on page 50, sustained the livelihood of the people in this country.

Ms Pinto said that this dealt with intellectual property that this country did not necessarily have, so the relationship allowed access to techniques and models, and to build local knowledge around testing for different diseases.

Mr Parkies referred to the DST’s projects across the provinces, and asked how the National Recordal System (NRS) located at the University of Fort Hare, for example, benefited the people of this country and helped to change their lives. These grandiose plans were useless if one could not see how they benefited people’s lives.

Mr A Singh (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) congratulated the Department on achieving 85% of their targets, but asked why they could not achieve 100%. He asked how it hoped to achieve the National Development Plan (NDP) goal of 100 000 PhD candidates per annum in the future, especially considering the kind of budgets they had.

Mr Singh asked about the allocations for students who were academically deserving, and students who were previously disadvantaged. How would the Department balance this situation in the future, given that the previously disadvantaged students were the priority?

Dr Matutu replied that two years ago, the Minister had developed ministerial guidelines for the Department’s entities to improve equity in the distribution of bursaries and fellowships. These guidelines looked at issues of equity and financial needs. The Department spent about R900 million on bursaries, so it was crucial to provide guidelines. They also looked at the proportion of students from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the rest of Africa, as it was well known that South Africa was bound by some of the education protocols it had signed. At least 5% of the students came from SADC countries and the rest of Africa. The National Research Foundation (NRF) had reported for the first time since the inception of these Ministerial guidelines, so the information that the Department had on bursaries was far more than what it had ended up providing in the annual performance plan. The entity therefore had to report on all the issues associated largely with the equitable distribution of funds and improving equity. Unfortunately this report did not include the provincial spread.

The Chairperson said that this information could be provided in writing, as it would take too long to explain the information for each province.

Ms Matutu said that the report received from the NRF would be given to the Committee. There had been success in terms of equity in Honours level studies. At Masters and PhD level, there had been quite a large drop-off rate of black students. A study had been conducted as to why so many black students did not complete their studies. The outcome of the study was that black students were more affected by financial issues than whites. The National Treasury had therefore added R300 million to the budget and now more post-graduate students were expected to graduate.

Mr Singh asked the Department for an opinion on running clinical trials in this country and getting funding coming from European countries for this. How safe were these trials for the people of this country. His concern was about South Africans being used as guinea pigs.

Mr Patel replied that these trials were safe, as there were very strong regulatory requirements. These clinical trials were done according to international and local best practice. Added to this, there were different agencies that were independent of the scientists involved, who had to monitor the process. So there were strong systems in place, both nationally and internationally, to ensure that the trials were safe.                                             

Mr E Mlambo (ANC, Gauteng) asked if the 10 post-graduate students were spread all over the country, or if they were from one province.

Ms Pinto replied that the number was reflective of the fact that the Department was looking at strategic skills. It was known fro which universities they graduated, but not necessarily from where the student originated. Students came from the University of Potchefstroom, University of Cape Town, University of the Western Cape, University of the Free State, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and University of the North West.

Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape) also congratulated the Department on achieving 85% of its performance targets, but expressed concern about the 6% of non-achievement of targets. This had been budgeted for, so how much was going to be rolled over if 6% of the targets had not been achieved? He asked if the reasons were external factors.

Mr David Mmakola, Chief Director: Planning, Governance, Monitoring and Evaluation, DST, replied that the targets that had not been achieved had been carried over to the following financial year.

Mr Rayi asked the Department to break down all the figures in the report. For example 11 335 students had been spoken of without saying, for example, how many were PhD students as part of the NDP’s anticipated 100 000 students per annum.

Dr Matutu replied that the Minister had instructed the Department to look at the NDP needs and how much it could cost them in terms of human capital development. With a target of 100 PhDs per million of the population by 2030, the Department had realised that this meant more than six thousand students per year by 2030. Currently there were 2 000 PhD candidates per year, so there was a huge gap to fill. The Department was working on quantifying the situation properly.

Mr Rayi said that sanitation had been dealt with from a scientific perspective for policy decision-making. He asked if water could also be considered in this way, as it was a serious challenge as well.

Mr Patel replied that the Department would report on some water matters in its next report. One of the decision support systems, which was called the Risk and Vulnerability Atlas, included water. According to the way it was designed, it had climate change, agriculture and water as layers, so water was looked at in conjunction with these other variables.

The Chairperson asked if there was a relationship between enterprise development creation under the CSIR and the Ministry on Small Business Development, in terms of funding and support for small businesses.

Mr Patel said the DST was working a lot more closely with the Department of Small Business Development. In fact, as part of the economic cluster, all government departments were working more closely together.

The Chairperson asked about the ‘Broadband for All’ initiatives, and if this was a duplication of the Department of Communication’s initiative on broadband connectivity. Was the Department working on another programme to complement this one, or with the Department of Communication on this initiative?

Mr Patel replied that all the Department’s activities were under the South Africa Connect umbrella, which was a Cabinet-approved strategy. The Department’s role was to give advice and suggestions on what had to be done – so it was looking at television “white space” techology projects. These relationships needed effort and activity.

The Chairperson asked in which districts and municipalities the public participation events were taking place, and what kind of events they were.

Mr Tommy Makhode, Chief Director, Communications, DST, said that in terms of the 2010 Cabinet directive, all ministers, premiers and mayors were expected to host at least 10 public participation programmes. In the financial year under review, the Department had managed to perform at least seven in KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng, the Western Cape and Northern Cape. The two provinces unable to host events had been Limpopo and North West, but it was good to be able to report that in the current financial year, the Department had been able to go to those provinces and host public participation programmes there. Public participation programmes had to include public engagement with communities. They were aimed at raising awareness about careers in science, technology and innovation. The Department also took its entities along to these events, where they hosted exhibitions of what they were offering. This was done in collaboration with the provinces, district municipalities and local municipalities in the spirit of intergovernmental cooperation.

Mr Patel said that he realised that there was a lot more that had to be done around the presentation of data, but there was an interest in seeing how the Department’s work impacted in terms of spatial patterns. With the Department of Women, there was now a requirement to disaggregate its data in terms of women, which was not difficult to do because the systems and technologies existed to allow this kind of disaggregation. In this presentation, the Department had been able to give a better flavour of its provincial work, but it acknowledged that there was more it could do -- for example, by giving a provincial breakdown on the PhDs, which the Department would be able to provide with its tracking system. However, all that the Department wanted the Select Committee to understand was that this was going to be an ongoing improvement process. The DST would improve the provincial spread provided.

Mr Parkies requested the DST to forward the report that dealt with why black students were not completing their studies. It should firm up its outreach programmes. If one wanted to transform society, research centres should be located in deep rural areas so that poor people would have access to resources. A message had to be relayed to the Minister and the Director General, that it was very important they attend these meetings.

The Chairperson thanked the Department for its presentation and congratulated it on its performance.

Consideration of Committee Minutes

The minutes of 5 and 11 August, 2 September, 21 October and 28 October 2015 were adopted.

The meeting was adjourned.

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