HSRC role in Research and Development in the country

NCOP Public Enterprises and Communication

08 March 2017
Chairperson: Ms E Prins (ANC, Western Cape)
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Meeting Summary

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) briefed the Committee on its mandate and role in research and development in the country. It emphasised the differences and similarities between itself and other institutions, primarily the universities. The Department of Science and Technology White Paper for Science and Technology would be important to give context to the HSRC work, which was to identify needs and then make recommendations on policy that would effect change, focusing on poverty and inequality. It emphasised that although it produced work for government, it was not allied to any political party, and that its research was aimed at achieving public good. HSRC did not have quite as much autonomy on research topics as the universities, although it sometimes did get independent funding, and was able to bring a full spectrum of expertise to bear on a wide range of issues. It covered over 200 projects per year, and would engage on both macro and micro levels, including going to do household surveys.

HSRC described some of its work. The SA Social Attitude Survey answers, across the 13 years that it had been running, helped to establish patterns. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study monitored trends in performance on these subjects, comparing, amongst others, take-up, success, and analysis of how such take-up could address poverty and inclusion. The SA National HIV Behavioural and Health Survey tracks the HIV epidemic, with broader behavioural and social issues also, in order to inform the National Strategy Plan and be able to direct funding and assistance to the groups most affected. Ideally Research and Development funding should be at around 1% to 2% of GDP, but the reality was that this was not happening. The HSRC would also monitor how the State Owned Companies were meeting research mandates and contributing to national efforts. A report would be released in April. Another project aimed to promote better understanding of rural communities, for sustainability and long term improvement, and the Rural Innovation Assessment Toolbox, running across 16 municipalities, was geared to considering how best to reach out to households and organisations. The Labour Market Intelligence Partnership aimed to understand the skills supply in the labour market, to identify how to bring skills into alignment and understand the supply and demand elements. Another HSRC noted that 3 million graduates were in employment and 35 000 were not. The iKhaya Lami project looked into homelessness in Durban, broken down by age, gender, employment, reasons for being homeless and levels of prejudice they faced. It was recognised that partnership efforts were needed to finding solutions. The City Support Programme suffered from red tape constraints but the HSRC was working with the City Budgeting process to try to speed up the process of urban development. HSRC's major challenges included its lack of funding, with only 56% being funded from the parliamentary grant, and retaining senior researchers.

Members asked for more information on how HSRC would monitor policy to check whether it was resulting in effective assessments and control, for instance in mining. Several Members wanted to hear more about the work done in the departments of education, noting that there were criticisms about the educational outputs, questioning whether it was following up on employment, particularly to assist the National Students Financial Aid Scheme with its recoveries, and questioning whether HSRC was suggesting solutions. Members also asked for more information on the skills absorption and graduates available in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors. Some Members indicated that they were not aware of the HSRC's work, and asked if it was giving input on legislation and whether it worked in partnership with other organisations. They asked if it worked in partnership on some issues, which prompted the Chief Executive Officer to outline the work that HSRC did with Parliament, and how there was  a need for ongoing dialogue. The comment was made that cross-cutting solutions were needed across all sectors. They wondered if the HSRC had been involved in the advice on condom supply, asked if studies were done on child-headed households, what work was being done in the small towns, where high influx of people was a problem, and whether disaggregated statistics could be made available. Members asked HSRC to expand on the challenges it had mentioned about commissioning research, its relationship and work with other institutions such as Statistics SA, how it differed from other research agencies, how it intended to attract and retain more researchers and funding. Members finally adopted minutes of 15 and 22 February.

Meeting report

The Chairperson noted apologies from the Ministry.

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) briefing
Mr Crain Soudien, Chief Executive Officer, HSRC, gave an introduction to the work of the HSRC and how it fits into the national innovation landscape. He emphasised that the Department of Science and Technology (DST)  is in the process of developing a White Paper for Science and Technology, and whilst he would not specifically dwell on that, he noted that the role of social science is important, and how to contextualise HSRC within the innovation landscape, particularly how it can engage with poverty and inequality, and he would like to hear from Members as to how they saw its role. .

He briefly outlined (see attached presentation) the mandate and mission, noting that the HSRC would initiate, undertake and foster strategic basic and applied research in human sciences. That differs from the work of the universities as its work is focused on practical and applied research for the public good. Most of its work related to policy making and helping government to clarify issues to address the problems of the country. The HSRC, as an arm's length organisation, is not affiliated to any political party and did not do party-political work. Its work is mainly for the general public, to promote research of the highest quality towards social change and away from the apartheid legacy. Building on the understanding of the past, it was future-looking and was responsible for providing information that will help the country get a sense of the future. The White Paper is fundamentally preoccupied in addressing what can come out of the knowledge-producing community to provide HSRC with some perspective and solutions on how to move forward.

He noted that although HSRC has a relationship with institutions like the universities, who do undertake important research, HSRC does not not have as much freedom in doing broad research. Because of its mandate, HSRC has an essential relationship with government to provide an empirical research base. 

The HSRC work is focused on problem-solving. Employees have to be well-adjusted and understand that their work is aligned to major projects of national importance. HSRC is a multi-disciplinary organisation, with a full spectrum of social scientists, who work across issues ranging through economic, social psychology and public health. Because its staff cover a broad spectrum it does have more freedom than universities.

HSRC has made a commitment for the next five years to focus on inequality and poverty, understand why it persists and why inequality is actually increasing. The post-apartheid government had been able to lower the absolute poverty rate, in the sense that less communities were poor, but within those communities, the percentage of poor people had increased. Over the  last 21 years, the gap between the rich and poor had increased largely because of the growth of the black middle class.

Three flagship projects over the next five years were focusing on economic inclusion and how HSRC can give people a full sense of their citizenship, attaining social development. HSRC wants to understand the dynamics of households on a deep scale, doing house-to-house surveys that will look at inter-generational dynamics, racism in communities and other issues. It will also give recommendations on minimum standards and work to be undertaken by policy makers, on housing, education, transport and health. He made reference to development of minimum wages, and commended this move. He noted that HSRC would engage on issues at both a macro and micro level; with the relevant departments and then down to individuals in schools and hospitals, for example, looking at the governance structures also to ensure accountability.

Mr Leickness Simbayi, Deputy Chief Executive Officer: Research, HSRC, noted that the HSRC covers over 200 research projects a year, including large scale surveys that help to inform policies. All statistics collected are archived and can be shared with other researchers in universities and policy makers such as Parliament. Big Data was collected and he summarised the surveys already done (see attached slide for details).

Ms Narnia Behler-Muller, Executive Director: Democracy, Governance and Service Delivery, HSRC, elaborated on the South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS), which is not a public opinion survey, but has been done every year since 2003, collating now 13 years of data. SASAS is a tool for monitoring models on social values that is modelled on the longest standing international Attitude survey. It will ask people, for instance, what their levels of trust are in institutions like Parliament, the Executive and local government. Parliament is quite well trusted by the people. People might also be asked what the public thinks of the various state-owned public enterprises. The answers establish patterns that can inform decision making.

Ms Angelique Wildschut, Senior Research Specialist: Education and Skills Development, HSRC, elaborated on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which specifically focuses on monitoring trends in maths and science performance. It was introduced in around 1995, and the most recent results were issued in November 2016.  TIMSS has been acknowledged in the State of Nation Address as an important gauge of the pool of baseline of education and training, and something that can aid in addressing poverty, inequality and unemployment.  These results look at the South Africa’s grade 9 achievement, and has highlighted the clear improvement in the take-up of the subjects, and the average scores in these subjects. She compared 2003, with high variability and inequality of performance in maths, to lower distribution, less variability and increased performance leading to less inequality in 2015. The TIMSS chart of achievement (see attached presentation) demonstrated the change for all participating countries. Although South Africa has been performing poorly compared to other countries, it had made the largest improvement; between 2003 and 2015. TIMSS gives a trend analysis on internationally recognised methodology, with participation from 39 countries. 

Ms Sizulu Moyo, Research Director: HIV/AIDS, STIs and TB, HSRC, elaborated on the South African National HIV Behavioural and Health Survey (SABSSM). This is a cross-sectional survey that looks at social issues related to HIV, done every three years, to track the HIV epidemic and inform the National Strategy Plan. This is internationally recognised, by the UN Assembly. People are encouraged to participate on the HSRC website. It focuses on the prevalence and incidence of HIV infection across class and gender. In 2017 it was found that the HIV epidemic has been concentrated on the lower class and young women. As well as the progress, the HSRC also tracks awareness and this informs the programmes that are needed to correct misconceptions, and help to inform those on ARV treatment about the social issues. In this year there is a focus on how to address HIV resistance, and there will also be research into the viral load, to determine people who need their viruses suppressed and the adherence of treatment. This survey is different because it looks at every household, unlike the Department of Health which only focuses on women in clinics. HSRC is tracking not only biomedical issues but broader behavioural and social issues.

Ms Glenda Kruss, Deputy Executive Director: Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators, HRSC, elaborated on the Research and Development (R&D surveys). They were critical indicators of what social and development goals must be addressed. Gross expenditure on R&D Survey for South Africa should be between 1% and 2% of GDP, but no country has ever actually achieved that; South Africa only reached 0.73%. The survey looked into technological capacity, who and how many people were working in R&D, to assess whether the pool of scientists was adequate. Key sector breakdowns were also available. How this ties in with the State Owned Companies (SOCs) is something that is important; the HSRC has, since 2002, been monitoring how the SOCs meet the R&D mandate and are contributing to the national R&D effort. This is a joint policy initiative and the HSRC's report also involves work with the Department of Public Enterprises and will be released April, to inform policy implications and interventions.

Mr Ivan Turok, Executive Director: Economic Performance and Development, HSRC. elaborated on the projects to promote the understanding of rural communities for sustainability and long term improvement. The Rural Innovation Assessment Toolbox (RIAT) is a methodology that considers how best to reach out to households and organisations to promote new thinking and innovative solutions to problems driven by inequality and poverty, and how, together, they can measure and promote innovation. Economic and social development practitioners are working together on the project, which now in the pilot phase across 16 municipalities, including eight district municipalities. This project focus on the broad based changes in the way government operates in order to introduce and use new ideas and solutions in rural areas.

Ms Angelique Wildschut, Senior Research Specialist: Education and Skills Development, HSRC. elaborated on the Labour Market Intelligence Partnership (LMPI). It is funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training. The project aims to understand the skills supply in the labour market and inform policy on how to bring skills into alignment, as well as devise systems to understand supply and demand, the economic structure and the supply of skills in the labour market. The economy is demanding less high-skilled jobs, when the majority does not have a matric, and LMPI looks at the responses to this. It has concluded that in fact graduates are being employed; 3 million graduates have found employment and 35 000 have not. The primary three sectors employing graduates are social services, financial, and manufacturing. She referred Members to the LMIP website and Annual Review handbook for more information.

Ms Heidi van Rooyen, Executive Director for Human and Social Development, HSRC explained the IKhaya Lami project which looks into homelessness in Durban, the issues faced by the homeless, and gender or class issues. Researchers on the ground would be working with the homeless. They were looking into those in shelters, and those on the streets. Men formed the largest percentage of the homeless. 40% of people who were homeless said they were unemployed, while 20% had moved out of home due to difficulties with families. The people living on the streets have experienced more violence from police or other people in the streets such as early morning sweeps by the police and unnecessary force.

The next steps in policy development in the project would address various developments in the communities,  and address homelessness in Durban. Two points that had emerged from the project, that could inform other cities, are that groups for homeless support are coming together to find solutions for the homeless, and there was recognition that homelessness solutions did not only rest with government. NGOs and civil society are already the driving force, but need support from government.

Mr Turok went into the City Support Programme, explaining that this was limited by the red tape inhibiting development, and the major costs around informal settlements. HSRC did a series of interviews and surveys t and now was looking at how to minimise this. It had worked out how to overcome this problem and four points were identified: water use licenses, environmental impact baselines, planning and approval for development and procurement and financial issues for development. HSRC was now working with the city budgeting process to speed up the process of urban development.

Mr Soudien outlined the challenges that HSRC is facing and stated that it has a parliamentary grant which does not cover everything it does. As a result it was obliged to seek external funding, to move to £500 million budget; 56% comes from the parliamentary grant, with the rest needing to be outsourced. Critical skills remained a challenge, as HSRC found it difficult to find senior researchers, although the demographics for junior ones are better than the senior researchers. The PFMA scheduling takes too much time also.



Mr J Parkies (ANC, Free State) expressed appreciation for the presentation. He wanted to hear more about monitoring of policy and evaluation for effective formulation – using the example of a mining company being given a license to mine with no consultation on the ground and with no environmental assessment. He heard the comment on maths and science but said that South Africa is always criticised on the quality of education, that it was not producing the right results but no explicit solutions had been presented. He asked what the researchers would then suggest. He asked for more information on the impact of the SOCs on the socio-economic conditions of the citizens. He wondered whether the problem in the agricultural, forest and fishing sector was that those with qualifications were not being absorbed into the sectors or whether they were simply not available.

Mr M Khawula (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) asked if the HSRC assisted in giving input on legislation. He asked how liaison worked between the spheres of government. He asked how it would be getting involved over the next five years. He wondered if there was more than one study on HIV / Aids, as he was not aware of the HSRC involvement. He asked how Members could give input on the municipality projects. He wondered why the decision was taken to focus on only one sphere of government in the City Support programme, ,since issues cross-cut others too.

Mr M Julius (DA, Gauteng) congratulated the panel for its high percentage of women presenters. He asked if  HSRC was meeting targets, in terms of education and job matches. He wondered if there was any trend apparent. He asked if the HSRC followed up to check whether students were being employed, saying that this was important to track on the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). He pointed out, in relation to the RIAT project, that municipal leadership remained a huge challenge, leading to lack of service delivery, and he wondered if there was any possibility of looking further into this. He asked if the HSRC would look again at trends, to aim for political stability and service delivery. He asked about the advice given on condoms. In relation to TIMMS, he pointed out that in 2016 it was suggested that there was a world trend that grade 9s were not able to write at this level. However, it was also possible to give a picture of good performance, which was perhaps the reason for some of the reports. However, he wanted to ensure that the real situation on the ground was displayed, otherwise there would be failure to plan properly. The Department of Higher Education should not mislead; if so, then no social economic challenges could be addressed because the planning would be out of kilter.

Mr A Singh (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) asked for the names of the municipalities being addressed through the RIAT Toolbox.

Mr Parkies asked if there were any studies done on child headed families, and the impact on society if there was.

Mr E Mlambo (ANC, Gauteng) commended the HSRC on the good presentation. He asked about any relationship with Statistics SA. He commented, in relation to the RIAT Toolbox, and people with spaza shops do not get to participate in the bigger picture for development, and wondered what research said on this.

Ms E Prins (ANC, Western Cape) asked that HSRC look into the small towns, where sewage was a major problem as they had grown beyond their planned size. This was a point raised in many other committees. She asked if there were disaggregated statistics for the improvement in science and maths, by gender, rural division and if the causes could be isolated. She asked if SASAS had answers on what the South African politico-social issues are.

Prof Soudien noted that the research was directly linked to the mandate given by the Act, and was directed to high quality research that was in the public interest. He also expressed disappointment that Mr Khawula had never heard any input from HSRC , since it was situated right next to the Parliament and had an MoU that their researchers would make themselves available. He said that HSRC would now work on increasing its visibility, and would set up further meetings with Parliament to discuss how it might offer better support, perhaps by publishing its research in a wider range of media.

HSRC had researched the policies around child-headed households, and he was disappointed that the very important information produced had not been made available to Members. Research had shown that 30% percent of households had no fathers present, which was very high compared to the global average. HSRC must make this a priority.

The Chairperson interjected that the Members were not insinuating that they did not get information from HSRC. There were, of course, a number of different committees in Parliament.

Mr Richard Matambo, Acting Chief Financial Officer, HSRC, addressed the issue on PFMA scheduling; which posed some challenges to trying to identify who the experts were and allowing people the opportunity to do the work, whilst also offering the best output. It was sometimes a tricky balance.

Mr Turok addressed the question on environmental issues, saying again it was a balancing act between governance and complying with regulations; it was possible that they may be exploited by particular interests from various classes. HSRC needed to align all spheres of government, including the water license process within other regulatory regimes and ensure that regulations would be enforced appropriately. The HSRC would sometimes initiate its own research and look for its own funding but at other times its research was reacting to a problem.

Ms Kruss noted that the RIAT project was available on the HSRC website, and this indicated the participating 16 municipalities and balanced examples.

Ms Wildschut noted that the time available for presentations limited the amount of detail that could be made available. Positive results from the TIMSS survey had been included because it was felt that it was important to emphasise the positive. A more detailed look into that would display a clearer picture. The highlights in the longer report do address the depth of the results from the survey in terms of resources and home situation, contacts, education and how it impacted on the test scores. Despite the dire state in which South Africa found itself, there were some significant achievements and she wanted to focus on how to nurture that, not merely focus on the negatives. It would look at trends, not merely take a snapshot of a point in time.

She noted that she and Ms Kruss were involved in a project to look at the 2005 – 2012 apprenticeships and learnerships for access and transitioning into the labour market. She was unable to answer the question, offhand, whether people were not being absorbed, because the slide focused on the quarterly findings only, and also did not include other sectors.

Mr Parkies clarified that his question was in fact very focused on the statistics on the agricultural, fishing and forestry sector, and he wondered if there were not enough graduates for this sector. He also wanted to hear about the quality of education; many people had the impression that the education system was poor, and he wondered if there had been any study on what the gaps were.

Ms Wildschut noted that the TIMSS study looked at basic education and access to the socio economic factors. The LMIP table would show where people were, in the formal labour market, and this showed that around 1% percent of the 1.8 million postgraduate degree, certificates and diploma holders were absorbed in the agricultural, fishing and forestry sector. However, other sources of information would need to be consulted to answer there were enough jobs in the labour market.

Ms Behler-Muller said that the Presidential Review Commission had looked into the role of SOCs, and its report was on the gov.za website. A clear role would have to be given to the SOCs, so that development on transformation was prioritised. This would also appear from the online reports. Although there had not yet been studies on the socio-economic impact, she recognised that this was important. The HSRC researchers carried out their work in various ways. They could go into the field and test the data, to isolate the most prevalent community concerns. A visit would be paid to Mamelodi next week to speak about foreign nationals in the community. SASAS needed to be supplemented with other research for more depth. HSRC had found that the biggest issue with mining were that the large mining companies are moving in, without prior consultation with and assessment by communities, and this needed to change.

Mr Simbayi noted that a brochure with contact details had been circulated; alternatively Members should contact Prof Soudien who could refer them to other relevant people. He was pleased to hear that Members were aware of the efforts on HIV/Aids and the involvement of other entities with whom the HSRC worked – which would have included the SA Medical Research Council and Africa Centre. The information that HSRC gathered was shared with all spheres of government, and he noted that Mr Mandela himself had been involved in the Nelson Mandela study into HIV, with the information that HSRC provided being put straight back into to inform the strategic planning. The HSRC was partially responsible for the advice on the condoms because it was concerned about the drop in condom use and was trying to boost their use, taken from the results of its survey in the student community at the Tshwane University of Technology.

Prof Soudien described that HSRC worked closely with Statistics SA, but the roles were clear. StatsSA would look to the broader picture and HSRC would delve deeper into certain issues to get a more in-depth understanding. Sometimes the two would share their work and there were sometimes overlaps, but essentially HSRC would focus on research and StatsSA would focus on analysis of data.

Mr Parkies asked how HSRC different from other research agencies.

Prof Soudien said HSRC would undertake collaboration with all the research agencies to try and understand why certain things were happening. For instance, the Water Research Commission was looking at why people chose not to use water saving solutions, and if the technology failed, it was likely to come to HSRC to ask for advice on why the idea did not take off. In the Vuwani situation, when 26 institutions burned down, the HSRC sent a team to try and understand the situation, from its ground research.

Prof Soudien reiterated that he was disappointed to hear that the HSRC lacked visibility, and he said that it would have to work on the image of value-add, and in particular try to find out why the SASAS survey was not so well known, since it was second only to the census.

Mr Parkies asked how the HSRC was going to employ young people.

Mr Simbayi responded that it had already employed 400 people.

The Chairperson said, in conclusion, that she recognised the important role of HSRC as strategic partner to government in ensuring that it examined and would review policies. She assured the HSRC that the Minister often referred to its input and work, so that it is in the public eye, although she agreed that it would be necessary to try to look into why its current research was not apparently being distributed.

Mr Parkies suggested that the HSRC might be able to source more money for the SOCs and do more research on that. He also affirmed that job creation and development was critical.

Adoption of minutes
The Members adopted minutes of 15 and 22 February 2017.

The meeting was adjourned.

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