The Committee was briefed by the National Advisory Council on Innovation on the South African Science Technology Indicators. This was an annual publication produced by the Council to assess progress in development of the effective and efficient national system of innovation. This report provided a platform for discussing the state of innovation in South Africa. The Committee was introduced to the South African Innovation Scorecard Framework, the objective being to enhance the monitoring Composite Innovation Indicators for South Africa.
The Committee was enlightened and disappointed to hear that policy uncertainty was the main reason for the low investment from the business sector in education and technology research and development. One of the major concerns for Members was the stigma attached to maths and science qualifications. This affected the psyche of many students who felt inferior if they performed poorly in maths and science. Much of the problem lay with the fact that the quality of teaching of maths and science was insufficient, and there often was not enough money to employ qualified teachers. The Committee was assured that there would not be a focus on universities who had developed innovation through expertise in maths and science. One of the issues that were highlighted was that the proportion of students who went into technical training was relatively low compared to university for academic qualifications. There was a need to focus more on technical skills relative to academic skills
Members expressed concern on the plight of the economy and asked for guidance from the NACI as to why this economy was not flourishing. Members heard that at a Post Communist Party Conference attended in China, China was very clear on the role it wanted to play in emerging societies. The approach they (China) had adopted was to identify, select and focus on a few strategic priorities for the next 10 to 20 years. It was shown that countries who were reaping the benefit of decisions made in the mid-eighties had engaged in a Foresight Exercise. This exercise allowed a country or organisation to look ahead at areas it wanted to develop. The NACI proposed - the Minister of Science and Technology has agreed upon –that it conducts a Foresight Exercise which it was hoped would assist government next year to develop new innovations. This would help to identify a few strategic priorities for the next 20 years or so. The issue of data costs and free data were debated as both the National Advisory Council on Innovation and the Committee felt that the primary use of data for social media was a waste of resources.
Members asked if there were any specific reasons why there was such a low investment from the business sector in terms of education and technology research and development; if there were any projects or research done in terms of the cost of data; if it was expected of the National Advisory Council on Innovation to initiate dialogue on Science, Technology and Innovation opinions on why that there had not been a big change in the Science, Technology and Innovation over the last 20 year; who were the ‘few’ universities that were benefiting in building a critical mass for research capacity; the remedy for public schools not doing well with mathematics and science; What was the problem that prevented this economy from flourishing, to Brexit or not; why this country failed to have qualifications for quantum engineering; if the Council could provide an indicator that showed where South Africa fitted with regard to data costs, in terms of the South African Development Community, in terms of Africa and in terms of the rest of the world; asked if any research was done on what South Africa was using the internet for; and what the indicators were saying about where South Africa stood in terms of free data services.
As the Chairperson, was unavailable, Mr N Koornhof (ANC) was Acting Chairperson for this meeting.
Dr Cele Mlungisi, Acting CEO, National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) said that the Results of South African Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Indicators Report was officially launched on 28 September 2017.
Briefing by the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) on the South African Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Indicators
Dr Azar Jammine, Chief Economist & NACI Council, said the presentation focused on assessment of the South African innovative system for 1996 – 2015 periods.
A few Key highlights were:
-The number of scientific publications had tripled from the period 1996-2000 (25,453) to a period 2011-2015 (75,270);
-The country had one of the largest mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 people (159 in 2015);
-Multinational corporations were playing a significant role for South Africa’s technological innovation progress; and
-There was a decline in % of capital goods imported and a declining country share of high-tech exports.
There was a clear need for deep transitions for a fundamental shift in economy as not much has changed since 1996. The functioning of the NSI continued to be impeded by the deficit in SET skills, particularly in the area of design, engineering, entrepreneurship and management. There was good progress in building critical mass for research capacity, though at few prominent universities.
Dr A Lotriet (DA) asked if there were any specific reasons why there was such a low investment from the business sector in terms of education and technology research and development.
Dr Cele replied that last year the NACI had a seminar on this issue. The reason they gave was policy uncertainty. This was a critical question that had to be asked continuously.
Dr Lotriet said that there was a responsibility to look at data costs. She asked if there were there any projects or research done in terms of the cost of data that was known so that one could use this to get to companies to change.
Dr Jammine said that the cost of data required more research. Superficially he had seen some comparisons from countries across the world, and countries like Kenya had lower data costs which was why they managed to use their instruments more effectively in term of enabling people to access finance, and for all sorts of transactions. His gut feeling was that South Africa was using it mainly for social media which relatively speaking was unproductive and costly. If used so extensively for social media it meant that South Africans had less money to spend on other things.
Ms C King (DA) asked if anyone in the country had considered designing cell phones, and if there was any investment in that.
Dr Jammine said that he was pleased to hear that many people were manufacturing cell phones in the country but were unfortunately being stifled by big interest groups. Ghana had found new ways of doing things; this was how innovation should be spread in the country. Developing a society where there was no role for small players and pushing them out was one of the inhibitors of the development of innovation. South Africa had a ‘golden triangle’ of government and parastatals, big business and organised labour, and the masses had just been left out of this whole thing unfortunately. Until that golden triangle was broken down, the country would not be able to achieve its full potential.
The Acting Chairperson said that South Africa did manufacture pretty good Smart phones. The problem was that Cell C, Vodacom and MTN did not want to buy them. The Real problem was that the South African market was too small to invest in these companies. The Department was working on this matter.
Ms A Tuck (ANC) referred to slide 10 on page 5 and read the last paragraph: ‘This report provides a necessary platform for discussing the state of innovation in South Africa’. She asked with whom and where NACI had the discussions. She asked further if it was expected of NACI to initiate the dialogue.
Dr Cele said of course the Department could be relied upon to facilitate engagement and support to the rest of government. This report would go to Cabinet and would have to go through an economic transfer system. The reason for going to Cabinet was to make sure that the NACI was able to communicate with all the relevant government departments. Of course, there was a need to draw policy implications from what was being provided. Then Cabinet would decide on what to do with the Report.
Mr Martin McKay, Special Advisor to the Minister of the Department of Science and Technology, said he had just had a thought if this Committee could consider calling a joint meeting of the Department of Social Development (responsible for Early Childhood Development (ECD)), the Department of Basic Education, the Department of Higher Education and Training, and the Department of Science and Technology (which promoted postgraduates) to look at what was being done in that pipeline from origin right to PhD level, because the question as he understood it was, what was the coherence taking place in order to address a serious problem. One may also have to go to expanding research-intensive institutions beyond the current few to make sure that all were looking at and working on improving the state of innovation in South Africa.
Ms Tuck referred to ‘shift in economy’ in the first bullet under Concluding remarks on page 15 and asked if the NACI had to report on this ‘shift in economy’.
Dr Cele said that the NACI liaised with other stakeholders when launching the report. The NACI had launched a portal to encourage people to access it so that they could have interactions through and with the Report. The next version of the STI (Science Technology and Innovation systems) indicator’s report would potentially deal with some of the indicators that had been raised around but not yet included. There were also other areas but the NACI would also do some in-depth analysis, specifically on maths and physics to understand why the problem continued not withstanding various interventions made. That work was currently underway. Work was being done with different experts with the intention to generate recommendations to government on how to find solutions to these problems. Work was also being done on the language of teaching mathematics and a book on this would be launched next month in the Science Forum. So different people were doing work in this area. An attempt was being made to understand the indicators in other areas as well. The Department of Basic Education recently completed a project on how to utilise ICT in the education space in Phakisa. NACI’s role was to see to what extent it could make recommendations in this arena.
Ms Tuck asked for an opinion about the view that there had not been a big change in the STI over the last 20 years.
Dr Jammine said that the Minister had appointed a task team to study the STI institutional landscape to review what it HAD done to change said landscape. The issue raised was that the population had more than doubled in this period, the country had progressed but yet had exactly the same institutions and was therefore still in the same place. A lot of thought had to go into establishing new institutions beyond the HSRC (Human Sciences Research Council), CSIR (Council for Scientific Industrial Research), ASSAf (Academy of Science South Africa) and a few science councils. Institutional capacity had to be developed to research ICT.
Ms Tuck referred to the last bullet point on page 15 which stated that ‘There is a good progress in building critical mass for research capacity, though at few prominent universities”, and asked why a ‘few’ and not more. She asked further who were the ‘few’ universities that were benefiting, and could it not be spread to “more”.
Dr Jammine said there would not be a focus on universities who had developed innovation through expertise in maths and science. One of the issues that were highlighted was that the proportion of students who went into technical training was relatively low compared to university for academic qualifications. There was a need to focus more on technical skills relative to academic skills. The remuneration for technical skills should be reviewed. The ratio for science and technology was constant but there was a noticeable expansion in the data on financial services. The challenge was how to break the dominance in the big 5 universities. The solution theoretically would be to develop the educational outcomes in primary and secondary level in the more outlaying regions of the country so that the students who went to those universities would start to uplift those universities and start taking pride in getting degrees from those universities to transfer those skills into their rural communities.
Mr M Kekana (ANC) asked what the remedy would be for the situation where public schools were not doing well with mathematics.
Ms King said that indicators showed that non-funded schools were not performing as well as funded schools and was worrying and in some way showed that certain children would not reach levels of attainment for which they were capable. She asked if the Minister of Education had consulted with NACI about how to address the issue of maths and science.
Ms A Mfulo (ANC) said that in her opinion and in most cases people with a maths and science education were somehow considered superior.
She asked what was being done for and with people who were creative, had the knowledge and could perform a task but could not express themselves verbally about the task.
Dr Jammine said that a number of the questions asked alluded to what could be done in terms of spreading the idea that the ‘Chinese wall’ between different governments and insufficient integration between the two to co-operate so proper conclusions could be reached. Many of the issues that the Department dealt with encroached upon other departments. He wished divisions could be overcome.
He thought one did not have to be a whizz kid in maths and science to innovate, but the fact was that maths and science was not just a way to teach people how to innovate specifically in the technical arena, but it was a way logic was taught or a way logical thought proceeded through an area. Much of the problem lay with the fact that the quality of teaching of maths and science was insufficient, and there often was not enough money to employ qualified teachers. Do we allow an outside force to come with new ideas and teaching concepts to help?
Mr Kekana asked what the answer to this economy could be rather than going back to Brexit. What could help us? What was the problem that prevented this economy from flourishing?
On Brexit and the fate of the rest of the Continent, Dr Cele referred to a South Africa needed to re-imagine the world with emerging societies playing a bigger role. For South Africa and Brexit, the question was what role the country would like to play more decisively here and in the rest of the continent given that emerging societies like China had a bigger role in the continent as well. In as much as individual manufacturers should be encouraged with a few strategic priorities like what should be invented in the next five years, there would always be the problem of business and government not being interested. It has been shown that countries who were reaping the benefit of decisions made in the mid-eighties had engaged in a Foresight Exercise. This exercise allows a country or organisation to look ahead at areas it wanted to develop. The data process the NACI proposed - the Minister of Science and Technology has agreed upon – that it conduct a Foresight Exercise which it was hoped would assist government next year to develop new innovations. This would help to identify a few strategic priorities for the next 20 years or so.
Dr Jammine said that this came down to some of the structural resources of the country and also answered Dr Lotriet’s question – ‘why was the business sector not more’ involved. This was an issue of political debate which has unfortunately been polarised into political agendas, but should really have been broken down into real economic debate. This was that the concentration of power economically in South Africa was in the hands of big business, and the Acting Chairman referred to the way in which MTN and Vodacom were blocking some progress towards building cell phones in the country. He thought it went far more broadly to the fact that the economy was controlled by a handful of interest groups and he found that – here he was encroaching on political grounds – he had been very frustrated at the whole concept of white monopoly capital as opposed to the role of monopoly capital. Until such time as the concentration of power in South Africa was defused into far more persons, small business and small enterprises, there would be struggle to really maximise opportunities in the country.
Mr Kekana asked why this country failed to have qualifications for quantum engineering.
Dr Cele said there was awareness about the lack of quantum engineering in the syllabi of many institutions. It should be recognised historically that not all universities were meant to have engineering. The Department of Higher Education could better tackle this issue. The NACI would attempt to finalise their discussions on this next year to be able to make a proposal to government.
Dr Jammine said that what the Indicators Report did show was its capability for generating a lot of discussion, introspection and made one more inquisitive about what was needed to get the economy going especially how to get innovation going and that was the whole object of the exercise. He was pleased from that point of view and it required far more interaction between NACI, the Department of Science and Technology and people like the Committee to start putting out more feelers to the rest of the country into how to raise these issues for debate. The more minds applied to this hopefully the more solutions could be found to the problems faced.
Mr Kekana said he was pleased that the NACI had tried to clarify most of the unanswered questions through their report.
Questions asked but not directly answered because some of the answers appear in the Report
The Acting Chairperson said that the Dr Lotriet had mentioned data costs. He asked if the NACI could provide an indicator that showed where South Africa fitted with regard to data costs, in terms of SADC, in terms of Africa and in terms of the rest of the world.
The Acting Chairperson asked if any research was done on what South Africa was using the Internet for because that would tell the story. People grew into Internet usage, what was it being used for was vital to answer this question.
The Acting Chairperson said that there was a new trend in the world that said that data was being rolled out by governments. He asked what the indicators were saying about where South Africa stood in terms of free data services because that would explain the problem on why there were so many unutilised cell phones on the market.
Ms King asked if a shift away from academic to technical had ever been considered.
Mr Kekana asked if this economy was not working, what would happen to SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries
Mr Kekana asked how many designers or inventers were in this country, and how many were in SADC countries.
The Meeting was adjourned
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