Department of Science and Technology & NACI 2017/18 Annual Report

Science and Technology

17 October 2018
Chairperson: Ms L Maseko (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Annual Reports 2017/18

The Committee was briefed by the Department of Science and Technology on their Annual Report 2017/18. The Department had received a clean audit. The Committee was updated by the Minister on the new board members in the various entities and expressed confidence in the new appointees. The approved Supply Chain Management Guidelines had been implemented and as a result all processes in the procurement of goods and services have improved with assurances that transactions were compliant with the prescripts.

The Committee heard that the Department had attained a significant achievement with the completion of the 64 dish MeerKat radio telescope built within budget, on time and beyond specification. An added highlight was that a total of 823 graduates and students were placed in DST-funded work preparation programmes in SETI institutions. The clinical development of the Umbiflow device – a portable umbilical artery Doppler device – which assists in detecting foetuses at risk continued and was expanded to nine districts across the country.

The vacancies in the area of special skills were of concern to Members including PhD graduates who were unable to secure work anywhere. Here the Committee suggested that teaching work at primary and high schools be looked at as an option for out-of- work PhD graduates. The Committee recommended that ASSAf be kept in mind for next year with regard to the amendment of Acts.

Members asked for more information about the cyber structure framework the Department was looking at in terms of South Africa’s role in SADC; how the Department intended to deal with the challenge of vacancies; where best to utilise PhD holders; if the Department envisaged a phase three for MeerKat; what the difference was between the current 64 dishes and the new 64 dishes due for introduction in phase two; could agreements not be entered into for the placements of PhD graduates since the Departments was in collaboration with national and international companies; does the Department check to see whether graduates have been hired; why was the University of Witwatersrand chosen to lead the e-Science degree as opposed to other institutions; and if the Tshwane Khulelwe Project has been presented to the Committee of Health.

The Committee was briefed by the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) on its Annual Report 2017/18. One of the highlights of the organisation was its launch of the STI data and information portal which was a multiple use intelligence research platform for the storage of STI data.

Members felt that the NACI had infringed on their mission as an advisory body because up till now it has still been unable to appoint a permanent CEO.  The Committee noted that the NACI has been seriously affected by funding constraints and this has influenced the level of research that it can ask for from researchers working for the organisation.

Members asked if there was capacity and resources available at universities in order for them to do the research that NACI wants; if the new organogram would be a reduced structure based on the financial constraints or would it be more akin to flat management structure; the timeframe for the framework for the decadal plan for STI mentioned on slide 15; how many vacancies the organisation had; why the job descriptions and organograms were delayed.

In pursuit of the aim to have more science and mathematics graduates the Committee appealed to the NACI to work with the Department of Basic Education to start earlier to get young minds interested in mathematics and science and to use resources in a more meaningful manner.

Meeting report

The Chairperson greeted the Minister, the DG and everyone else present. The meeting was on the Annual Reports of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI). The Chairperson stated that meetings were held last week with numerous entities to go over their annual reports and financial statements. The Chairperson then congratulated the DST on a clean audit and stated that though last year the Department did not receive a clean audit,  this improvement in the audit statement should be maintained and improved upon in the coming year.

Briefing by the Minister

Ms Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane began her address to the Committee with an apology for the absence of the DDGs as they were attending the SKA meeting that had begun the day before. The Minister also thanked the Chairperson for understanding why she had to excuse herself early from the meeting because she had to attend another meeting.

The Minister said that the DST is aware of the issues raised by the Auditor-General (AG) both in the Department and with its entities and that mechanism have begun to be put in place to ensure that the Department does not regress. The Minister stated that in the meetings that she has with senior leadership of the Department they use the Triple M approach which are monitoring mechanisms that constantly check on issues related to the audit. She   has also asked the CFO to constantly engage with the matter. She engages with the CFOs of the Department’s entities and she is comfortable that good results will continue to be delivered during audits and where there are weaknesses they will be addressed accordingly.

The Minister said that the number of issues raised by the AG has decreased compared to previous years. She  did acknowledge that there were areas where targets were not reached but  the Director-General would explain further on what went wrong and what the DST is doing to address the issues. The Department has ensured that where it did not meet targets, an evaluation is conducted to see why the targets were not met and how to improve going forward.  The Minister stated that she is aware that the MTF period is coming to an end and so it gives an opportunity to review strategy, goal orientation and how the Ministry positions its targets. One of the very exciting developments within the Ministry is that work has been occurring on the White Paper. The Ministry has received approval from Cabinet and the Committee has been invited to the Summit on the 9th. The period for comments would have closed but the Ministry felt it wanted to go beyond the basic process of compliance, it wanted to ensure that what the White Paper produced had the people of South Africa at the centre, and that the people who are role players can say that they have been consulted. Part of the invitees to the Summit are people with disabilities from Disabled People South Africa (DPSA), people from Labour, business broadly and academia. Though the Ministry cannot invite everyone, it has tried to ensure that there will be as many diverse views presented as possible so that it can be happy with the White Paper when the time comes to present it to the Committee.

Part of the presentation would highlight areas where the DST was unable to achieve its targets in its programmes, however on the whole the DST has achieved over 80% in its performance indicators. There   are areas where the Ministry would like to emphasise areas that the Department did well in such as monitoring and evaluation. The Ministry would like to improve on how it manages its projects and how to manage oversight over the entities so that it does not lose sight of key areas that are important.

The Minister said that there are still issues around the DST’s vacancies because of budget issues. She also highlighted that this may have been an issue that the Committee may have picked up on amongst the DST’s entities. The DST does understand that there are financial difficulties and that it does affect revenues produced which impacted on the amount that Treasury can allocate. Further the DST is aware that there are priorities that Treasury needs to take into account when allocating money but the lack of funding does need to be highlighted. It does impact on the work of the DST and the level of what it wants to do has to be reduced because the results from the efforts are restricted due to a lack of funding. Therefore, most of the vacancies are not filled currently. The DST does work where there is need for staff to have critical skills, and now as a result of financial restrictions the DST is faced with a situation where one person is doing multiple tasks and feeling overburdened, particularly in terms of research and that tends to impact the work that the DST has to do and the output that is produced as a result. The DST will continue to engage with Treasury to request more resources in order for it  to meet its targets and responsibilities. The Minister stated that she was comfortable with the DST and its entities’ reports and wanted to assure the Committee that the DST will continue to deliver on their mandate. The Minister thanked the Chairperson and the Committee.

The Chairperson thanked the Minister and stated that she also highlighted to other entities that what brings solace to the Committee is the Presidency’s acknowledgement of the importance of science & technology research and development and that it is exciting because the Committee noted during their trip to South Korea and Japan that Science and Technology are located within the office of the Presidency and that is why those departments are doing well in those nations. The Chairperson then stated that she is sure that with a Minister who is pushing the agenda of science and technology this well, to the point that science and technology was brought up in a meeting about telecommunications; as well as the science and technology focus that emerged during the BRICS Summit this year and so she believes that it is on the road to attaining that 1.5%. The Chairperson told the Minister to please continue pushing for science and technology, research and development visibility and the Committee would support her in her endeavours and push alongside her. The Chairperson asked the Minister to request other Departments to use the expertise housed within the DST and stated that HSRC and CSIR can be their consultants. The Departments need to work with each other and not compete between each other so that everyone can achieve more with less and help each other to improve the economy of the country.

The Minister addressed the Members of the Committee and stated that the DST did write to the Speaker in terms of the DST’s appointment of boards, and that the DST complied by doing so. She wanted to know if that report had reached the Committee. She said that the DST now has new board members in the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), the National Research Foundation (NRF) and NACI councillors and in the process of finalising new board members for the CSIR, though it is still in the process of going through Cabinet. She emphasised that she wanted the Minister of Finance to support the DST’s endeavours.

The Chairperson stated that at least the Minister had gained the support of the Minister of Mineral Resources. The Chairperson thanked the Minister for letting the Committee know the update on the new members on the various entities’ boards and let the Minister know that the Committee had welcomed the new members of the boards when they presented the week before to the Committee. She was  confident in the new people appointed as   they seemed competent and  the Committee looks forward to their growth, since new boards come with new ideas. She wished the Minister good luck and thanked her once more for attending the meeting.

Briefing by the Department of Science and Technology on their 2017/18 Annual Report

Mr Phil Mjwara, Director General (DG), DST said that the  Department has effectively implemented the approved Supply Chain Management Guidelines for the prevention and detection of unauthorised, irregular  fruitless and wasteful expenditure. From this approved guideline, the Department developed and implemented stringent controls within SCM (Supply Chain Management). These controls have improved all processes in the procurement of goods and services by ensuring that transactions are compliant with prescripts.

The 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope was completed at a cost of R3, 2 billion. The 64 MeerKAT antennas were built within budget, on time, and beyond specification – a significant achievement.  The MeerKAT was launched in July 2018 by Deputy President D. Mabuza. This iconic scientific instrument designed entirely by South Africans and comprising 75% local content, will be integrated into Phase 1 of the SKA project. The Lengau 1,029 Petaflop high-performance system at the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) was rated number 1 in Africa and 127 in the world on the Top 500 list of supercomputers during the International Supercomputing Conference held in Germany in June 2017, where the South African team (CHPC) took second prize in the prestigious International Student Cluster Competition.

The DG said that in the period under review, the Department continued to invest in the development of skills required for economic growth and development through the NRF. Skills acquisition is the greatest equaliser in reducing, inequality, poverty and unemployment. The DST is committed to addressing the transformation issues facing the country and has commissioned and completed several high-level investigations of issues related to the transformation of the postgraduate and researcher cohorts in (mainly) the higher education sector. During the reporting period, the DST made substantial investments through instruments aimed at boosting human capital development (HCD) in priority areas. For the period under review it had 3 621 PhD students, and 10 601 pipeline postgraduate students (honours and master’s students). A total of 823 graduates and students were placed in DST-funded work preparation programmes in Science, Engineering Technology Institutions (SETI) institutions.

The DST continued to encourage industry innovation partnerships as part of a broader government effort to support industry competitiveness. In 2017/18 financial year, the DST and the CSIR launched the Biorefinery Industrial Development Facility (BIDF) in Durban, which is aimed at innovation-led industry development and competitiveness, encouraging increased private sector investment in RDI activities and promoting job creation.

The DG was pleased to note that the DST has secured Cabinet approval for a Sovereign Innovation Fund as a strategic public-private partnership to enhance investment levels further along the innovation chain. In the 2018 State of the Nation Address and 2018 Budget Speech, government committed itself to establishing an “SME Innovation Fund specifically focusing on start-ups” and the National Treasury indicated a provision of R2, 1 billion over the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework period to support the Fund. Furthermore, the Enterprise and Supplier Development Division of General Electric signed a contract with the DST’s Technology Localisation Implementation Unit for the development of suppliers. This first contract is valued at R3, 8 million for one year, with the possibility of renewal. The contract is an addition to the investment of R5 million that General Electric has committed for the nine identified suppliers, most of which are small black-owned businesses.

For the Tshwane Khulelwe project, during the year under review the clinical development of the Umbiflow device (Tshwane Khulelwe project) continued. The primary objective of the project was to evaluate the clinical significance and benefit of routine screening with Umbiflow, a portable umbilical artery Doppler device developed by the South African Medical Research Council and the CSIR, in an unselected population in a low-resource primary health care setting.  Among others, the device will assist t in detecting foetuses at risk of stillbirth. Other developments around this included that the clinical study expanded to nine districts across South Africa. The project has also secured funding from the World Health Organization for an expanded study in Ghana, India, Kenya and Rwanda.

The DG detailed the achievements of Programmes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 as follows:

  • Programme 1 achieved 83% of its targets and 17% of its targets were not achieved. Unqualified audit (clean audit) opinion with no financial matters in the audit report;
  • Programme 2 achieved 80% of its targets and 20% of its targets were not achieved;
  • Programme 3 achieved 90% of its targets and 10% of its targets were not achieved. 67 dedicated international technical exchanges to build or reinforce South Africa’s capacities in key STI domains specifically referenced in the DST Strategic Plan, undertaken with the support of international partners and facilitated by the DST by 31 March 2018;
  • Programme 4 achieved 82% of its targets and 18% of its targets were not achieved. 3 621 PhD students awarded bursaries through Programme 4 funds as reflected in the reports from the NRF and relevant entities by 31 March 2018. 823 graduates and students placed in DST-funded work preparation programmes in SETI institutions 31 March 2018; and
  • Programme 5 achieved 83% of its targets and 17% of its targets were not achieved.

The DST recognises that if South Africa’s economy is to advance along the trajectory set out in the NDP, it will require a strong, coherent and effective National System of Innovation (NSI) which is working in a coordinated manner to achieve the national priorities. The DG reported that the  DST continued to encourage and strengthen industry innovation partnerships as part of broader government efforts to create decent work and skills for South Africans by supporting industry competitiveness to reduce poverty, unemployment and inequality. Sustainable growth in South Africa will require a transformed and a fully utilised human capital base. The Department is committed to maintaining the highest standards of corporate governance, which are crucial for the management of public finances and resources.

Discussion 

The Chairperson thanked the DG for his presentation on the annual report and opened the floor for questions from members of the Committee.

Dr A Lotriet (DA) thanked the Chairperson and thanked the DG for the good presentation. She stated that one of the concerning issues raised in the presentation were those of the vacancies, as raised previously by the Minister and that because the vacancies are in specialised skills it is an issue that really needs to be addressed. She then raised the question that looking at the fiscal landscape of the country, it is currently producing numerous PhD holders but they are unable to secure jobs. She felt that the focus is on the very technical skills and PhDs but there is a Research Chair in Science Communications who has had an experience with a person who has just finished their PhD but cannot secure work anywhere. So, this Research Chair of Science and Communication is sitting unemployed with a very important qualification, particularly when looking at the focus that has now been placed on Science and Communication. So perhaps the DG could look at that particular field.

Dr Lotriet (DA) then raised a question about slide 39 and said that the DG referred to the cyber structure framework that the DST is now looking at for South Africa’s role in the South African Development Community (SADC). Could the DST delegation give a bit more information about this because as the world moves into a space of the Fourth Industrial Revolution cyber security is critical to everything we do and what we are going to do?

Ms A Mfulo (ANC) thanked the Chairperson and thanked the DG for a good presentation. She asked the DG that when he spoke about the challenges that the DST has in terms of vacancies, what the DST’s plan to resolve those challenges was.

Ms Mfulo also asked that with PhDs is South Africa training for the sake of training or is South Africa training PhDs because there is a need somewhere. She asked if the DST has questioned itself on where best to utilise the PhD holders. Though the current conversation is about increasing the number of people with degrees there is a need to see where they will fit into the system once they have graduated. Perhaps there is a need to relook at what the DST’s PhD candidates are really being trained for and what is the reason the DST is subsidising PhD education. This is so that there is not a surplus of PhD holders with no where to be placed once they have attained their qualifications. The DST’s planning must talk to the society at large.

Mr N Koornhof (ANC) suggested that could there not be a programme where PhD holders can be placed in primary and secondary schools, so they can teach, since there is a definite need for teachers at those levels.  Is such a programme possible?

Mr Koornof (ANC) referred to MeerKAT where phase one was 64 dishes and phase two was another 64, and asked if the DG envisages a phase three for MeerKAT. Secondly, what will the difference be between phase one and phase two, will they be the same in terms of gathering information for example? What is the difference between the current 64 and the new 64 that are being introduced in phase two?

Mr Koornof (ANC) stated that in the DST’s report last year ASSAf came up as well as this year, and though Parliament is not in a season where it would entertain amendments to acts, it would be good to keep ASSAf in mind to be dealt with next year.

Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) thanked the DG for the presentation. She asked about the PhD graduates and the issue of jobs. She questioned that since you are in collaboration with national and international companies, both big and small, is there not a possibility of entering into an agreement for the placement of  PhD graduates into those companies?

Dr Thembakwayo asked secondly, do you check once the students have graduated to see if they have been hired?

Dr Thembakwayo referred to slide 18 about e-Science. It was mentioned that the degree in e-Science will be led by the University of Witwatersrand, why was it Wits amongst all the institutions that are available in South Africa and when do you intend to spread it to other institutions since it is a very important innovation and it can be used throughout all institutions in South Africa?

Dr Thembakwayo noted that there was mention made of 30 students being registered, are they funded by the DST, and if not, why not?

Dr Thembakwayo referred to slide 35 and said that there is a project mentioned called Tshwane Khulelwe project which is very important since it can detect foetuses at risk of stillbirth. She asked if this project has been presented in the Committee of Health as they would be interested in knowing this important information.

The Chairperson had several comments: the Committee has highlighted to the office of the AG that it must not lay a trap for the entities, but if it sees anything that raises a red flag it should bring this to the attention of the DST. However, it is also linked to the role of the internal auditors because it is their role to bring these things to light. It is also on the Department to exercise oversight over the entities well. She asked if the DG on behalf of the DST could share the process with the Committee on what is occurring with the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and its compliance with the PFMA and whether this issue had been included or dealt with in the White Paper because part of what is a dent in the DST’s compliance is the ASSAf non-compliance to the PFMA issue. The Committee had asked the ASSAf where it is housed and has suggested that the ASSAf be housed in the main building of the Department instead of it being a stand-alone entity so that it can save the little budget it had and not spend it on rent. Part of the oversight that the DST ought to do is to ensure that when entities organise functions, that those functions do not clash so that the Committee Members can attend the events. She stated that one of the questions that were raised by an entity of the DST was the issue of funding and the question of getting more funding from private partners who will then have more of an influence on what the entity does. Although the Committee does understand budget constrains this is an issue. In terms of small businesses the DST has incubated, are there any plans to absorb those businesses into the DST? The Committee is aware that the DST has done what it can although the Committee raised the point on inter-departmental collaboration to support one another.

Ms A Tuck (ANC) asked what the DST is doing about PhD holders who are qualified but are not using their qualification in their current work. Does the DST know how many PhD holders are currently in such a situation and has the DST thought of ways to reabsorb those PhD holders back into the system?

The Chairperson said that one of the things the Committee noted during their trip to Japan was that some entities took their staff to training programmes even though those staff members already earned a salary. The Committee’s concern was that those entities are training people who are already employed and in the system. She asked if the DST could give the opportunity to gain skills through training programmes to graduates and post-graduates who are not yet employed so that they can be marketable and employable when they return from the skills training.  

The DG said  that he would have to get back to the Committee about the question Dr Lotriet had  raised on the cyber framework because the DST is at  a two-day meeting with Ministers from the partner countries.

Mr Bheki Hadebe, Director Research and Development, DST stated that the DST prides itself on evidence-based decision making in terms of its policy interventions. It has completed a number of studies; the one mentioned by the DG was the retention and conversion study of graduate students. The study follows students who registered for an Honours degree in a base reference year and tracks the student two, three and five years after baseline to see how leaky the postgraduate pipeline is leading to a PhD. This study was completed, and policy interventions are being distilled from it and it is being integrated into a framework for the transformation of the postgraduate student cohort. The other study that was conducted in the same National Research Foundation (NRF) study was the Silent Majority Study. This was a study done on the emerging researcher cohort, which is made up of people holding lecturer and senior lecturer positions. This study follows to see how many of these participants actively publish and how many are actively seeking funding from the NRF. The results showed that the participants that are actively doing both are very limited. The DST is trying to see how then it can then ensure that this cohort of researchers can become established researchers since these researchers are ‘stuck in the middle’ – they are not publishing, and they are also not seeking funding. That study was commissioned by the University of South Africa, and the DST worked with the Deputy Vice-Chancellors (DVCs) of Research and the study has just been completed. The DST is currently engaging with the outcomes of the study to see what possible interventions they can put in place. The other study is postgraduate research training in Engineering. The issues raised here is that most of the postgraduate students doing Engineering are not South African though they do come from other African countries. There is a need to look at supply and demand in the country and see if the DST is being responsive to that particular level of skill. This study has just been completed and the DST is engaging with the data from it currently.

The DST commissioned the NRF to put together a digital platform to track postgraduate students. The DST is investing about R1 billion in postgraduate funding to the NRF. The DST needs to be able to assess value for money so that it can answer the question, “where do the students go after they have completed their funded studies?” and it will answer the questions of whether the students go to the market, if they open their own enterprises, how many of them are unemployed and how many of them go to join international laboratories. It is a study that will unpack a lot of issues about investments that are being made towards PhD training.

For the e-Science degree, Mr Hadebe said it is driven by Wits University, but it is in partnership with the University of Limpopo and the University of Venda. The programme has 30 students, and the gender breakdown is 14 females and 16 males, and these students are funded by the DST. On the unemployment question, when the Department first dealt with the issue of unemployment of research graduates in 2005/2006, it had put in place the DST-NRF Internship Programme for Honours and Masters’ students with a bias for black students more so for those who graduated from historically disadvantaged institutions. The Programme has grown; it currently has 800 students enrolled in it in over 71 host institutions. In terms of its effectiveness the figures are as follows: up to the year  2015/2016: 3502 interns have been placed since 2005/2006. Of those, 1210 have managed to secure employment from the host institutions. Once the student is placed at a host institution the DST places an expectation on the host institution that they shall consider employing the student at the end of their internship during the internship or immediately upon completion of the internship programme. A further 753 students have embarked on further studies after the internship. The DST helps place the students in the internship programme in a host institution where the student can implement the skills they have earned during their studies to maintain and re-ignite students’ interest in research.

Mr Hadebe said that the programme that the DST has at a PhD level is the Professional Development Programme. The concept of the internship could not be extended to the PhD level. This programme is targeted at PhD graduates and they are placed in research intensive institutions, mainly in the national institutions and other research councils with the explicit purpose that after that specific placement, the host institutions will actually absorb them. There have been promising results from this programme.

On the issue of PhD employment in general, Mr Hadebe said that Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) had provided the figures for the unemployment rates last year. Amongst the PhD and Masters’ graduates the unemployment rate was less than 2% which put the level of unemployment of people with first degrees at 5%. There were further studies conducted at the University of Pretoria looking at rates of unemployment amongst PhD graduates, but that study looked at companies that are JSE listed. This study has its limitations because it was not looking at research and development intensive companies, but rather at Woolworths and Pick n Pay. The DST is in partnership with a number of companies for the collaborative training of PhD graduates. The problem comes when companies are not coming forward. South Africa does not have the concept of industrial PhDs. In other countries, a PhD candidate starts their PhD and it is linked to an industry problem. In SA, the PhD candidates are trained and only after they graduate do they look for employment. In other countries, the industry identifies a problem, and then they utilise the human resources through the PhD candidates that are at universities and those students would work with industry-based problems and by doing so it facilitates their absorption into employment.

On the issue of deploying PhD graduates to schools Mr Hadebe said that in terms of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding the discourse currently is that government is not providing free education but government is providing a state bursary. Attached to that state bursary is a condition that graduates must go out to communities and serve so there is a possibility of deploying students to various community projects particularly those students that are receiving state funding.

Mr Hadebe responded that on the question that was raised about the DST’s collaboration with Japan and how there may be an opportunity for training of unemployed PhD students. The Programme that has been developed with Hitachi-UNESCO focuses on professional development of those people who are already employed. However, the Japanese government does offer Masters’ and PhD scholarships to students who have not been employed and quite a number of students have already graduated through this programme. There is however an opportunity for the DST to negotiate with the Japanese government and other international partners to look at internationalising the internship programmes. The DST can look into taking some of the unemployed students from South Africa to train in international industries. He said he would try negotiating for SA unemployed students to get internship opportunities in international partnership industries such as the United Kingdom (UK) and Germany among other countries.

The DG stated that once the tracer studies have been completed by the NRF, the DST will bring the results to the Committee to get a better sense of what is going on with the PhD students. He remembered Mr Koornhof serving on the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry and there used to be a programme called TRIP (Technology for Human Resources in Partnership) and it was run by the Department of Trade and Industry. The NRF was managing the programme on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry. Last year the programme was modified and the NRF is no longer managing it on behalf of DTI. It was a programme that was meant to train PhD students in the universities with problems that are solved in industry with the understanding that as soon as they have been trained the PhD students would become the employers in industry that would carry that problem and solve it; this programme would perhaps deal with the problem of training and absorption of PhD graduates. This is something the Joint Committees could ask the DST to look into and see if the programme works and if it is still being run.  The third suggestion is for the DST, the NRF and some of the science councils to take this into consideration and then he (DG) stated that he was grateful that NACI was present because their mandate is to look at what is happening in the entire system. This could be something that NACI can produce a report on and advise the Minister on. The DG felt that those are the action points that the DST can work on and then at an appropriate time it could come back and present on it to the  Committee.

Mr Mmboneni Muofhe, Deputy Director-General (DDG) Technology Innovation, DST stated that the DST has not presented Umbiflow to the Health Committee and he is not sure if the Department of Health has done so. For context to the project, a device has been developed that measures the flow of blood in the umbilical cord and the pregnant mother. This picks up on how the foetus is growing and the functioning of the placenta. This is to help stop issues where mothers are seen to be healthy in early stages of pregnancy and then challenges are only picked up on later in the pregnancy or when the mother gives birth to a still born baby. The device is also able to pick up on the gestational age of the foetus and if everything is well for this stage. This device is a collaboration between the CSIR, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the DST.

On the issue of unattained targets Mr Muofhe said that there  are two unattained targets in Programme two, the one is to do with links to the discussion that has been had today on training. The National Intellectual Property Management Office when it was established one of its mandates was the establishment of the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) which included South African universities. There were not enough skilled people when this began so people who were employed were engineers and lawyers. For an employee to fit in well in the space there was a need for a specific type of training that could not be offered at universities. Following the downward trend, the DST’s partnership with World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), annual training courses are held and the DST has access to online courses as well and it has begun to build capacity in OTT offices. One of the unintended consequences of this was that while initially it was receiving disclosures that were not properly interrogated, there was an improvement in interrogation and so the number of cases lowered. Instead of rushing to decrease targets the DST wanted to increase disclosures by expanding OTT office programmes and it has now launched these offices at various academic institutions. Recently it launched one office 12 months ago at the University of Venda. The disclosures are picking up way ahead of where the DST was in the first quarter of the previous year. Hopefully  they are beginning to address this but it has really been mostly because of people now knowing what it is doing.

The last comment is on the issue raised by the DG on the quality of the data that the DST received from the NRF which led the DST to an audit finding. A decision had to be made to improve on the quality of information which means reporting on students that have been vetted and have satisfied the DST. Now that the NRF is working with host institutions there will be a tightening up on the targets.

Ms Pretty Makukule, CFO, DST, stated that on the issue of vacancies the DST has various plans that are being put in place to address the issue. The Department has not filled vacancies since June 2016 which left it with 78 vacancies at present. It is only this year that the Department has come to a level where it can financially begin to fill some of those vacancies. The Executive Committee (EXCO) developed a framework where the Department can reprioritise since the savings could fill only less than ten positions. The framework will be helpful in indicating which of the positions can be filled from the 78. There is a recruitment process that is currently underway to fill the eight positions, and five of those positions are at a senior management level. The DST also has a policy where it is able to tap into available capacity from its own entities and other organs of state. The DST is currently embarking on the process of business process mapping where it can try reconfiguring some of its assumptions and automate some of its processes to increase efficiency to do more with less and not rely heavily on human resources.

Ms Makukule  stated that the ASSAf Act has a section that states that the academy must comply with the PFMA. The challenge has been that the PFMA covers listed entities, mainly Schedule 2 and 3 and ASSAf is not listed. So, the challenge has been particularly for external auditors when they had to audit the entity they are unsure of which provision of the Act to use because the ASSAf was not listed. Hence the Minister of Science and Technology had to write to the Minister of Finance to seek clarity on the matter. The ASSAf also has voluntary state membership which poses challenges when trying to impose some of these provisions. Further, the ASSAf’s resources are very small and the PFMA Act would need ASSAf to have a fully-fledged audit function such as a risk management function. The ASSAf’s Finance Unit has two or three people working in it currently which is an issue. To date no feedback has been received from the National Treasury. Once the Department has deemed that ASSAf complies with the Act, mainly that it is funded by the state, things should be clearer. In the meantime, to address this issue, the DST had proposed that the Science and Technology Amendment Bill deal with the issue of removing that clause from the ASSAf Act. This still needs to be shown to the Select Committee of the NCOP but it is currently with the State Law Advisors.

The DG said that on the issue regarding PhDs in Science Communications the Committee was aware that the DST is proposing amendments to the NRF Act and one of the demands from the NRF was for them to get involved in  public engagement. The average number of 4% of all the entities’ budgets must be geared towards public engagement activities. So, the DST suspects that the human resources that would be needed for this programme in the year would begin to demand that some PhD students and PhD graduates who can explain Science and Technology to the public would increase.

The DG replied to Mr Koornhof’s question stating that MeerKAT is 64 dishes. When the programme was started it was an instrument that was funded by the DST. The SKA sees MeerKAT as a precursor to understand how to construct a telescope and radio telescope for this nation. So, phase one for SKA is 133 dishes that would be added onto the 64 dishes which would be on high frequency in South Africa, as there are dishes in Australia. Once that has been constructed hopefully between 2021 and 2026, the international community would be looking at building phase two of the SKA. That is over 4000 or 2000 dishes and those will be the ones with spirals going into partner countries. On the extreme right, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mozambique and then in the North-East it would be Kenya and Zambia and then more centrally, it would be Botswana and then on the extreme left it would be stations in Namibia as well as Ghana so that would be the full SKA. The longer baseline, the longer there are in the outskirts the fuller the coverage of the sky which will give better sensitivity and more results on the sets of objects that are being viewed in the sky so that is a feature that is an advantage. At the moment, the assumption is that up to 2021 - 2025 the 103 dishes would be rolled out in SA and from 2026 – 2030; the phase two of the SKA will be rolled out to the rest of the partner countries on the continent.

The DG said that on the cyber framework, to date the DST has rolled out high performance computing to almost all the partner countries. So, in Ghana, the DST converted the dish, and Mozambique, Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, Mauritius and Madagascar are at different levels of training for the centre for high performance computing system administrators and users, as well as to begin the next report that the DST will receive in the Ministerial Forum on the utilisation of these high-performance computing systems for radio astronomy and astronomy in general and in other applications. The DG recommended to the Chairperson that maybe the Director of the Centre for High Performance Computing comes and shares the full detail of the roll-out that he has done with the Committee including the utility and how the infrastructure has been rolled out in SADC by SA and the skillset that the rollout is beginning to breed. The DG stated that he felt the DST delegation covered all of the issues raised with the exception of the oversight issues that he accepts both in terms of coordinating the activities and the importance of oversight and not just ticking the boxes. The DG stated that the Minister has asked the DST to improve on its M & E systems. He stated that the DST will tighten up on this area and that the Department accepts the Minister’s observation.

 In terms of accepting more funds from the private sector the DG said he was unsure how to go about this but that he felt the DST should continue working with institutions and find the right balance. He stated that the DST has not concluded the discussion between the DST and the Department of Trade and Industry and the issue of commercialisation. He is aware that there was a commercialisation framework that was agreed upon that is still to be taken to Cabinet although there are on-going discussions. Once the R2 billion is clarified then the DST will be able to say which incubation programmes will be focused on.

Dr Lortriet said that she was interested in the cyber framework and the security aspect to that.

The DG responded that Dr Sithole’s slides showed that all of the users were taken abroad on the security aspect, but the full presentation will cover that.

The Chairperson stated that one question that the Committee has been asking all delegations coming to Parliament   is the issue of compliance and safety of buildings that they are housed in because of what happened in Gauteng. She felt that it may have been an oversight, or something taken for granted but it is something that is important. She said that on behalf of the Committee she wanted to thank the DST delegation and congratulate them once more on the clean audit.

National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) on annual performance and financials 2016/17

Dr Mlungisi Cele, Acting CEO, NACI, said the NACI’s contribution to the NDP is in the form of advising on the new draft White Paper and developing the framework for the decadal plan for STI. NACI has already produced a STI indicators booklet. NACI’s specific challenges and opportunities were presented together as follows:

  • Production and utilisation of advice.
  • Composition and renewal of Council.
  • Communication and knowledge management.
  • Staff capability and organisational capacity to meet increasing demands.
    • Delayed finalisation of new organogram, job descriptions and skills audit.
    • Vacancies and expanding scope of work

Some of NACI’s highlights over the last year was that it launched the STI data and information portal which is a multiple use system intelligence research platform for storage of STI data, which meets the needs of policy makers. This came from collaboration with the National Research Foundation (NRF), Human Science Research Council (HSRC), Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), Council on Higher Education, University South Africa among other universities.

Discussion 

The Chairperson thanked the NACI delegation for their presentation.

Dr Thembekwayo thanked the NACI delegation for the presentation. She felt that there was an infringement on the mission of NACI as it is clearly stated that NACI is a leading advisory body to the government on Science and Technology. This statement read along with slide 9 of NACI’s presentation where it is stated that one of NACI’s Strategic Outcome-Oriented Goals is Transforming NACI into a smart, efficient and learning organization, and yet NACI has failed to appoint a permanent CEO. Last year NACI brought forward the issue of the Acting CEO and this year though new members of the board have been introduced, NACI still has an Acting CEO. She asked why the appointment of a CEO is being neglected. She then stated that on slide 18 there has to be prioritisation of very important aspects that would make NACI the association that the Committee expects it to be. Communication and knowledge management should not be one of the challenges that NACI is facing at this present moment because one of NACI’s mandates is to give advice to  important bodies. It is problematic then that communication and knowledge management are being named as one of NACI’s challenges including the production and utilisation of advice and that is part of their vision and mission. The specific challenges that have been highlighted by NACI make it the entity it is meant to be within DST namely:

1. Production and utilisation of advice.

2. Composition and renewal of Council.

3. Communication and knowledge management.

4. Staff capability and organisational capacity to meet increasing demands.

 

Dr Lotriet said she is aware that NACI plays a very important role and she can see how NACI has been affected by funding issues. NACI relies on researchers in other institutions including universities. What is the general stance by researchers currently to assist with the kind of research NACI wants the researchers to do given the financial constraints that NACI does have. As Professor Swarts is aware, universities are currently in dire straits in terms of funding too. Is there capacity and resources available at universities in order for them to do the research that NACI wants? She also asked about the new organogram that was mentioned and asked for clarity on whether it would be a reduced structure based on the financial constraints or would it be more akin to flat management structure?

Ms N Ndongeni (ANC) asked for the timeframe for the framework for the decadal plan for STI mentioned on slide 15 of the NACI presentation. She then asked how many vacancies NACI currently has?

Ms Mfulo stated that she would have liked a more comprehensive breakdown on Compensation of employees than the one that was shown on slide 23 entitled NACI Budget and Expenditure Breakdown. It would be good to have clear descriptions of the expenditure breakdown than the ones that have been presented on slide 23. Secondly, please clarify why the job descriptions and organograms were delayed?

The Chairperson stated that the presentation seemed to have clubbed challenges and opportunities on the same slide 18. She suggested that NACI either take them all as challenges or all as opportunities. She stated that on slide 19 NACI stated that it interacts with research institutions including the National Research Foundation (NRF), Human Science Research Council (HSRC), Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), Council on Higher Education, University South Africa and few universities. She asked if NACI’s advisory abilities are influenced by interacting with those research institutions or does NACI go out beyond these entities that are related to the Department.  She then asked that when NACI speaks on slide 16 about revitalising science and mathematics, does it mean by increasing the number of school leavers eligible to study science and mathematics-based subjects at university. The Committee has been saying that starting students at school leaving level is not helpful in terms of increasing the number of students who will pursue studies in Science and Technology. There is a need to start earlier like at Kindergarten through early childhood development and move up in that way so it is good that NACI is engaging with the Department of Basic Education because Grade 10 is too late to try intervene. It is a good idea to collaborate with relevant departments and use resources in a meaningful manner.

Professor Derrick Swartz, Board Member, NACI, stated that he has been briefed about the issue of the Acting CEO because he has been in discussions with him, Dr Cele and the DG of the Department but he is yet to meet with the Minister. He said he would take this issue up with the board and he would ensure that this issue takes priority so that they stabilise the organisation so that when NACI next comes to the Committee this issue  would have been resolved.

Dr Cele began by addressing the Chairperson’s questions and said he fully agreed with her. The NDP states revitalising science and mathematics by increasing the number of school leavers which is what the document is saying. NACI’s own interpretation is three-fold. Last year the PC invited NACI to present the STI booklet and a slide was shown that was based on international comparisons which indicated that SA had fewer schools with learners obtaining more than 60% in maths and science and unfortunately these schools were in rural and impoverished communities. NACI asked itself what it needs to do given its role. The first thing that came to the fore was that the Department of Basic Education had been implementing numerous initiatives including the Dinaledi Schools Project. NACI felt that an evaluation of present initiatives needed to be conducted to understand what it is that is still making SA unable to address this challenge. NACI engaged with the Department of Basic Education to map all their initiatives which focused on early childhood, to primary school, and their teacher development among other things. The second part that was agreed upon was that given the challenges with SA’s economy not growing NACI cannot wait twenty years to resolve a pipeline issue. NACI has been in conversation with the HSRC because it has experts who are good at conducting longitudinal studies and they want to pursue a study to understand what is needed from schools in order to produce a number of learners who can matriculate at Grade 12 with at least a 60% in mathematics and physics as a short to medium term goal. Thirdly, those who know about the Fourth Industrial Revolution say that there is a need to think of STEM education differently. Children need to be taught programming and coding from Grade 0 or Grade R. Some independent school are already doing that, but public schools are not. There is a need to think of education from birth to the grave. NACI will present this idea to the new council. NACI fully agrees with the Chairperson and feels that if NACI can do these three things it can find a solution to the issues facing the country in this regard. He also said that NACI is excited to be working with the Department of Basic Education because the Department of Basic Education is also looking forward to the outcomes of the longitudinal studies.

He then stated that yes; the presentation of the challenges and opportunities on one slide may have been confusing but the thought behind that was that although there are challenges being faced by NACI, it is seeing those challenges as an opportunity to approach them differently.

He agreed that communication and knowledge management is vitally important to any organisation and that what NACI was saying in the presentation was that NACI has been in existence for over 20 years but there has not been any systematic process to access knowledge accumulated by those who have served as councillors over these years because NACI has not captured knowledge from 1997 to 2018.  

There are people who have worked as part of the secretariat for over eight years who if they left today would leave with a large amount of unshared knowledge. To deal with knowledge management, NACI has begun recording some of its meetings and are storing this information so that future leadership knows why a particular decision was taken. The next step will be to identify various people who served in the NACI council before and interview them to try and access their knowledge so that NACI does not lose institutional memory. Secondly, it is because some people leave government and become consultants using all the knowledge they gained during their time in service. NACI is working with the DST Knowledge Management Unit to solve that problem. In terms of communications, he felt that even the Committee’s interactions with CSIR, NRF and TIA, it is apparent that there is a lot that is occurring in the system, but the information is not being communicated to ordinary citizens in a way that would be understandable to them.  

Dr Cele stated that Slide 19 is about the portal, so the institutions mentioned on that slide are the people who create the data on the portal namely National Research Foundation (NRF), Human Science Research Council (HSRC), Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), Council on Higher Education, University South Africa and few other universities. NACI is collaborating with these entities to create the portal but for developing advise NACI uses individual experts as well as international organisations over and above these entities though for the most part NACI tries to use the entities so as to reduce the amount of money being spent.

There was a question posed by Dr Lotriet on whether the university-based researchers were willing to work with NACI. It is true that ASSAf does not offer to pay the researchers that work with them but the researchers expect NACI to pay them and there are Treasury rates that NACI uses and it is upfront with the researchers when it approaches them by saying NACI would like the help of the researchers provided they are willing to be remunerated according to Treasury hourly rates and in most instances they do accept working with us because a relationship has been built overtime. There are other researchers that reject the request because the Treasury rates are too low. If those researchers are the only ones that can provide the knowledge needed for a specific programme, then NACI works with the CFO in order to come up with alternative mechanisms to remunerate those researchers so that the work is done.  For the most part researchers are happy to work with NACI as it gives them a platform to expose their work which otherwise would have been confined in academia, and also gives them a chance to apply their knowledge.

The issue around the delays around the organogram happened because NACI’s HR had a skills audit conducted and a report was produced which was not kind to some staff members in terms of their fitness and capacity to work in the organisation. As a consequence, those staff members approached their unions. The process has been stalled because some staff members were aggrieved, and their unions took up the matter with HR which delayed the process. The Minister asked HR to submit a report to her by the end of August because she wanted to finalise the matter urgently. The organogram is going to increase the level of capacity needed in order for NACI to fulfil its mandate. Currently NACI’s capacity is too low and it will have to continue getting consultants if it does not increase its skills capacity and expertise. The proposal to have high level capacity through introducing two new Chief Director positions, and one or two directors to give the organisation the necessary capacity. There are two areas that were identified as a gap: economic impact and social innovation impact. These two areas were identified as gaps in the system. There are very view people looking at science and innovation policy and its impact on policy and society. In order for NACI to do this there is a need to increase its capacity. The new organogram will be in line with what the new White Paper is proposing. The idea is not to have a big organisation, NACI wants to have good quality secretariats and work alongside the entities that it is already in partnership with and have good networks that could also help NACI. In terms of the timeline around the decadal plan as the DG was saying about the STI, the framework is expected by March/April next year. The foresight exercise which will give input into the decadal plan is due to be completed in November and it is open, and the information can be accessed, once that process is completed NACI may be able to share the information with the Committee. There are three current vacancies at NACI: Deputy Director, Assistant Director and the CEO position. The uptake and utilisation of advice is a tough point. NACI councillors have said that they want government to take their advice.

Ms Makukule  said that she will take into account Honourable  Mfulo’s  suggestion of presenting information on the expenditure breakdown on slide 23 more specifically in the presentation and NACI will implement that in future presentations. The compensation of employees comprises of salaries that were paid to the NACI secretariat that are purely employees and excludes the council. Goods and services comprised of administrative and operational costs mainly travel and professional services such as the work done with researchers at universities and the particular rate paid to them. Payment of capital assets represents mainly trade which would be furniture, computers and office equipment. For transfers and subsidies, the R39 000  was a leave pay-out to the employees who resigned.

Professor Swartz spoke to the issue of advice giving, which is a universal problem that NACI would like to understand how to deal with. A lot of advice can be generated but the capacity of the system to absorb that and to translate that into remedial and innovative changes raises a lot of questions about how the eco-system of decision making in government is set up. It would be interesting for NACI to probe this if it has not been done before. The advice that can be given to decision makers to set up their decision-making regimes; the way in which Cabinet sits, Cabinet processes, right up to the accounting bodies in a way that centres the advisory issues right at the heart of decision making. Secondly, to look at the mechanisms of translating decisions to policies or strategies into implementation programmes and plans which the civil servants have to take up. It is one thing for the politicians to make the decisions at provincial and national level. It is a different issue at the rate of taking that up and translating it to effective solutions. It is well known that SA is good at policy announcements and advisory statements, but the issue that SA has faced over the last two decades is translating those policy announcements and advisory statements into concrete programmes of action that can really flow through into the system.

When one makes advice, one has to decide whether to take the shotgun approach where one floods the system with different types of advisors; or, does one pick their battles carefully and look at the type of advice that could be catalytic, system changing and exponential in its impact. So, one may not have twenty pieces of advice coming out over a 3-year period but if one focuses on four or five issues and one gets them right they may have a catalytic, system changing impact on the system. He concluded by posing the question is NACI offering too many things and perhaps it should look at the economy of advice giving so as not to overwhelm the policy makers.

The Chairperson thanked Prof Swartz for his observations. She said that as she saw on the study tour, it is important to have PhD students. In Japan the Committee observed that Science Communicators in science centres in Japan communicated knowledge in an accessible way to children of a young age to instil the liking of science and maths from an early age. The engagement with the Department of Science and Technology is very important. The problem also lies in the educational system that allows students who do not put in a lot of effort to pass and move onto the next grade. There is need for more engagement. She wished the new board all of the best.

The meeting was adjourned.

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