The Committee was briefed by three of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI)’s entities, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP) on their Annual reports for the 2019/20 financial year. All three entities received an unqualified audit from the Auditor-General (AG), and this served as an illustration of the continued good work that has been done. There was a shared sentiment of concern on the looming budget cuts and although it was understood as to why Treasury had to initiate these cuts, concerns were mainly on the ability to fulfil set mandates.
It was emphasised that all entities were to ensure that greater focus is placed on improving the representation of disadvantaged groups in the leadership spaces as much work still needs to be done in ensuring that there is an improvement in the representation of both black people and women. Support of unemployed Bachelor of Science (BSc) graduates was also highlighted as an area that needed focus as many graduates opt to become teachers through enrolling on the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) program due to job scarcity. While this is beneficial to the education sector, it is also important to ensure that graduates are afforded the opportunity to practise in their specific field.
Support to several Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) was commended as these businesses mainly focus on producing medicinal products that contained indigenous plants. Such work promotes indigenous knowledge systems in the country and once these formulations have been tested, they can be placed on the mainstream market.
Nomination of Acting Chairperson
Due to the absence of the Chairperson, the Committee Secretary proposed that the Members elect an Acting Chairperson.
Mr W Letsie (ANC) nominated Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) as Acting Chairperson.
Ms J Mananiso (ANC) seconded the nomination.
Ms Mkhatshwa accepted the nomination.
The Acting Chairperson indicated that she was displeased that the Director-General (DG) was not present at the meeting, as the Members would have wanted to congratulate him for receiving the DG of the Year Award. However, the Committee was pleased with the work that has been done by the Department (Science and Innovation) and what it means for the country.
Mr Phumelele Yabo (DSI) said that he would note issues that would be raised by Members and officials from the three entities before he provided any remarks. If the Committee required additional written responses, the Department would do so.
Introductory remarks by the chairperson of the CSIR
Prof Thokozani Majozi, Chairperson: CSIR, indicated that all the executives in the entity were present in the meeting. The entity had sat before the Committee prior to approving its new industrialisation strategy, which had since been approved. The aim of the strategy is to support industry and to assist it with growth, also private partners have been involved in the work. A dedicated portfolio for business development and commercialisation was formed; and this has served as a channel between the private sector and the entity. However, this did not imply that the entity would not work with government, it still does. As part of its organisational restructure, the entity has changed its branding, with the logo and the credo changing. It has noted positives from the strategy and in the first year of the implementation of the strategy, received R175 million from the private sector. He expressed hope that post COVID-19, the entity would see an improved performance via the strategy.
The CSIR supports a total of 116 SMMEs and this support will be continued as SMMEs create further opportunities.
He added that it was commendable that the entity had obtained a 12th consecutive unqualified audit from the Auditor-General (AG).
CSIR 2019/20 Annual Report
The Committee was briefed by the CSIR on its annual report for the 2019/20 financial year. The presenters were as follows: Dr Thulani Dlamini, Chief Executive Officer, CSIR, Mr Ashraf Dindar, Chief Financial Officer, CSIR, Dr Rachel Chikwamba, Group Executive: Legal, Compliance and Business Enablement and Dr Motodi Maserumule, Group Executive: Mining, Manufacturing, Defence and Security.
The officials were proud to mention that the CSIR was able to provide solutions and interventions to mitigate against the impact of COVID-19. The key highlight in this regard was the production of a 100% local ventilator. This served as an example of the organisations research and development goals.
Highlights of the 2019-20 financial year
- Supported 116 SMMEs
- Obtained a 12th consecutive clean audit from the AG
- A dedicated portfolio for business development and commercialisation was established
- A new operational model was approved and implemented
- It was the first year of the implementation of its industrialisation strategy
- 61% of its Key Performance Indicators (KPI)s were met
The entity had five programmes for this financial year, these were:
- Diversify income, maintain financial sustainability and good governance
- Build and transform human capital and infrastructure
- Conduct Research Development and Innovation (RD&I), localise transformative technologies and accelerate their diffusion
- Collaboratively improve the competitiveness of high-impact industries to support South Africa’s reindustrialisation
- Drive socioeconomic transformation through RD&I that supports the development of a capable state
Diversify income, maintain financial sustainability and good governance
The CSIR had set eight targets for this programme. Five new KPIs were introduced this financial year, these were: KPIs 26, 27, 28, 30 and 31. It was able to fulfil four of the eight planned targets, one of which was to have a net profit for the financial year. It was not able to meet three of its KPIs, one of which was its failure to achieve its B-BBEE rating. It was only able to nominally achieve its target of total income this year.
Build and transform human capital and infrastructure
The CSIR had set 12 targets for this programme. Only one KPI was introduced this financial year. It was able to fulfil six of the targets, two of which it was able to exceed. It planned to increase the representation of black and female individuals as its chief researchers to 13% each. Instead, it was able to increase both to 18%. Of the six targets it could not meet, two were its inability to meet its target for increased representation of black and female individuals as principal researchers.
Conduct RD&I, localise transformative technologies and accelerate their diffusion
The CSIR had set six targets for this programme. Three of the KPIs were introduced in the current financial year and only two of the six planned targets were fulfilled, one of which was to achieve 438 publication equivalents. Three of the targets were not met, such as the failure to increase the number of new technology demonstrators from 50 in the 2018-19 financial year to 66 in the current financial year, however, the number was only increased to 37. The organisation was nominally able to achieve its target of new priority patent applications filed.
Collaboratively improve the competitiveness of high-impact industries to support South Africa’s reindustrialisation
The CSIR had set two targets for this programme and both the KPIs were introduced this financial year. A total of 116 SMMEs were supported, exceeding its target of 92. The entity was unable to fulfil its target of implementing 39 joint technology development agreements, with only 23 implemented.
Drive socioeconomic transformation through RD&I that supports the development of a capable state
The CSIR had set three targets for this programme, three KPIs were introduced this financial year, two of the planned targets were fulfilled and 24 reports were produced that would contribute to national policy. However, it was unable to achieve its target of 16 standards delivered or contributed to support of the state.
A focus on good corporate governance has seen a reduction in irregular expenditure from R5.7 million in the 2018/19 financial year, to R1.36 million this financial year. The CSIR was able to slightly improve its revenue collection for the year from R2 503 783 in the 2018/19 financial year to R2 741 760 this financial year. It also received a clean audit report from the AG.
ASSAf 2019/20 Annual Report
The Committee was briefed by ASSAf on its Annual Report for 2019/20 financial year. The presenters of the report were: Prof Himla Soodyall, CEO: ASSAf, and Mr Morakeng Chiloane, the Finance Manager. It was mentioned that the entity strives for recognition and reward of excellence and some of its activities to achieve this goal was to have a targeted membership drive, to increase diversify and increase the academy’s membership.
Key highlights for the 2019/20 financial year.
- The number of media releases produced increased
- Membership at the academy increased by 23 (from 549 to 523)
- TWAS Young Scientists Conference was hosted by the Kenya National Academy of Sciences in collaboration with ASSAf
- There was a 1% increase (from 30% to 31%) in the proportion of black members in the academy
- Received a clean audit for this financial year
The entity had four programmes for this financial year, these were:
- Governance and Administration
- Scholarly Publishing Programme
- Liaison Programme
- Science Advisory Programme
Governance and Administration
In this programme, the Academy had one strategic objective and two sub-objectives for this financial year. Through this programme it hoped to increase the visibility and standing of ASSAf. It was able to meet both targets set out and exceeded its target of producing 20 media releases with 24 being produced.
Scholarly Publishing Programme
In this programme, the academy had three strategic objectives and six sub-objectives. Through this programme, it hoped to promote innovation, scholarly activity and public interests in science and science education. It was able to meet five of its six sub-objectives. One of which was to publish one peer reviewed report. It failed to meet its target of publishing new journal titles on the Scientific Electronic Library Online (SCIelo) SA open access platform. This was due to the fact that the large volume of titles that had been added to the network as a whole slowed the network’s ability to add additional titles.
In this programme, the academy had five strategic objectives and eight sub-objectives. Through this programme, it hoped to promote national, regional and international linkages. In addition, it sought recognition and to be awarded for excellence. It was able to meet six of its sub-objectives. It exceeded its target of adding eight members to the OWSD National Chapter – with the entity adding 65 additional members. It failed to achieve its target of awarding two Science-for-Society gold medals. This was because the selection committee had taken a decision not to award the medal for the second year in a row.
Science Advisory Programme
In this programme, the academy had two strategic objectives and two sub-objectives. Through this programme, the academy hoped to promote effective and evidence-based scientific advice. It was able to meet both targets. In fact, it exceeded its target of publishing two workshop reports – with it publishing 11.
The academy noted that there was a decrease in revenue. Revenue decreased from R56 477 119 million in the 2018-19 financial year to 52 611 142 million in 2019-20 financial year. Much of the decreased revenue emanated from the loss of R2 million in transferred revenue from government.
Total expenditure also decreased from R58 391 818 million in the 2018-19 financial year to R52 567 936 million in the 2019-20 financial year.
SACNASP 2019/20 Annual Report
The Committee was briefed by officials from SACNASP on its Annual Report for the 2019/20 financial year. The report was presented by both Dr Gerda Botha, Chairperson of the Council, and Dr Pradish Rampersadh, CEO: SACNASP. The entity was pleased that it received a clean audit for this financial year. It was also pleased that it was able to register 1 262 new scientists in this financial year. This brought the total number of scientists registered on the database to 12 794.
- 1 262 new scientists registered
- Networking portal was developed and launched on its website
- Council reviewed and adopted the Code of Conduct
- Received an unqualified audit from the AG
The entity had five programmes for this financial year, these were:
- Increased knowledge generation
- Human Capital Development
- To promote SACNASP and the natural science professions in the country
- To promote professional development and transformation of the natural science sector in the country
- To foster a culture of good corporate governance in relation to the Council
Increased knowledge generation
In this programme, the entity only had one target. Through this programme, it sought to inform government policy on the role of natural science in the country and 80% of its target was reached. An addendum was signed between the entity and a service provider due to the delays in finalising the data collection instrument.
Human Capital Development
In this programme, the entity had three targets. Through this programme it sought to register and regulate natural science professionals. It was able to meet two of its planned targets. In fact, it exceeded its target of enrolling 1000 final-year students in the entity, as 1 217 students were enrolled. It was unable to meet its target of increasing the number of registered scientists to 2000 per annum.
To promote SACNASP and the natural science professions in the country
In this programme, the entity had two targets. Through this programme, it sought to promote the dissemination of science in the public. It was able to meet one of its planned targets, which was for Council to approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Environmental Assessment Practitioners Association of South Africa (EAPASA) which it duly submitted.
To promote professional development and transformation of the natural science sector in the country
In this programme, the entity had three targets. Through this programme it sought to provide networks for registered scientists. It was able to meet one of its planned targets which was the development of a networking portal. It was only able to partially achieve the other two targets.
To foster a culture of good corporate governance in relation to the Council
In this programme, the entity had four targets. Through this programme it sought to foster a culture of good corporate governance in relation to the Council. It was able to meet three of the set targets, one of which was obtaining an unqualified audit. It still needed to confirm the number of policies that have been approved.
The entity recorded a financial deficit for this financial year from R1 240 882 million in the 2018-19 financial year to R903 227 in the 2019-20 financial year. Project funding from the DSI had decreased due to the current economic climate.
The Acting Chairperson thanked the officials for their presentations. She asked if Mr Yabo would be satisfied with making his remarks once all the Members questions had been answered.
Mr Yabo (Department) agreed with this proposal.
The Acting Chairperson said that it is always exciting to engage with the Department and the associated entities.
She asked that the officials provide the Committee with a profile of the individuals who had suggested the solutions and interventions required for the COVID-19 pandemic. This would assist the Members to have an understanding of the representation figures and whether there were enough young, black women etcetera. In addition, she asked whether research and development were relevant and responsive to possible natural disasters such as COVID-19 and whether these had adequately readied the country for such a pandemic. She was pleased to hear that there is an attempt to sustain this work going into the future.
She inquired on what had informed the CSIR’s decision to set a target of 27% for female representation in its staff compliment, the representation of black bodies in its staff and who occupied the remaining 69%.
She raised concerns on the membership of the entity, in terms of agricultural science, and indicated that with the amendments in the Land Act it is important that more people gain entry into the field and receive support.
Directing her question to ASSAf, she asked what the 36% is against, in relation to female representation. She mentioned that it would be ideal for the entity to indicate that it wanted 50% representation between men and women in its staff. In the future, it would be beneficial for the entity, when presenting, to indicate who they had worked with and the representation of black bodies in a project. It is important to include all races to indicate whether the targets of representation are being met.
She was pleased that the Department reached its KPI 8 which was related to its support of SMMEs. With the supported SMMEs, she asked on the number of those involved in the indigenous knowledge system (IKS). This was relevant as supporting such SMMEs was mandated by the IKS Act. She asked all three entities on how they contributed to the execution and implementation of the Act and if there were enough individuals in the entities who understood aspects of IKS and had an interest on developing IKS.
She informed ASSAf that in future, prior to appearing before the Committee, it should forward the apologies of the President to the Committee Secretary.
There are several BSc graduates who enter the higher education space with the intent to be scientists but later do not find employment. As a result, several institutions have requested that the graduates complete a PGCE to gain employment and as such, many of the science graduates end up as teachers. Whilst that can be viewed as a positive outcome, it should not be the case that all scientists should go into teaching. All relevant stakeholders need to find ways to ensure that these individuals gain employment in their desired fields. More effort needs to be placed on finding ways to gain more funding from both the public and private sectors to provide more support to prospective science students.
Mr Letsie began by congratulating all three entities for obtaining clean audits. He also sent his condolences to the family of the outgoing AG, Mr Kimi Makwetu, as he passed on Wednesday. He congratulated the Department for the work it had done and noted that the DG having received the DG of the year award stands as proof. He mentioned that he had sent a congratulatory message to the DG personally and hoped it had been circulated amongst the officials of the three entities and the Department.
In its Annual Report, the CSIR mentioned it had exceeded 17 of its 31 indicators and two were partially achieved. When looking at the performance against targets, as recorded in the annual report and in the presentation, different figures had been provided. He asked the CSIR to clarify whether it had in fact exceeded 17 of its 31 indicators and that all the figures shown in the report were correct. He inquired as to why the performance recorded in the annual report did not differ from that indicated in the presentation.
He asked on the vacancy rate for the entity, how the capacity shortage would be mitigated whilst considering current budget cuts and which areas had been negatively impacted by the staff shortages. He inquired if there were any remaining challenges that stemmed from the operational and organisational restructuring of the organisation, what these were and how they had been remedied.
The CSIR cited that it had procurement challenges when contracting with the public sector. He asked what reasons the National Treasury provided for granting the requested exemptions. Furthermore, he asked on the key submissions made by the CSIR to be proposed in the new Procurement Bill and how these would assist the CSIR’s mandate.
SACNASP mentioned that it had a staff compliment of 25 individuals. He asked how SACNASP would be able to address its skills shortages, especially considering the economic climate and the directives by Treasury to reduce the wage bill. Furthermore, he asked how the shortages would affect the organisations ability to fulfil its mandate and what the ideal staff compliment was.
He asked on the number of deregistered scientists due to non-payment of registration fees, the total amount of bad debt that stemmed from the non-payment of registration fees at the end of the 2019/20 financial year and the notable change over five years when considering the mentioned issue.
Mr Letsie inquired about the progress made with regards to the project that tracks the employment, unemployment and underemployment of BSc graduates. He asked for clarity on the key objectives, outputs of the project and the revised timeframe.
The Chairperson mentioned that if other Members did not cover Mr Letsie’s points, he could ask additional questions later.
Dr W Boshoff (FF+) referring to the National Laser Centre, which is based in the CSIR, mentioned that it had been in a joint venture called Aeroswift South Africa (ASS) with a certain company. When the Committee last visited the centre, it was observed that the 3D printer had not been working for nearly two years. A forensic investigation was instituted, and it focused on fraud and maladministration in the centre. The final report was received by the CSIR in 2018 and the company that was a part of the joint venture was subsequently liquidated in March of the current year. He was concerned that the allegations could affect the CSIR’s efforts to get the private sector to support innovation on a commercial scale. He asked on the findings of the forensic report and whether any action had been taken.
Ms Mananiso said she was mostly covered by Mr Letsie. She noted that the DSI had been very important in the fight against COVID-19. She advised that in the following year the Department should improve their communication to the public to inform them on the work being done and this include awareness campaigns.
She was pleased that the work of the DG had been recognised.
The Committee has, on several occasions, emphasised the importance of transformation to ensure that all bodies are represented in this space.
The Chairperson said that it is important to acknowledge the good work done by the DG and where is happens that he does not perform well, the Committee would be the first to point this out.
Mr S Tambo (EFF) said that he was pleased with the report from the CSIR. He mentioned that, as someone who does not have a scientific background, his questions would be framed in a developmental sense.
He asked if the CSIR had made input on the economic plan presented by Minister Mboweni earlier in the year, particularly on the unbundling of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and the role that should be played by SOEs in the industrialisation of the country.
He highlighted that one of CSIR objectives is to promote both industrial and economic development and that one of the key targets met was its contributions to national policy, particularly on economic matters.
He mentioned that he believed the CSIR should be granted with exemptions when it enters into developmental projects and transactions with other entities. He suggested the Committee deliberates and support this motion, as it is the only way to provide cohesive growth in the country. The CSIR should not be treated like a private entity when it operates under the auspice of government.
Ms D Sibiya (ANC) thanked the officials for the presentations and congratulated them for their work.
Mr Letsie pointed out that ASSAf had been existence for 24 years, yet it still rented office space. He mentioned that it was imperative for the entity to construct its own building instead of spending nearly R120 000 in rental fees per month. He asked when the Committee can expect ASSAf to expedite the process in constructing a building owned by the entity.
He inquired on the level of funding needed to fully support the work of ASSAf and alternative sources of funding which have been considered.
He said that ASSAf identified the failure to take up recommendations that emanate from studies and asked on the specific actions to be taken to remedy this. He asked on what the existing challenges were regarding the current secretariat and how these would be addressed.
He asked whether there was an indication on when a National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) representative would be appointed to Council and why the position had been vacant since June 2019.
Mr Letsie asked what the financial outlook of the entity was for the rest of the financial year.
The Chairperson indicated that the Department would be provided the opportunity to make its final remarks at the end of the responses. She asked that in its response, ASSAf address its President’s absence.
Responses from the CSRI
Prof Majozi said that there was positive sentiment on the work done by the entity and thanked the Members for their input.
Speaking to the question on prior research, he mentioned that the CSIR having managed to step up to the plate, in such a short space of time, to assist with COVID-19 proved it was ready to respond. With the infrastructure in place, the right calibre of people and quality research, the entity has ensured that it is always ready. One of its achievements during the crisis was the ventilator programme.
He highlighted that the entity’s definition of ‘black’ includes Africans, Indians and Coloureds, however, this could further be clarified if required.
It was true that the restructuring process did impact on the entity’s ability to reach some of its targets. Several scientists left the entity during this period, but the situation has now stabilised and would improve in the future.
Referring to the question on Aeroswift, he said that the 3D printing system is the largest of its kind in the world and they are currently printing titanium steel. However, Aeroswift is an independent entity and it has since been liquidated. Their liquidation did not affect the CSIR’s involvement in the project and that is why the matter was not mentioned on its report. Forensic investigations were initiated by the entity once it had received a letter containing allegations of fraud and maladministration from a whistle-blower. Many of the allegations pertained to some of the irregularities that took place even before the appointment of the leadership in the organisation. Some members had even left, and disciplinary proceedings were initiated against members remained, once the report was received.
He agreed with Ms Mananiso that the entity had to publicise its work more than it had done as previously, there had been publicity campaigns which were well received by the public. A new communication strategy has been adopted to ensure that its work is magnified to the public.
He agreed with Mr Tambo that the exemptions had hampered their activities in a significant way and the matter was raised with the relevant stakeholders. He was comforted by the fact that the Committee supports them in this regard.
Dr Dlamini mentioned that there are over 25 projects that the CSIR is supporting in terms of the National response to COVID-19 and a report with all the information on who participated would be provided to the Committee. These projects create an opportunity to profile people but also to provide human capital training. A variety of stakeholders had assisted and the entity’s ability to respond hinged on their assistance and the pooling of resources.
The entity has built capacity in human resources (HR), infrastructure and the development of expertise however government and the private sector have not sufficiently invested in these much-required areas. He added that the problems faced during the pandemic are new ones.
He mentioned that the CSIR sets its targets in its shareholder compact where shareholders provide a detailed description of how the target will be measured or assessed. A margin for most targets is provided where it can be assessed if the target has been met. When looking at the actual performance against target, one would not be able to see if the entity met its target without taking into consideration the margin.
A total of 17% of the approved staff establishment is vacant and these vacancies are across the board. However, the entity has tried to make sure that the vacancies are only found in support functions like HR, finance and communications to ensure that there is no compromise on the core functioning of the entity which is research development and innovation capacity.
One of the challenges of restructuring an organisation is that capacity is lost. However, when looking at the performance in the first two quarters of this financial year, particularly in SO4 where human capital development is tracked, a level of stability has been reached.
Referring to the exemptions, he said that the entity believed that Treasury’s blanket approach on how it deals with science councils was unfair. When the entity works with government, it must go on tender. This has been found to be problematic, as some of the work can compromise the security of the state. Recently, Transnet had been provided with input on what it should do before it enters into procurement. This is competitive work and if this was put out on tender, the entity would receive input from suppliers who want to supply it with whatever it is procuring. However, there are continued to engagements with Treasury on this issue.
Extensive submissions were made on the Public Procurement Bill by the CSIR and these would be shared with the Committee if required.
There are two projects underway at the entity, one is on the beneficiation of titanium in South Africa (SA) which looks at how SA can benefit from the value addition from titanium and the other is the 3D printing capacity of metals in SA.
Referring to the 3d project, he confirmed that there had been a joint collaboration with Aeroswift and its liquidation had affected the entity, more specifically with assisting it with the commercialisation of the 3D technology. The CSIR was now looking for a partner to assist with this objective, particularly in the aerospace. It hoped that the potential partners would assist with the commercialisation of the Intellectual Property (IP). The IP is owned by the CSIR, but some elements are owned by its partner as per the agreement. The project is ongoing, and it would continue to be reported on to the DSI.
On the forensic investigations, he said that the letter containing allegations was submitted by an ex-employee of the entity. After receiving the letter, the CSIR instituted a forensic investigation which was done by an independent forensic company. Once the report was submitted, the entity adopted several of the recommendations made from the findings and it dealt with most of them. It did not agree with some of the recommendations, as the independent company lacked an understanding of how the entity worked. Disciplinary processes were instituted against workers who had acted in a manner against CSIR policy and many employees had already resigned and left the organisation. One or two proceedings are being currently finalised.
The CSIR did not make contributions to the economic plan presented by the Minister. However, it had contributed in different ways. He agreed that the entity should not be treated as a private entity.
Dr Chikwamba mentioned that most of the work done by the SMMEs the entity supports encompasses the development of cosmetics and the development of medicines. These formulations are tested to see if they have the medicinal properties claimed. The entity then looks to formulate the products so that they can be placed on the mainstream market. A total number of 15 SMMEs are currently being supported, with 11 based on IKS from across the country. The bulk of SMMEs being assisted work in the life sciences field and have medicines that are part of the IKS.
Mr Andile Mabindisa, Group Executive: Human Capital and Communication, CSIR, referring to the point on representation, said that the target is set against the national economically active population and the input and output at universities is also considered. Currently, African women make up 35.8% of the set female staff. The CSIR continues to ensure that it invests into future talents like scientists and engineers and it has two such programmes that are currently active. The first is the inter-bursary programmes which supports 82% of black South Africans, 57% are black South African males and 25% are black South African females. These bursaries cover students all the way from undergraduate to PHD.
On the vacancy rate, he said that the focus has been on filling critical positions and the affordability of the business and its clusters. During the lockdown, CSIR has been active in recruitment, particularly with set staff, and officials are currently looking at how they have grown in that space. For example, in terms of the set numbers, from April to September, they have grown by 102. There has been an increase of 95 black female staff members, an increase from 15% to 19% in black females serving as principle researches. This is despite all the challenges posed by the pandemic and the lockdown.
Dr Dlamini said that the officials had provided answers to all the questions. All information requested by the Committee would be provided.
Prof Majozi indicated that the team had responded to all questions.
Prof Stephanie Burton, ASSAf Council member, said the organisation was proud that the DG had been awarded the DG of the Year award.
ASSAf is a scholarly academy and most of its members work at either universities or research institutions. Intake into ASSAf represents what is occurring in terms of the next generation of academics who have entered those spaces. There are a number of interventions being put in place across the higher education sector, with the support of the DSI, to support new academics to advance to Doctorial level, complete their studies and then enter into entities such as ASSAf. A lot of focus has been placed on supporting black and women academics.
She mentioned that ASSAf had taken note of the indigenous knowledge opportunities and had done studies of the uptake of this.
She apologised to the Committee for not providing the apology from the Present and added that a list of the members who would be present in the meeting was provided to the Committee Secretary.
Dr Soodyall also apologised to the Committee and mentioned that she should have duly sent the apology from the President to the Committee Secretary. In the future, an apology would be provided directly to the Committee.
She thanked the Members for the comments made and said that much of the good performance seen in the entity was due to the collaborative work between ASSAf and the Department.
On the demographics in the academy, she said that like the CSIR and ASSAf had not collected the aggregated data on race. Instead, a broad category of black to include Indians, Africans and Coloureds had been used. Some of the members are African nationals who are permanent residents in the country and that is why some of the information on race is grouped between black and white.
On gender representativity, she mentioned that the academy was started by males who happened to be white. Since members nominate individuals to enter the academy, it has been inevitable that many white men have made it into the academy. However, in the last five years trends have shown that the have been efforts to close the gap through several means such as engaging with vice chancellors on how to deal with representativity in universities and also looking at those who are in senior offices to try and promote their staff in recognition of their contributions to science. This is based on the level of the criteria that the entity chooses its members. This is work in progress and that is why the entity has not stated that it wants to see 50% representativity.
The academy can only draw on the people who are in the pipeline and who meet the academic criteria to be nominated as members. It is working aggressively to change the wider demographic profiles and is trying to improve the numbers for geographic distribution of members. Virtual meetings with universities have been planned in areas where it believes it could encourage the process for submissions from the area. It is also looking at encouraging members to be specific on their discipline. She added that many collaborations are underway in this regard and in successive years, when it next presents to the Committee, Members would see the benefit.
Through its publications in the SA Journal of Science, the entity tries to profile publications from local academics in this field. In fact, the Quest Magazine has IKS publications in it. ASSAf also ensures that there is representation of publications from IKS articles in Peer Review Journals. To date, it has not done studies on IKS because the funding that it would use for that is dedicated to scholarships to UWC and UKZN. It would look into how it can integrate a stakeholder engagement on IKS and its applications in the country going forward.
The DSI has a well-articulated science communication department which liaises with all entities throughout the year. ASSAf engages with this department to ensure that with their machinery in place, it could increase the bandwidth in the uptake of work which would assist with the dissemination through the portals. For example, during the pandemic, the organisation had been working on producing a booklet on viruses and pandemics in partnership with the Department of Basic Education and other academics. Existing systems are being utilised to get the booklet published and to allow for it to be disseminated from the portals available. The organisation is aware that not everyone has access to the internet and that is why funds are being raised so that when the booklet is released, it can be taken into rural areas and that the three spheres of government are taken care of.
Referring to office rentals, she said that the officials hoped that they could source funds to construct a building that would be representative of the area of scholarship and academic excellence championed by the academy. In other countries, the governments would usually construct the buildings for such activities, or a sponsor/philanthropist would donate. There is hope that the construction of a building would occur, even in the face of a difficult economic climate. However, the difficulties which come with maintaining a building need to be considered.
ASSAf has struggled with implementing recommendations received from studies. A lot of work and energy goes into the production of each document and when these are launched, necessary stakeholders are invited to review the documents and to make presentations. Receipt of the recommendations has been acknowledged but there are still struggles on how many of the recommendations should translate to action and implementation. She noted that the government and its entities are good at generating policies but now need to find ways to implement them. The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) has a good Impact Centre that has been recently established with the aim of creating space to take policy to action. Both the HSRC and ASSAf are together on this initiative.
On skills and staffing, she indicated that ASSAf does recognise that in terms of demography, it is reasonably well balanced. Staff members are supported throughout the academy to pursue higher qualifications and more than half a dozen is pursuing masters and PHD’s. ASSAf supports these workers when they attend courses so that they can uplift themselves in their existing portfolios. With the new strategic and operational plans, the entity is eager to position its (staff) activities to show how objectives and outcomes set can be reached and therefore new additional skills for staff to manage portfolios going forward are welcomed.
Referring to the question on NACI representation, she said that when Dr Mapoyi resigned, ASSAf engaged through the Department, with the Minister, on the matter. Ultimately, the Minister makes the final decision on who is appointed and therefore, the issue is out of her hands.
Explaining how they are mitigating against the cuts, she mentioned that the entity has a blended model of working at home and at the office - as a result, some of the office space has been ceded. Virtual means of engaging, as seen in the recent quarterly reports, accelerated the entity’s ability to reach some of its target. Officials would prefer work to take place at the office, however, work has not been held back. There have been ways initiated to enhance staff portfolios for them to be relevant in the national system of innovation.
Dr Botha mentioned that the presentation focused on the previous financial year and the questions posed by Members would be used for future references.
In the last strategic session, officials had set objectives for the next five years. They also had deliberations on how the impact of the pandemic would be considered.
She mentioned that SACNASP can play a role in getting more people in involved in IKS. In its recent discussions with the Council for Higher Education (CHE), it made a proposal on how it can advise on professional registration in particular fields and also make an input on the national science curriculum. The organisation wants to be a part of the value chain and through its voluntary association, it is able to engage on this topic, place more focus on this area and raise more awareness.
Surveys have shown that the financial sector is absorbing many of the BSc graduates and this has been taken into consideration by the entity.
The HSRC has collaborated with the organisation on the recent survey commissioned. There was a delay due to the lockdown, but there are efforts to ensure that it is complete. The survey focuses on the employment, unemployment and underemployment of BSc graduates.
Council agreed to a new HR structure so that it can transform the council to be more of a scientific one. Together with the updated Act, the entity will fulfil the vision set by Council.
Dr Rampersadh referred to the IKS Act and mentioned that Council has a dual role of registration and regulation of scientists. As such, it aims to have a competent scientific cohort in the country. Scientists involved in the entity need to be up to date in their field as they consult in various scientific fields such as life sciences.
As a regulator, the entity must hold scientists accountable to the code of conduct. Focus has been placed on the District Development Model and how its scientists can assist communities develop themselves. SACNASP is currently looking at natural history museums and discussions have been underway to find out what contributions can be made, and the challenges faced in order to offer assistance.
Voluntary associations like the Toxicology Association are involved in IKS research, however, more work is required from the entity. He agreed that a stakeholder engagement would be important on this matter.
He added that it was concerning that BSc graduates find it difficult to secure employment. SACNASP has engaged with the CHE to ensure that practicing scientists are practicing in all areas such as the financial sector and the education sector. CHE has approached them to sign an MOU to get the organisation more involved in their processes. SACNASP has also engaged with the South African Qualifications Association (SAQA) and in the past two months, officials have engaged with other regulatory councils, specifically on education, to ensure that BSc graduates are prepared after graduating and are relevant in their field of practice.
In its candidate mentoring programme, technical competency in each graduate’s field is emphasised. However, graduates must have business management skills, ethical training and should have verbal and written skills. Technical ICT skills are important for all scientists, particularly due to the rise of the 4th Industrial Revolution, emotional and soft skills are also critical. This programme is part of the model of mentoring young scientists and the entity is thinking of trying to have a similar programme for students who recently enrol in their science-based degree.
Referring to the survey report, he mentioned that the main aim of the study is to determine the employment outcomes of natural science graduates. In addition, to ascertain what the determinate factors that influence the current unemployment trends were and how to use a triangulation of data sources to explain patterns of labour market participation of graduates.
Specific research questions are as follows;
- What is the final destination of natural scientist graduates?
- What the proportion is of employed, underemployed and unemployed graduates? (this will be done using labour force participation data from STATS SA for the period 2014-18) and how does this trend change over time?
- What are the individual and institutional determinants that influence successful and unsuccessful graduates into the labour market? And how does this differ in terms of individual graphics such as gender and race, different university characteristics and across provinces
- What factors influence graduates who are unemployed, underemployed and employed?
- What are the key stakeholder perceptions of employability attributes of natural science graduates in SA?
- What are the understandings of BSc graduates in general?
He added that he hoped this would add value to policy makers for them to make correct decisions. The organisation is working with the HSRC, and whilst lockdown affected its deliverables, they are satisfied with the progress and are confident that the research would be completed at the end of the financial year.
He confirmed that they did receive the letter of congratulations from Mr Letsie.
He mentioned that Council started from a low base of scientific skills. Five years ago, when he first joined, he was the only scientist present in the entity, but this has since changed. He explained that Council required scientific and legal experts to assist them with guiding the public on scientific legislation and regulation. There is currently a legal component to assist with regulatory system and there has been a focus on marketing and district community development. To increase these efforts, marketing and communication specialists are being considered.
Council is adamant that it must create an environment for lifelong learning, and all admitted scientists are required to meet the requirements sent by Council. In addition, all admitted scientists must be on the top of their field. Since there are 25 fields of practice, each field needs to include specialised scientists. Transformation of the sector is important, and Council requires a dedicated person and team that will focus on bringing young scientists into the system. These are all the additional skills that will be required.
He thanked the Minister for recognising the gap and providing them with funds for projects and hoped more project money will be provided.
He thanked members of the Council, who are mostly scientists, for how they have involved themselves in serious projects. He admitted that the entity is far from having its ideal staff compliment and it required more scientists to be involved in the future.
On the numbers of deregistered scientists, he said that this was a trend that the entity does not focus on. If a scientist does not pay his/her fees in five years, they write them off. The figures of those who had deregistered over a five-year period were as follows; 200 scientists in 2015-16, 316 in 2016-17, 1053 in 2017-18, 1497 in 2018-19 and 1086 in 2019-20. He added that 120 scientists had requested to be reinstated this financial year.
The financial bad debt that has been written-off in the last five years was as follows; R321 000 in 2015-16, R750 000 in 2016-17, R1.1 million in 2017-18, R2.2 million in 2018-19 and R2 million this financial year. The professional conduct committee has suggested that this needs to be managed and as an intervention, the entity conducted an aggressive marketing campaign to raise awareness between voluntary associations. It will also begin prosecuting scientists who are not registered but continue to practice. If a scientist is found to do be doing this, they will be reported to the South African Police Services.
SACNASP is concerned by the budget cuts, as a majority of their fees come from their registered scientists.
Dr Botha said that the entity enjoyed its engagement with the Committee.
The Chairperson said the concerns from Members were clear. To some extent, the Members should be satisfied with the responses provided and all requested information should be provided in writing.
She acknowledged the work done by all three entities but also indicated that more needs to be done for inclusion into the space. There is an understanding that to improve representation in the higher echelons of the entities, more young people would need to take up maths and sciences. This must be followed up in university to masters and PHD level and SACNAPS must nurture these individuals in their journey. She added that increased budgets are critical for the entities to achieve these goals and this also required support from the private sector. She suggested that there needs to be a synergy between the various departments and sectors. The Committee would continue to monitor the work done.
Due to time constraints and lack of quorum, the Committee had to postpone the consideration of minutes and their adoption.
The meeting was adjourned
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