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ARTS, CULTURE, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
17 January 2004
DIRECTOR-GENERAL ON DEPARTMENTS AND STUDY TOUR REPORT: BRIEFING
Chairperson: Ms Njobe
Documents handed out:
ARTS, CULTURE, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
This meeting was the penultimate meeting convened to achieve closure on outstanding issues before the end of the Parliament term on 27 February 2004. The Committee was briefed by representatives of the Department of Science and Technology on the departure of the Minister, on the transfer of the National and Natal Museums from the Department of Arts and Culture to the Department of Science and Technology, on the forthcoming meeting of the Group on Earth Observations to be held in Cape Town, and on the Department's Centres of Research Excellence Programme.
The Minister had been appointed as Ambassador of South Africa to Japan and the Acting-Minister had taken over the smooth running of the Department. They were awaiting the approval of the President to effect the transfer of the Museums.
Mr Moagi explained the reason for the departure of the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and he addressed the issue of the transfer of the National Museum and the Natal Museum from the Department of Arts and Culture to the Department of Science and Technology.
The Committee was addressed by Mr Daan du Toit, Manager of Strategic Partnership, Group on Earth Observations (GEO), on the forthcoming meeting of the Group on Earth's Observations to be held in Cape Town next week. Mr Du Toit argued that there should be strategic partnership within the international community. Capacity building in developing countries was essential and should be supported by the provision of infrastructure (Please see attached document.)
Ms Canca presented the Department's human capital development initiative, the Centres of Research Excellence Programme. (Please see attached document.) She spoke of the need to support the improvement of research skills, and recruiting PhD students in the fields of science, engineering and technology.
Chairperson Njobe said that despite agreement on the Committtee's programme for the current two weeks, the Committee had been discouraged from holding any non-legislative meetings. The proposed meetings had therefore been cancelled and the Committee would only meet twice in the next two weeks to wind up business before the closure of Parliament on 27 February 2004.
Chairperson Njobe continued that she had met with the Director-General to discuss the transfer of the National Museum and the Natal Museum from the Department of Arts and Culture to the Department of Science and Technology due to their content.
Mr Moagi, Manager of the Office of the Director-General, said that the Minister had been appointed as Ambassador of South Africa to Japan with effect from 1 February 2004. He said Ms Ngcuke has been appointed as Acting-Minister and the Department was running smoothly.
On the issue of the transfer of the museums, Mr Moagi said that both Departments had reached consensus as the contents of the museums would be better managed by the Department of Science and Technology. The Department had submitted the relevant information to the Office of the President and were waiting to be briefed in this regard.
Mr Opperman (DA) asked whether it is protocol to discuss the transfer with the Committee prior to the transfer of the museums.
A Member asked whether the transfer falls under the National or the Provincial Legislature.
Ms Van Wyk (NNP) stressed that she was satisfied that the transfer was taking place but hoped the museums will be administered as research institutions.
Mr Moagi said he would respond to these questions in detail at the meeting next week.
Department presentation on GEO
Mr Daan du Toit, Manager of Strategic Partnerships for the Department of Science and Technology, then made his presentation on South Africa's hosting of the Third Meeting of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO-3). He said the GEO was a partnership to develop a sustainable Earth Observation System. This system would provide information on the Earth's capacity in terms of precipitation patterns, soil moisture, etc.
Mr du Toit said the meeting next week aimed to reach consensus on the framework document for the partnership as well as decide on the modalities of the implementation plan. Technical meetings would be held on 23 and 24 February while the plenary meetings would run from 25 to 27 February. While the Department was pivotal in these efforts, they were working closely with the Departments of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, and Water and Forestry.
Mr Dithebe (ANC) asked whether South Africa had considered its commitments to other multilateral agreements when undertaking this initiative; whether the South African Large Telescope (SALT) was connected to the Earth Observation System; and how the initiative would advance scientific education in South Africa.
Mr Cassim (IFP) said it was frustrating for policymakers when scientists did not feed information from these projects, to enable the former to address pressing issues.
Prof Mohamed (ANC) expressed his concern about the dangers of nuclear waste and asked whether this Summit would establish a worldwide policy for dealing with the risks associated with nuclear energy.
Mr du Toit responded by saying that when South Africa undertook the GEO initiative, it had recognised its role in existing multilateral agreements. Where participating nations in GEO were not party to the same multilateral agreements, hopefully greater adherence to and awareness of the spirit of the existing multilateral agreements could be fostered
Mr du Toit said that although SALT looked away from the Earth, the GEO programme would look towards the Earth. There would be a certain amount of information sharing between those involved in both projects.
He agreed that scientists were not always forthcoming about their findings. An important aspect of the GEO implementation programme therefore would be to provide information to policymakers. While data gleaned from GEO would inform policies on nuclear waste, it was not within the ambit of the Summit to discuss global policies on nuclear waste management.
Mr Cassim asked about the main agenda items for the Summit.
Mr du Toit said the parties would reach consensus on the framework document of the initiative and work would begin in determining the modalities of the implementation plan.
Department briefing on Centres of Research Excellence
Ms Canca, General Manager of Human Capital in Science Missions for the Department of Science and Technology, made a presentation on the establishment of Centres of Research Excellence. She said this programme was the flagship initiative in the Department's development of human capital. The aim was to strengthen existing centres of excellence and provide funding to academics, students and collaborative teams of researchers.
Ms Canca said the Department had identified three areas where centres would be established. There was also an open call for pre-proposals for the establishment of further centres. These proposals were assessed on their research ability and their potential for capacity building. The final selection of these centres would be made in March 2004.
Mr Cassim asked whether the progress of these centres would be monitored by impartial people.
Prof Mohamed (ANC) said that in mathematics, it was rare for people to work in collaboration for fear of other academics publishing their work. Therefore he asked whether such collaborative centres would be fruitful.
Mr Dithebe (ANC) asked whether these centres would help scholars in their scientific studies. He suggested online learning and queried how disadvantaged scholars would benefit from such an initiative without e-mail access.
Ms Mpaka (ANC) said that in an earlier presentation by the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), the Committee had been made aware that only two South African students were involved in their projects. She questioned therefore whether South African students would in fact be benefiting from the centres.
Chairperson Njobe enquired what would become of those teams whose pre-proposals were not accepted and she asked what the Department required in terms of its budget to fund this initiative.
Ms Canca said that monitoring would take place every three to five years as the initiatives were intended for the long-term. She said this monitoring would be in the form of international peer review.
In response to Mr Dithebe's question, Ms Canca said that it was the Department's imperative to encourage learners. The National Science Week was indicative of its efforts as well as its plan to support the development of the teachers of mathematics, science and computer science. She said the Department was working closely with the Department of Education in this regard.
With particular reference to AIMS, Ms Canca said they had focussed on the development of post-graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. This mirrored the approach of the Department of Education.
Ms Canca said that despite Prof Mohamed's (ANC) concerns, research indicated that collaborative efforts in fact led to an increased output of research of a higher standard.
She said that the reason there were fewer South African students at AIMS could be attributed to the different term times of South African universities and AIMS. The registration of students who had not yet completed their undergraduate degrees was difficult. South African students perhaps also faced a greater burden in terms of the need to find employment to enable them to support their families.
Ms Canca said that the pre-proposals that were not accepted were given thorough feedback in order to assist in their improvement.
Prof Mohamed (ANC) asked Chairperson Njobe when the Committee could expect the Annual Report.
The Committee all agreed to submit their comments on the draft report within the week so that they could be built into the Annual Report to save time.
The meeting was adjourned.
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