The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Innovation in the National Assembly convened virtually for a briefing on the Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation Institutional Landscape (HESTIIL) Review Report which was presented by the HESTILL Ministerial Committee on behalf of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).
The HESTILL Ministerial Committee was tasked by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation to undertake a review of the Higher Education, Science and Innovation landscape. The HESTIIL Review Panel identified a number of system weaknesses in the National System of Innovation (NSI) which continuously fail to convert valuable research into economic output. The position is exacerbated by the failure of State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) to fulfil the role as key actors to generate benefit from the knowledge economy. The situation demanded a national mobilisation of resources if the National Development Plan (NDP) objectives of reversing unemployment, poverty, and inequality were to be achieved.
The key recommendation outlined in the Review Report is the expansion of the Research Development and Innovation (RDI) enterprise in a planned and coherent manner. This development would require a significant increase in investments from the state, business and industry over the next decade to support the desired social and economic outcomes.
The report which had been handed over to the Minister would be made available to the Committee and related government departments. The Committee was concerned that the DSI was not adequately capacitated and funded to implement the recommendations. The Committee was informed that the organisational structure of the DSI is being reviewed to facilitate the implementation of the recommendations.
In addition, the Committee considered and adopted the Draft Report on the Oversight Enquiry into the Appointment of Professor Mbati as Vice-Chancellor of Sefako Makgatho University (SMU) and related matters.
The Chairperson remarked that the Committee was meant to receive the Review Report some time ago. The delay was due to the pressures of the DSI programme. She called on Deputy Director-General (DDG) Patel to lead the presentation.
Mr Imraan Patel, DDG: Research and Development Support, DSI, noted the Deputy Minister and Director-General (DG) on the platform and invited them to make initial comments before Professor Rensburg proceeds with the presentation.
Dr Phil Mjwara, DG, DSI replied that he had nothing to add and was having difficulty hearing the conversations. The Deputy Minister also appeared to have connectivity problems.
Professor Ihron Rensburg, Chairperson of the HESTIIL Review Panel, said it was a privilege and honour to undertake this review. The brief was to extend the scope of the 2017 review by incorporating the broad spectrum of research entities and universities after the consolidation of the Ministries of Higher Education and Training, and Science and Technology into the Ministry of Higher Education Science and Innovation. The review was further extended to include all public research entities and institutions under the management of other ministries. The overarching recommendation is the expansion of the Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) enterprise in a planned and coherent manner. This development would require a significant increase in investments from the state, business and industry over the next decade. A focused, coherent and progressive shift of existing incentives is required to support the desired social and economic outputs. The diverse and experienced team of the HESTIIL Ministerial Committee, consisting of role players from across the higher education, science and innovation system including civil society, was able to complete this work because of the exceptional support of the DSI DG and his team.
Key findings and issues
Mr Mpho Madisha, Member of the HESTIIL Review Panel, highlighted some of the key findings and issues of the review as outlined below;
A strong emphasis is placed on a people-centric approach. The failure to leverage the country’s sound value system for people and organisational development needs attention.
Institutions are poorly connected. Instead of capacity building, unhealthy competition for scarce resources takes place.
The limited advisory role of the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) does not allow it to give effect to key indicators.
Coherence between institutional mandates is lacking and plans tend to be weak or non-existent.
Key forces in the political economy negatively impact the innovation landscape, e.g. the private sector playing a role in research and development (R&D) projects outside instead of inside the country.
SOEs forfeited their role as key actors. A decline in overall R&D negatively impacts the innovation system. NDP objectives might not be achieved due to de-industrialisation.
The declining role of business has the effect of tasks being outsourced to international institutions. Local R&D should be encouraged. The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) need to be capacitated to spearhead the commercialisation of innovation.
There is no council for environmental sciences, e.g. marine and earth science. The institutionalisation of environmental sciences must be prioritised.
The relationship between science councils and government departments had been weakened and should be strengthened to maximise output. The relationship between the Department of Health and the Medical Research Council served as a good example of cooperation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms Marjorie Pyoos, Member of the HESTIIL Review Panel, emphasised the need to fix the persistent failure of the system to convert research into economic output. She called for a national mobilisation of resources on a similar scale as per the Covid-19 pandemic. The situation demanded a recalibration and an upward pivoting of the system. The recommendations are organised around a set of five levers of change as summarised below;
Rebuilding of the innovation landscape should be grounded in the South African value system,
NACI should be reinvented into a substantive, legitimate and competent national advisory body,
The state must set aside a percentage of the procurement spend to stimulate and deepen domestic technology transfer and industrial innovation,
Local research capacity and full-time researcher growth in critical areas for the economy and society must be significantly scaled up, and
A centralised National Foundation for Research and Innovation should be established by 2030 to coordinate the various entities in the innovation value system.
Ms Pyoos concluded that the South African NSI was at a crossroads. Failure to pivot the system would result in the continued failure to generate benefits from the knowledge economy.
The Chairperson lost connection to the platform and was assisted by Ms K Mahlatsi (ANC) who directed the meeting in her capacity as acting Chairperson. She invited Members to comment and ask questions related to the presentation.
Ms J Mananiso (ANC) could identify with some of the coherence-related issues. She asked if deliberations about unhealthy competition were based on political interference. She enquired about the possibility of getting a written submission in terms of the short, medium and long-term plans to implement recommendations because it would assist Members in doing oversight. She was pleased that the societal grand challenges were people-centric because it was important that everybody was on board to achieve Vision 2030. She congratulated all those involved in producing the excellent Review Report and was hoping that the report would have a positive impact.
Ms C King (DA) agreed that it was a good presentation but would have wanted to see an inter-departmental planning approach inclusive of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to ensure a continuous flow of learners that reach the postgraduate level. She had observed a new trend where quintile one and three learners were taking math literacy as a subject which meant that they were unable to progress and participate in Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research similarly to affluent learners. She found it frustrating that progress was not being done holistically to benefit all learners. She would welcome a streamlined approach in terms of entities that are too small and who had little impact. Her stance was that the NACI should be located in the President’s Office to ensure the streamlining of information. She wanted to know if the DSI had been adequately capacitated and funded to implement the recommendations.
The Chairperson re-joined the meeting and apologised for her brief absence.
Ms D Sibiya (ANC) wanted to know what mechanisms had been recommended to address the grand challenges of approved programmes and what was needed to implement the recommendations. She asked if the Department was adequately capacitated to implement the recommendations.
Dr W Boshoff (FF+) acknowledged the quality of the presentation and said the Minister should be commended for consulting a panel of experts to help with new plans. He questioned the proposal for the establishment of a new climate change council. He suggested that the functions of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) should instead be expanded because the establishment of new councils often takes a while to become fully functional. He was speculating that the suggestion of a new council might be an attempt to start afresh without the competition and corruption problems that were plaguing government institutions. He did not support the idea of an overarching body residing in the Presidency but was in favour of the recommendation to reinvent the NACI into a legitimate and competent national advisory body. He was however open to being persuaded but needed more information to substantiate his decision.
Ms Mahlatsi echoed the inputs from her colleagues about the good quality of the presentation. She would have appreciated a slide or two on the status quo in science and innovation development, for a broader view of future plans. She asked how resources would be mobilised to enable the programme to flourish and to generate output from the review. She wanted to know what the impact of private investment was on research and how it was enabling support in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). Key to innovation is the ability to harness knowledge at an early age. She wanted to know how the review would impact Basic Education. She asked which sector had the research capacity to contribute significantly to R&D. She wanted to know how coherence as a lever of change was linked to decolonisation. She asked if tax incentives could have a positive impact on resource mobilisation. She was pleased that values were located in the recommendations in response to socio-economic needs. She sought clarity on the link between HESTIIL and the Decadal Plan and asked how the journey should be traversed to avoid working in silos.
The Chairperson remarked that loadshedding was the kind of issue that needed to be urgently addressed. She proposed that the DHET investigate the effect of power outages on the telecommunication system. She confirmed the general consensus that the presentation was appreciated. It had been the posture of the Committee since 2019 to ensure an impactful and inclusive national innovative system and to ensure that it was embedded in the South African value system. The idea of a common identity required a much deeper political conversation to ensure that it is translated to various sectors of society. The Constitution remained the solid foundation for building a value system that could transcend into the NSI. She fully supported the recommendation to reinvent the NACI and concurred that it should have a role in the Presidential Plenary because the President must set the agenda. She identified synergies between the Decadal Plan and HESTIIL in terms of the declining role of SOEs, government departments and the entire public sector. The Decadal Plan should be the overarching plan in which efforts such as HESTIIL should be situated. She wanted to know if the report was going to be sent to the DSI or shared across departments. The Committee needed to keep track of whether observations had been addressed and if recommendations had been implemented. The role that the DHET should be playing to enhance the NDP and socio-economic plan were raised as a concern by stakeholders in the Colloquium on Institutional Autonomy. The report could address the key concerns on cooperative governance to influence the type of research being done beyond climate change events and to help find solutions to pressing problems in various sectors. Government must benefit from the investment it makes in funding the studies of students. She supported the observations and recommendations. The Review Report must be used to stimulate deeper conversations about the role that the DHET could play to get other stakeholders to buy into the vision set out in the report. She asked if an analysis had been done on the strengths and weaknesses of the DSI merging with DHET and if the DSI had been given adequate attention to fulfil its mandate.
Mr Patel indicated that he would allow the Review Panel to use the first 20 minutes of the allocated 30 minutes to respond. He needed ten minutes for his response.
Prof Rensburg remarked that the Review Panel had been informed about the Decadal Plan during ongoing engagements with the DG of the DSI. He confirmed that the work of the Review Panel is done. The report was handed to the Minister, who on the advice of the DG and the Department would be making a call on the recommendations in consultation with Cabinet. Some of the recommendations had been included in the Decadal Plan. He viewed the report as a useful reference document which could be used as the basis for further conversations.
Prof Rensburg explained that up to four or five years ago, the country’s public research programme had been performing well in terms of Masters and PhD output. Growth in R&D had been funded through the R&D Grant. He suggested that it was time to review incentives because contributions had levelled off with the effect of a plateauing in research outputs that has placed the country behind peers in developing countries. He proposed that 50% of the grant should be allocated to support generalised research and 50% should be used to fund specific activities or missions in the Decadal Plan to stimulate the commercialisation of societal grand challenge areas. The R&D Grant should be increased with resources from the DHET, NRF and role players with research commercialisation links. The importance of growing full-time researchers and post-doctoral fellows should form part of the conversations. The state-sponsored grant had been working well but it was time to bring focus in a specific manner.
Ms Pyoos said pockets of excellence were found in terms of research in environmental sciences supported by the CSIR, NRF and SANBI at particular universities, e.g. Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal. The problem with pockets of excellence is that it does not enable optimisation. The degree of influence can shape where science is happening. A consolidated position was needed to develop a focused agenda to avoid scenarios of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Individual organisations should not be fighting for resources. A better case must be presented to drive a national agenda through the National Research Council.
Mr Madisha remarked that the link between Basic Education and HESTIIL could be traced to institutions that together with NGOs work on science advocacy programmes to promote science subjects. The pipeline of learners deciding to do science is created through these programmes. In response to the comment by Ms Mahlatsi about the lack of future plans to develop science and innovation, he drew attention to section 5.3 of the Review Report in which the NSI roadmap is outlined. A small mention is made in the report about decolonisation in the higher education system. The review identified the need for deep research to bring an African context to some research fields including archaeology, palaeontology, history, and forms of heritage to ensure that inclusiveness is reflected in grassroots innovation. He acknowledged that more could be done to be more impactful in communities.
Dr Sibusiso Manzini, Chief Director: Research Development and Support, DSI, appreciated the questions on indigenous knowledge and technologies, and the inclusivity of R&D initiatives. The importance of values should be instilled at the Basic Education level. The role of Basic Education is to set the level of foundational skills through the curriculum. Primary and secondary schools should focus more intensely on building and practising values. Reference to world views such as Ubuntu and Decolonisation required specific application of technology across the four areas of societal grand challenges. There is a wealth of knowledge systems and applications that should be harnessed on climate change and living together with other species. The agenda to bring about solutions and the approach should consider the different sectors of the community that need assistance.
Prof Rensburg explained that the DHET was responsible for the R&D Grant while tax incentives and significant investment initiatives were the responsibility of the DSI. In working together, these resources could be deployed more strategically and pragmatically.
Mr Patel presented the DSI perspective on the handling of the Review Report, the capacity to implement the report recommendations, and DSI and DHET governance arrangements. The HESTIIL panel report was one of several resource documents that are continuously being used as reference when the Department needs to enhance input. Several recommendations are being implemented. Governance appears to be a real challenge in terms of design and structuring. Several areas in the HESTIIL Review Report were taken into account in the development of the Decadal Plan. Without imposing institutional autonomy, the Department need to prioritise and steer the programme to have a greater impact. Recommendations are being reviewed to advise the Minister. The resource documents formed part of a vibrant system to hold officials accountable for recommendations that are not implemented. He agreed that the Decadal Plan remained the overarching plan. In response to questions about the capacity to implement the recommendations and the Decadal Plan, he stated that the organisational structure was being reviewed in consultation with stakeholders and the Minister. The repositioning of the Department was being restricted by the lack of funds. The Department would be using all means at its disposal to affect the repositioning including having engagements with other departments. Discussions on joining the DSI and DHET were ongoing.
The Chairperson thanked the team for the fruitful engagement. The Committee would continue to have joint meetings with other Committees that need to play a role in addressing the socio-economic demands of government. She looked forward to having future engagements with the Review Panel and might invite the panel to assist in lobbying for integration.
Adoption of Draft Report into the Appointment of SMU VC
The Chairperson called on colleagues of the Committee Content and Legal Teams to present the Draft Report on the Oversight Enquiry into the Appointment of Professor Mbati as SMU Vice-Chancellor.
Ms Mamphago Modiba, Committee Content Advisor, briefly outlined the timeline since the Committee resolved on 2 June 2020 to convene the oversight enquiry, and the process followed to date which culminated in the presentation of the Draft Report on 30 September 2022.
The Chairperson thanked her for refreshing the memories of Members.
Mr Boshoff said he initially thought that the matter related to some internal clash within the ANC. He subsequently changed his mind and thanked the team for the report. He supported the report and acknowledged the effort of the previous Chairperson in the process.
Mr W Letsie (ANC) assured Mr Boshoff that there were no internal squabbles within the ANC. He welcomed the report. When the report was initially scheduled for adoption, the Committee received whistleblower information which it could not ignore and which explained the delay in finalising the matter. The Committee was subsequently informed that the alleged affidavits submitted by the whistleblower were fraudulent. People mentioned by the whistleblower were advised to open cases with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and to provide the Committee with case numbers. He regarded fraud as a serious crime and urged the SAPS to investigate the matter. Any allegation left hanging leaves a dark cloud over implicated persons with the potential to be career-ending. People who make false allegations should be severely punished. It was important for the Committee to follow up on the case to determine what the intention of the whistleblower was. On the other hand, if the whistleblower was correct, then the SAPS should make such a determination. It was important to enforce ethical leadership and ensure that a similar case does not reoccur. He thanked all Members who had been participating in the two-year and five-month-long process, as well as the Department and the Minister whose work had been impacted by their participation in the process. The process helped him and the sector with a better understanding of university statutes and potential gaps in this regard amongst universities. He thanked the Content and Research Teams for the sterling job and for producing the comprehensive report. Although there were disagreements, the process was not a witch hunt. The recommendations were sound and the report was a true reflection of the principles of law and fairness. He was hopeful that the recommendations would be accepted as fair and just by those mentioned in the report and that the Committee is seen to have done justice to the issue.
Ms Mahlatsi supported the matter referred to in the report and the input by Mr Letsie. He highlighted the importance of not taking the processes of Parliament for granted. She was grateful to the Content and Legal Teams for a job well done. This was the first Committee to have undertaken this process instead of dealing with the matter through an ad hoc committee. The deliberations were about the fiduciary duties of councils. The Committee acknowledged the work of the former Chairperson who led from the front and commended the current Chairperson for forging ahead with the matter. She expressed her gratitude to Legal Services for the quality report that would be able to stand legal scrutiny. Enquiries were also an important part of the oversight function of the Committee.
Ms Mananiso appreciated the work of the Legal Team and Support Staff and thanked the Members for consistently executing their duties. She was satisfied with the quality of the report. She was pleased that the Committee demonstrated continuity because some Members joined after the process had started. She was hopeful that the recommendations would be accepted and the report adopted. Those who submitted wrongful information to the Committee should be dealt with. Similar matters in other universities should be prioritised because they could create bigger problems if left unattended. She was satisfied that the Committee had played its role as mandated.
The Chairperson said it was important to follow up on recommendations and timeframes to resolve the matter. She thanked the Legal and Research Units for their support and the thought process that went into the recommendations and amendments. She agreed with Mr Letsie that the use of falsified signatures should not be taken lightly. Gaps that might have been identified in the SMU case may apply to TVET institutions. She noted that some of the reflections were not included in the report. It was important to submit all content to the Parliamentary Secretary as a way of strengthening the oversight role of the Committee. The report was adopted.
Mr Letsie announced that the DA mayor in Johannesburg had just been removed. He was extremely happy and said it was a good day in Johannesburg. He wondered if Ms King and Mr Boshoff were sharing his sentiments.
Mr Boshoff said he was less interested in who the mayor in Johannesburg was because he does not reside there.
The Chairperson said Mr Boshoff’s support of the report showed that his fears about the matter had been alleviated. The Committee was able to process gender-based violence matters effectively. Appointment processes should unfold in a free and fair manner, and ethics should not be compromised. The report would be tabled before the House for consideration.
Adoption of minutes
The following minutes were adopted without corrections;
14 September 2022 and
21 September 2022.
Chairperson’s closing remarks
The Chairperson informed Members to expect an announcement about the follow-up meeting with NSFAS after this meeting at 14:00. She requested Members to follow up on cases from their constituencies who needed responses on outstanding matters related to appeals and enquiries. A tentative date for the meeting is next Tuesday, 4 October 2022 in Cape Town. She wished Members a fruitful two-week constituency period.
The meeting was adjourned.
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