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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
22 February 2005
HUMAN SCIENCES RESEARCH COUNCIL ANNUAL REPORT: BRIEFING
Chairperson: Mr E Ngcobo (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Human Sciences Research Council briefing
Human Sciences Research Council Annual Report, 2003-2004
Human Sciences Research Council Review
The Committee was briefed by the delegation from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) on its 2003-2004 Annual Report. This included an overview of its research priorities, organisation, professional development and finances. The discussion focused on questions of poverty alleviation and the role of the HSRC within the broader framework of government bodies and policy.
The delegation from the HSRC consisted of Dr Mark Orkin, CEO; Dr Romilla Maharaj, Executive Director; and Dr Xolela Manglu, one of the Executive Directors of Research.
Dr Maharaj said that the HSRC’s mandate was to conduct social science research that was collaborative, policy-relevant, user-driven, large-scale and primarily public sector-oriented. She described the staffing statistics, noting that 60% of the staff was black and 53% female. The HSRC aligned its research programme with national and Department priorities, and was organised into ten specific research sectors. Selected achievements of each research sector over the year were included in the Annual Report, as well as a more detailed description of several of the research projects undertaken.
Dr Manglu commented on the programme of research regarding social cohesion and identity, which included studies on social cohesion and leadership, black economic empowerment, the African Genome Project and media relations.
Dr Orkin discussed the major organisational transformations of the HSRC in five key areas that had been criticised in a 1997 review. These were financial investment, outreach with stakeholders and customers, human resources, organisational performance efficiency, and innovation and learning. Parliamentary grants accounted for R80 million and research earnings accounted for the remaining R140 million of the HSRC’s revenue.
Professor I Mohamed (ANC) commented on the low expenditure on science and technology by Parliament. He suggested that the science councils come together to request more funding. Jobs were being lost at certain levels but there was a lack of qualified people to fill the vacated positions. He mentioned a report that suggested that education made no impact on poverty alleviation and asked for Dr Orkin’s opinion on this. He also asked for more information on their Maths and Science Programme in Africa.
Mr S Nxumalo (ANC) asked what criteria had informed the HSRC to undertake certain projects, whether the HSRC had been involved in the learnership programme, and about links between the HSRC and other departments involved in poverty reduction.
Mr A Ainslie (ANC) asked if the ‘Science and Technology for Poverty Reduction Programme’ (SATPOR) was an ongoing programme, if any trends had emerged on successful poverty alleviation projects and the obstacles faced. He also asked if there was a need for more projects and in what ways the technology transfer strategies were "out of sync" with the resources and needs of the country.
Mr B Mnyandu (DA) asked about the HSRC’s approach to youth conceptions of personal identity.
Mr A Mlangeni (ANC) asked for more information on how cellular technologies affected identity.
The Chairperson asked about the relationship between the HSRC and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in terms of HIV programmes. He also commented on the wide scope of the Council, and asked how it saw itself situated within society and government. The issues studied by the HSRC were of social and political importance for understanding and directing social development. The African Genome Project and Indigenous Knowledge Systems were particularly interesting. He asked what the HSRC Act was aiming to achieve, and asked for more information on the Nelson Mandela Institute of Science and Technology in Nigeria.
Dr Orkin said that the science councils and the committee should jointly strategise about increasing science spending and education funding. The benefits of science were indirect and long-term, but investment was necessary for economic development. In terms of education, many different aspects and levels of education should be better linked so that increased spending could be more effective. The Departments of Education in other African countries were being directed to the HSRC by UNESCO for training in the measurement of maths and science improvements.
He continued that their council of stakeholders represented a variety of users and through them, the HSRC responded to signals from the public sector to determine research directions. This included formal and informal tenders and memoranda of understanding put forward by various governmental departments and parastatal organisations. The HSRC also conducted research on anticipated needs, enabling it to play both a responsive and a proactive role in undertaking research.
He reported that learning was concentrated in the mentorship programme, and the employment equity programme had been looking at taking learners straight from high school into fieldwork operations. All research programmes were designed around the core aim of poverty alleviation. Dr Orkin said that there had been an important start-up grant for science and technology in poverty reduction, and that he hoped that the Department would encourage this further. Research was underway to study the effects of cellular technology on social cohesion and the ways that people lived and worked.
Dr Manglu added that there was a ‘societal crisis’ with youth’s reproduction of social and political values. Intellectuals and researchers were involved in putting forward ideas about where society should go in terms of democracy and development, and the internship programme was part of this. Cellular technology had both positive and negative aspects and raised questions about human connectivity and individualism. Indigenous Knowledge Systems did not reflect how people acted as human beings, but more on hard science. Development should be shifted to incorporate values, identity, meanings and culture.
Dr Orkin said that the HSRC had no formal relationship with TAC, but that TAC might have drawn on the HSRC’s HIV research. Most HIV research projects had been instigated from the government. The HSRC was a lateral institution with no single parent department, but many user departments, each with relevant socio-economic aspects to study. They were involved in the African Genome Project to study its social aspects and implications. The technological work on genome studies was mainly being done elsewhere, so they were involved in the social, legal, educational and community aspects of the project. The HSRC Act was mainly aimed at the Council’s role in democratic transformation, that fostered effective policy-making, capacity building in the social science system, and helping marginalised groups.
The meeting was adjourned.
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