Knowledge Production for SA Economy: University of Cape Town briefing

Science and Technology

13 September 2005
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


13 September 2005

E Ngcobo (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Declaration from Conference on Knowledge Production for South Africa
Cheryl de la Rey’s PowerPoint presentation

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT) repeated her paper on knowledge production for the South African economy that she had recently presented to a conference on that theme. There was a need to increase the number and improve the representivity of staff across all the sciences, and develop quality research skills.

South Africa was the only African country that was part of the ‘global knowledge network’, but it was still not a full and equal participant in the global network of knowledge production. There was a distinction between producing knowledge and applying knowledge.

The role of higher education institutions was two-fold: they were the primary sites of basic science and disciplinary development, and the primary sites for research capacity development. The nature of the ‘academic job’ was changing.

Knowledge production could be transformative for empowerment. There were several requirements for changing knowledge production, such as focused, concentrated mechanisms, a differentiation within networked relationships, and management leadership.

The Committee discussed topics such as employment for PhD students, South Africa being the only African country that was part of the global knowledge network, the possibility of a conference on knowledge creation with all the relevant stakeholders, the quality of education, and funding for sabbaticals.

The Committee adopted the minutes of their last meeting of 6 September 2005, with minor amendments.

Professor de la Rey’s briefing
Professor Cheryl de la Rey, UCT Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research and Innovation, said her briefing would be similar to the presentation she had made to the Conference on Knowledge Production for South Africa.

Key issues to be addressed included:
- improvement in the number and representivity of workers across the whole spectre of sciences;
- developing quality research skills;
- international competitiveness;
- gender equity; and
- increasing production of new knowledge and applications.

Professor de la Rey said the number of women in the knowledge production sector had increased faster than in any other country in the last decade.

A problem like the recent typhoid fever should not be seen in South Africa, as investments in science should allow South Africa to deal with problems like these. South Africa should tackle distinctive national development challenges and invest in people.

Regarding the dynamics of knowledge production, Professor de la Rey said South Africa was part of the global knowledge network, the only country from the African continent. However, South Africa was mainly a destination of developments from elsewhere, rather than a full and equal participant in the global network of knowledge production. There was a distinction between producing knowledge and applying knowledge. There were differences among science disciplines and fields of research and there were multiple sites of knowledge production, such as universities, research institutes, science councils and the industry.

The role of higher education institutes was twofold: it was the primary sites of fundamental science and disciplinary development, and it was the primary site for research capacity development.

The nature of the academic job was changing. Research became mostly part-time activities for academics. The percentage of full-time academics had not increased in proportion to the growth in student numbers. A large number of academics at South African higher education institutions did not produce any research outputs.

Research training could not occur in the absence of research activity. Scientific careers developed slowly; it could take fifteen to twenty years for a career to develop. The development of undergraduates was critical. Traditional models had to be rethought. The ability to think and innovate had to be taught, not only static skills sets.

Knowledge production could be transformative as a site for empowerment. The challenge was to make sure that knowledge was also disseminated to groups previously excluded from this process.

Incremental approaches, diffuse and fragmented mechanisms and "one size fits all" solutions would be ineffective in transforming knowledge production. In a developing country, the latitude for error was small, as the public purse had to be well spent.

She presented the following requirements for changing knowledge production:
- focused, concentrated mechanisms;
- differentiation within networked relationships;
- leadership and management;
- local needs linked to global networks
- early identification of future innovation and technology areas to become a leading nation;
- alignment of policy instruments and business processes
- effectiveness, efficiency and productivity;
- basis infrastructure;
- new relationships between higher education, science councils and industry;
- collaborative competition;
- social-economic responsiveness and engagement; and
- funding based on full cost principles.

One of the ways in which new relationships between higher education, science councils and industry could be fostered, was through allowing members of the different institutions to take sabbaticals and attend one of the other institutions.

Mr R Ainslie (ANC) said they wanted to increase the number of people with PhDs, but many people with PhDs were not finding work. Many were finding jobs overseas, indicating that the quality of the qualification was not bad. He asked if any studies had been done and what the problem was regarding this matter.

Professor de la Rey said people with PhDs were leaving the country as a consequence of globalisation, and the scientific community had to come to terms with this trend. They needed an idea of numbers of students to be trained. They were becoming far more nuanced in how they enrolled students. They had to be responsive to South Africa’s needs. There was not a study on the phenomenon of people with PhDs not finding jobs. Many graduates did not find jobs in the field for which they had been trained. Graduates should be trained for innovation. Several end up making a contribution to the economy.

Regarding a problem with the quality of graduates, she said there were not enough school leavers with the required qualifications in mathematics and science. The University of Cape Town had undertaken a mathematics and science programme, as it was also in their best interests to improve the quality. The problem was not uniform. Some of the best students in the mathematics and science fields were from the Northern Cape, where the teachers were of high quality and the community believed in education and science. More research should be done on the problem.

Mr S Nxumalo (ANC) asked why South Africa was the only country from Africa participating in the global network of knowledge creation. Professor de la Rey answered that some West African countries, like Nigeria, had many more scientists than South Africa, but they were working outside of the continent. Many investments, from the likes of SASOL, paid off in terms of capacity increases for South Africa. South Africa had a certain level of capacity and human resources that positioned it well as part of the global network.

Mr Nxumalo asked if the challenges of HIV/AIDS slowed the development of scientific careers. Professor de la Rey said many people were doing HIV/AIDS research. They did not have a capacity problem and had several funding opportunities and were producing good outputs. Yet a solution for HIV/AIDS in the form of a vaccine was still a long way off.

Mr B Mnyandu (DA) noted the demarcation between the production and description of knowledge. He thought they should talk about ‘knowledge creation’ rather than ‘knowledge production’. Professor de la Rey agreed that ‘knowledge creation’ would be a more suitable term. Knowledge description occurred more in the social sciences.

Mr Mnyandu said there had been a call that students should be in partnerships with staff. He asked if this would put undue pressure on students. Professor de la Rey said expecting students to publish created undue pressure. However, if a person studied for a PhD, it was a realistic expectation and should be done. PhD students should render work of a publishable quality. They should expect some responsibility from the supervisor. Professor de la Rey revealed that they planned to keep a student for three months after the completion of his/her studies by providing a stipend to allow the student to publish.

Professor I Mohamed (ANC) complained about the funding and grants for sabbaticals available to researchers in South Africa, and the assessment of research projects. Professor de la Rey said institutions had limited funding. Therefore they did not want to take risks. It was a problem that institutions were looking at quick fixes. Sabbatical funds were nowhere close to what it should be, because of the limited funds available. The funds at their disposal had to be managed. Scientists travelled a lot, but it was a necessity, because of South Africa’s geographical position. They needed to better choose the conferences that scientists were attending. Professor de la Rey agreed that peer reviews could "go wrong" in the assessment of the quality of work.

Professor Mohamed enquired about the quality of mathematics and science teaching in schools. Professor de la Rey said they were addressing the new curriculum. Higher Education institutions were still discussing what should be included; therefore she could not give a clear position.

Professor Mohamed said when fundamental research was done the researchers also had to be conscious of community needs. Researchers were funded by the community at large, so they could not just ignore the community. Professor de la Rey said fundamental research was something with which they were constantly grappling. The traditional mechanisms, such as publishing, had to be managed. Investments in fundamental research that did not lead to publishing should be stopped.

Ms F Mahomed (ANC) asked how they would implement the sabbaticals. Professor de la Rey said the issue of how sabbaticals would work was one with twhich they were still grappling. They had a draft document, but part of the problem was the remuneration packages. It was worrying, as there was no easy solution.

Ms Mahomed enquired about trade agreements in global networks. Professor de la Rey said that higher education had been a follower in term of trade agreements.

Ms Mahomed said the demand side was not addressed enough. She suggested a conference, including all stakeholders to address the demand side that would affect the nation. Professor de la Rey welcomed the idea of a conference. It would be very beneficial to look at the demand side. All stakeholders would have to be brought in. Ms Mahomed said it would be "great" if the Committee could play a part in such a conference.

Ms Mahomed asked that empirical statistics on the transformation of students be sent to the Committee. Professor de la Rey said there were statistics on female and black students. The numbers of black students and female black students had shown the fasted growth in the field of chemical engineering. The numbers of white women in engineering had not increased, as it was more likely that they would follow the patterns of past generations. Overall, the statistics were still not what they should be for black women.

Ms Mahomed said South Africa was very lax on research. Heads of departments did not put pressure on their staff to publish. She asked why South Africa had such a culture. Professor de la Rey said Ms Mahomed’s assessment was correct, but the system was changing to put more pressure on researchers to publish.

Mr J Blanché (DA) did not believe that the economy would grow by increasing the number of people with PhDs. They should look at the example of countries like Japan and Taiwan. They should also study growing the industry and businesses, which was why there was no work for people with PhDs. Many Zimbabwean graduates were working as domestic workers in Johannesburg. The Committee should look at technology; they were concentrating too much on PhDs. There was something wrong with what they were doing. There should be a quest for excellence in the industry. Universities should concentrate on developing technologists rather than PhDs.

Professor de la Rey agreed that a differentiated sector was needed. Engineering and technology graduates found employment quickly, without doing PhDs. A company like SASOL relied on research and development. South Africa was not producing enough PhDs for SASOL’s research and development needs.

The Chairperson thought an integrated approach was needed. Only a few people were needed to innovate. Countries like China and India had recruited quality PhDs from elsewhere. Technology belonged to anything that was innovative. Technologies should concentrate on the unskilled people at the base of communities, as China had done.

On the topic of people moving out of South Africa, the Chairperson said black people did not have a home outside of Africa.

The Chairperson said that if you went to the science councils, you could see how well-trained people were not used because of attitudes. The human element was taken out of the debate on knowledge production and the point would be missed. Very good people, from historically disadvantaged groups, had to teach because they were not employed properly otherwise.

It seemed to the Chairperson that there was a lack of co-ordination. It was very important that a programme was established in the government framework. He was glad that Professor de la Rey mentioned the problem of co-ordination.

The Chairperson said a very important issue was missed in the presentation and discussion, namely PhD training, where some of the best scientists had been trying to produce students following the scientist’s thinking. It was a repression of talent.

The meeting was adjourned.


No related


No related documents


  • We don't have attendance info for this committee meeting

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: