CSIR Annual Report: briefing

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Trade and Industry

11 October 2005
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TRADE AND INDUSTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
12 October 2005
CSIR ANNUAL REPORT: BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Mr B Martins (ANC)

Relevant documents
CSIR Presentation on 2004/5 Annual Report
CSIR Annual Report 2004/5
CSIR Platforms for the Future


CSIR delegation: Dr Philemon Mjwara: CSIR Group Executive: Research and Development and Development and Strategic Human Capital Development; Mr Phil Hendricks: CSIR Executive Director: Strategic Relationship Management and Contract Research and Development & Director of Research Centres; Ms Arlene Jacobs: CSIR Administration Officer and Ms Azeza Fredericks: CSIR Parliamentary Liaison Manager

SUMMARY
The CSIR reported on its context and mandate, the state of science and technology in South Africa, the desired future for the CSIR, its financial performance and research and development in various areas of science and technology.

 

The Committee sought clarity on the number of female CSIR staff involved in nanotechnology research, the reasons for the decline in private sector funding of the CSIR and whether its innovation program was addressing the needs of the private sector. The CSIR was asked to explain whether it conducted research into HIV/AIDS and cancer, its measures to encourage tertiary institutions to engage their students in PhD studies and whether its partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry was succeeding in entrenching a developmental approach to science and technology in order to ensure South Africa was active and competitive in the international arena.

MINUTES
CSIR Briefing
Dr Mjwara informed the Committee that the CSIR CEO and President sent their apologies as they were engaged in other commitments, and could not attend the meeting due to the short notice. The Minister had tabled the CSIR Annual Report on 12 September 2005. The presentation outlined the context and mandate of the CSIR, the state of science and technology in South Africa, the desired future of CSIR and provided a review of its financial performance.

 

He highlighted the CSIR research and development in the bioscience, environmental science, information, communications and space technology, infrastructure technology, manufacturing and materials technology, mining industry and in the peace, safety and security industry. Also outlined were the distribution of CSIR staff functions over the past financial year, the progress made with regard to transformation within the institution, its technical output and investment in scientific infrastructure and the CSIR external contract income and its sources.

Discussion
Ms F Mahomed (ANC) sought clarity on the number of women involved in nanotechnology research.

Dr Mjwara responded that the research on insulin gene-based therapy was being led by a woman. Research into nanotechnology applications in manufacturing and the use of nanometrology techniques in support of nanoscience was also being led by a woman.

The Chair sought clarity on the decline in private sector funding for the CSIR, as indicated in the presentation.

Dr Mjwara replied that there were two possible reasons: the first was that were was a general trend towards decreased private sector investment. The second was that the CSIR might perhaps have nothing to offer the private sector, and it was for that reason that the CSIR believed that investing in new areas of science and technology was relevant for industry. The CSIR had however, not yet conducted a scientific survey to identify exactly which areas would be most beneficial, although a Task Team had been established to explore the cause of decline in private sector funding. The output of the Task Team’s work could be provided to the Committee at its next meeting with the CSIR..

The Chair questioned how private sector needs would by addressed by the CSIR’s innovation program.

Dr Mjwara responded that there were four assisting initiatives. The first was for the automotive industry, as it was believed that the use of new light-weight metals in that sector would be an area of the future. The CSIR had thus established a large metals development centre to look at how the metals could be used in the production of components in the automotive industry. The second was the exploration for new methods of advanced manufacturing, and the CSIR was currently involved in a strategy on this matter. The CSIR was championing the process of turning that strategy into a plan. The third was a CSIR national production centre to assist industries in areas of production, such as life cycle analysis. The CSIR tried its best to approach industry and determine their needs so that new technologies could be developed to assist in making production either more efficient and/or to ensure its abidance with sustainable development challenges.

Mr Hendricks added that in 2004 the CSIR had entered into an institutional co-operative framework agreement with the DTI. The agreement aimed specifically at enhancing and aligning operations between the CSIR and the DTI. Some of the work done, by the two organisations working together, had been specifically targeted at the use of technology in, for example, promoting the development of SMME's. The CSIR role had been to develop an implementation strategy, including an examination of the capacity constraints and bottlenecks in the system that needed to be removed to ensure that South African industries exhibited constant growth and remained competitive. Furthermore, the CSIR was involved in a geographic spread strategy with the DTI, which mapped economic activities and access opportunities between the first and second economies.

Mr J Maake (ANC) asked the CSIR to provide a description of its institutional structure.

Dr Mjwara replied that the CSIR used to have a building technology unit called botek, a biochemtek unit which was now called bio-sciences, a defence technology unit, an environmental unit, a materials and manufacturing unit, a mining technology unit, and a transport unit. Those units had since been reconfigured into the following five units: a built environment unit, which had  merged the built environment and transport technology units; a bio-science unit; a defence unit,  including peace, safety and security technologies; and a materials and manufacturing science unit. The fifth was a merger of the former environment and mining technology units, now called the natural resources unit.

Mr H Cupido (ACDP) asked the CSIR to explain the research it had conducted on the advancement of solar energy, both in South Africa and other African countries.

Dr Mjwara responded that CSIR was not involved in the manufacture of solar panels. It was however, involved in the examination of materials that could be used in solar panels to increase their efficiency. He was aware that RAU university was currently conducting pilot studies into new materials that could be used for solar panels, and it was hoped that this study would be deployed throughout the country. Some of the CSIR facilities were being used in conducting this research. The CSIR was thus not directly involved in the manufacturing and distribution of solar panels, but did work with partners who were actively engaged in that field.


Ms Mahomed asked the CSIR to indicate the research it had conducted on HIV/AIDS and cancer.

Dr Mjwara replied that the CSIR was not directly involved in research on cancer, as this was the focus of the Medical Research Council (MRC). The CSIR was currently conducting research on HIV/AIDS, and specifically, the form of production of pharmaceuticals that would have a neutralising effect on the HI virus..

Ms Mahomed asked the CSIR to explain how it encouraged tertiary institutions to engage their students in PhD studies.

 
Dr Mjwara answered that the CSIR had established a human capital development activity in 2005, consisting of three legs, the first of which was to encourage staff members to register for Masters and PhD degrees at universities, for which they would be given time off to obtain those degrees. The second was the intended use of both the CSIR staff and facilities to train Masters and PhD students, as well as to position those staff members who were studying those degrees. The CSIR was thus contributing towards the training of highly-skilled persons. Thirdly, the CSIR planned to put funds aside to assure that this took place. In the previous financial year the CSIR had allocated R400 000 (10% of its Parliamentary grant) to provide such training

The Chair said it was clear that the partnership with DTI was important, but there was a broader policy issue he wished the CSIR to comment on - the realisation that if South Africa were to take its position internationally in the global trade and industry market, it would became necessary to channel development in that sector from a broader scientific basis. This required a much earlier intervention, as early as a revision of school and university curricula to address the needs of the country in respect of hard sciences. He asked whether South Africa was making any progress in terms of development in science and technology.

Dr Mjwara answered in the affirmative. He stated that the CSIR believed that the area of nanotechnology, for example, was an emerging research area and the CSIR had already examined that area of research to identify the challenges experienced by South Africa and to explore how it could be used for developmental activities. In this regard, the CSIR was conducting research into gene therapy, multi-drug resistant TB and the tree-breeding sector. The CSIR was engaged in collaborative discussions with universities to identify means by which the area of nanotechnology could be developed.

He stated that he was not sure whether the CSIR had as much direct influence in the school system as it would like. The only influence it tried to exercise was to encourage the use of CSIR facilities at least to attract students and create an interest in them in the work done by the CSIR.
 
Concluding remarks
The Chair thanked the CSIR for the interaction and stated that the Committee would be following up on and keep track of the work done by the CSIR.

The meeting was adjourned.

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