Council for Scientific and Industrial Research; Human Sciences Research Council Annual Reports: briefings

Science and Technology

24 October 2005
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Meeting report

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
25 October 2005
COUNCIL FOR SCIENTIFIC AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH; HUMAN SCIENCES RESEARCH COUNCIL ANNUAL REPORTS: BRIEFINGS

Chairperson: Mr E Ngcobo (ANC)

Documents handed out:
CSIR Power Point Presentation
CSIR Annual Report [available at www.csir.co.za]
HSRC Power Point Presentation [available at
www.hsrc.ac.za]
HSRC Annual Report
Dr O. Shisana's notes

SUMMARY:
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) presented their 2004/05 annual reports to the Committee.

Members asked about the difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified staff; the need to increase the number of researchers; research into the so-called second economy and collaboration with other African countries.

MINUTES

CSIR briefing
Mr P Mywara, Executive Director informed the Committee that the mandate of the CSIR was to foster, through multi-disciplinary research and technology innovation, industrial and scientific development, either by itself or in co-operation with the private or public sector, and to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of the people in South Africa.

He stated that they had increased their staff directly involved in research from 42.3% to 48%, while support staff decreased from 98% to 82%. The goal was that in 2006, 50% of staff would be directly involved in research.

He explained that CSIR had been involved in new initiatives such as producing an edible, biodegradable coating for export fruit to extend its shelf life. Also they were involved in a biotechnology-based process to extract natural carteniods from algae, production of pharmaceutical proteins in plants and gene therapy.

The CSIR was involved in environmental initiatives. They did a landmark study on the capacity of South African ecosystems to deliver services, conservation of river biodiversity, treating acid mine water drainage, and developing synthetic forests of the future through nanotechnology.

Mr Mywara explained that the desired future for CSIR was to strengthen science and technology by investing in the staff; primarily the research staff. Also, he wanted to retain and grow sound business and commercial discipline and wanted to enhance the relevance and impact of science and technology in South Africa.

HSRC briefing

Ms Nomboniso Gaza (HSRC Council member) presented the Committee with the annual report of the HSRC. She presented the mandate and the organizational structure as well as the goals of the organization. She stated that the HSRC was as catalyst and an energizer in that it supported and coordinated research in the human and social sciences. Also, the HSRC provided advice on research, distributed the research, conducted public interest research and evaluations, as well as training for young people particularly for black women.

Their achievements included sound financial management and performance. They received a parliamentary grant and had raised two Rands from outside funders for every one Rand received from grants. The HSRC had not accumulated a surplus or registered a deficit.

The goals of the HSRC were to expand funding so that it was sustainable, to improve external collaboration, to ensure that research remained relevant and to improve performance.

The goals for the future were to make the HSRC both a human and social science research council; to become the knowledge hub for research and debate so that they could generate solutions on public policy challenges, and to implement research networks with NGOs and donors to implement evidence based programmes. The HSCR also wanted to create an Africa-wide network to jointly explore history in a non-imperialist manner, and therefore attract African scholars to harness their expertise and energy to target the challenges facing the continent.

Discussion

Mr A Ainslie (ANC) wanted to know why there were difficulties finding qualified scientific professionals. He also wanted clarity on the infusion of new staff members. He asked what the CSIR was doing with regard to economic development and quality of life and what the relationship between the CSIR and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) was.

Mr Mywara stated that the CSIR was dependent on qualified people who could make a significant contribution. He was unsure about the problem but estimated that young people were going into different fields that were more economically viable. He said that reconfiguration and new staffing was important because it addressed the appropriate mechanisms for exploring knowledge and it would make sure that the role of deal making with enterprises and communities was sustainable. He stated that presently they were negotiating with universities to get young people working on degrees in the science and technology field. They were also involved in mentoring young people.

Mr M Bhengu (IFP) asked if there was a detailed plan to make open software more accessible in South Africa so that people were not so dependent on Microsoft.

Mr Mywara stated that they had made a lot of headway in making open software more accessible. They were also working on awareness of open source software.

Professor I Mohamed (ANC) stated that he thought the objective of the CSIR was to create more niche products. What were their niche products and had they achieved their objectives?

Mr Mywara stated that they did not have any niche products at the moment.

Mr P Nefolovhodwe (APO) wanted to know what initiatives they had for protecting the health and safety of miners.

Mr Mywara responded that in terms of law, all managers had to ensure proper and working equipment. They were looking at self-extraction of minerals in future projects, and had been involved in testing the safety of ropes that miners used.

The Chairperson asked how far gene therapy had advanced. He also wanted clarity on human resource diversity. He asked when the ICT had been launched and why the Committee had not been invited to attend.

Mr Mywara stated that the ICT was launched a few months ago and apologized for an invitation not reaching the Committee.

Mr Bhengu asked if they would be increasing the number of researchers. He also wanted clarity on their funding.

Mr Mywara stated that they would be increasing researchers and that they were working with the National Research Foundation (NRF) and universities to achieve this. He stated that 15% of the parliamentary grant was used to build internal capacity and 85% was used for training.

Mr Ainslie wanted to know about the second economy and its relationship to the CSIR. Did they take into account the role of other organizations with regard to resources?

Mr Mywara stated that he felt that the CSIR alone did research on the second economy but they were looking at involving the social sciences. He said that funding was structured and they were receiving sizable donations. They were hoping to use some of the money to secure additional funds. Their intention was to continue to develop more projects to ensure there was enough knowledge for tomorrow.

The Committee agreed that there was a need to attract young people into the field of science and technology.

Mr Bhengu asked the HSRC if they had done research on employment growth and development as well as poverty and equality. He also wanted to know what kind of collaboration they had with other organizations.

Ms Gaza stated that they needed to balance tendered projects and research they had initiated. They have had discussions with other organizations about joint projects and were trying to secure partnerships.

Mr Ainslie wanted to know if the HSCR was able to assess their impact on society. He noted that they had included success indicators in their report, but how was the impact measured? He also wanted to know what the second economy was.

Ms Gaza responded that impact was difficult to measure because it depended on many variables. There was the issue of time limitedness of research because projects looked at specific areas and issues at one point in time.

Ms Gaza stated that they were doing research on the second economy in conjunction with developmental organisations, but they were looking at developing a coherent programme of intervention on the second economy in the future.

Professor Mohamed stated that only 40% of their funding came from government grants and that they needed to focus more attention on government grants.

Mr I Cachalia (ANC) stated that he thought they could have given a better description of human demographics.

The Chairperson wanted to know if they were linking their efforts with the SAHARA network and the Senegal conference. He suggested there be a workshop on this topic.

Ms Gaza stated that the Minister had invited the HSRC to be a part of the Senegal project and they felt that it was important to make the SAHARA project a part of that programme.

The meeting was adjourned.

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