Research and Innovation: CSIR briefing; Minister of Science and Technology briefing

Science and Technology

15 November 2005
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Meeting report

PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON ARTS AND CULTURE

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
15 November 2005
RESEARCH AND INNOVATION: CSIR BRIEFING; MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Mr E Ngcobo (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Powerpoint Presentation by CSIR

SUMMARY
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research briefed the Committee on its Research and Innovation Programme offered jointly with the University of Pretoria. The Programme was mainly designed for people like Parliamentarians, professional researchers and senior government officials. Members welcomed the initiative but were somewhat concerned that time constraints would limit their enrollment in the Programme.

The Minister of Science and Technology briefed the Committee on his portfolio’s main activities during the past year. He was excited about progress, but emphasised that South Africa should invest more in science and technology to address unemployment, poverty and service delivery.

MINUTES

Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Presentation
Mr Vlok briefed the Committee on the CSIR’s Research and Innovation Programme. The Programme would be administered through the University of Pretoria and was a unique learning opportunity that was aimed at assisting Parliamentarians, Senior Research Professionals and Government Officials.

Mr Vlok explained what the different modules entailed and gave the course fees. He highlighted how the modules would play a key role in improving the science and technology field. Underpinning skills would be assured by a form of continuing education based on the number of interested people. Short courses could be available in early 2006 based on availability.

Discussion
Mr S Nxumalo (ANC) needed clarity on how the courses would be "mapped out" and whether there were certificates awarded after completion of the short courses.

Mr Vlok responded that certificates would be awarded after students completed their work. Assessment would be through a number of essays and other relevant submissions, while examinations would be managed by SA Qualifications Authority (SAQA) standards. Entry requirements would vary between the different faculties offering the courses. Some of the requirements could be viewed on the University of Pretoria website.

Professor I Mohamed (ANC) asked what products had been produced through science and technology innovation, because he was not aware of such products. He also questioned the extent to which innovative ideas created in South was used abroad.

Mr Vlok replied that he did not have a response to Prof Mohamed’s question, but he thought dreams could only be realised if people were prepared to tackle great challenges.

The Chair questioned the difference between Innovation and Invention.

Mr Vlok replied that "innovation equals invention plus exploitation", adding that invention comprised creative thinking and never running out of ideas.

Resolutions
Members were concerned that there might not be enough time to fit the course in, especially because Parliament was closing soon and using constituency time would not be ideal since local government elections were coming up.

The Committee then resolved that interested Members should submit their names so that at least by early 2006 there was an indication of how many people would take part in the course.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Vlok for the presentation stating that it had been "fruitful" and he hoped for another opportunity to engage the issue again.

Adoption of Minutes

The Committee adopted minutes of 18 October, 1 and 8 November and its Study Tour Report.

Presentation by the Minister of Science and Technology
The Minister, Mr Mosibudi Mangena, reported that 2005 was generally a good year in the science and technology field as well as in the constituencies. He was impressed with the good co-operation from stakeholders, especially the Department of Education. The Minister was very satisfied with the interest shown by the international community to partner with South Africa in ensuring that young people were attracted to science and technology.

It was crucial that the challenges that the Department of Science and Technology faced were addressed. These challenges included an increasing rate of unemployment, poverty, problems affecting SMMEs as well as difficulties in transferring technology to the community.

The Minister expressed great concern with gender-related problems in the field of science and technology. His greatest concern was the difficulty to find, train and retain female scientists. The main reason for this was that qualified women were in high demand due to the requirements of the Employment Equity Act and the high workplace mobility of women. The Department felt that the best way to solve this problem would be to work cooperatively with the public and private sectors.

With regards to Science Centres, the Department had resolved that they would target national, provincial and local levels and would tackle municipalities. This process would ensure that the youth was attracted to science and technology. Providing Science Centres in all provinces would also ensure that even parents were familiar with science and technology.

The Minister informed the Committee that his Department had started programs to support Further Education and Training (FET) for the youth. The National Research Foundation (NRF) had been approached to provide funds in the field of science and technology. The Department was aware that many Black students from previously-disadvantaged backgrounds were under pressure to finish school in order to support their families. As such, they were unable to study beyond school.

The Minister concluded that science and technology was fundamental. It affected all countries and was crucial to improve the lives of the community. The country should invest in science and technology to achieve this goal. Science and technology was the solution to the problems of poverty, providing clean water, better services, better health services and better roads.

Discussion
Mr A Mlangeni (ANC) thanked the Minister for his presentation. He expressed excitement about the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) and its potential impact on tourism. His main concern was the infrastructure at the location of the telescope. Was it accessible as it was said to be in a very isolated area?

The Minister invited Mr Mlangeni to take his grandchildren to see the telescope as proof that the area attracted tourists and as such was accessible.

Professor Mohamed said that he did not believe that it was enough merely to offer mathematics and sophisticated teaching equipment. The real problem was the fact that teachers did not possess adequate knowledge. Funding for mathematics was inadequate which created more problems. He commented that science had been seen by young people as a war tool as it was science and technology that produced machinery such as guns. According to him, this scared young people away.

The Minister responded that mathematics was the most important subject as without it nothing, could be created. To be able to produce astronomers and physicists, mathematics was the key subject. Mathematics was vital even in the production of sangomas, journalists and other social scientists.

The Minister agreed with Prof. Mohamed that sophisticated equipment such as laboratories was not always necessary, but good teachers were important

Mr P Nefolvhodwe (AZAPO) was worried about lack of progress in rural areas in accessing science and technology information and services. He was concerned that there were many potential scientists in these areas, but they were not being nurtured, trained and developed. He felt that these children possessed what he referred to as natural science skills.

Mr Nxumalo agreed, adding that he was concerned with the lack of resources in rural areas. He noted that his daughter was a third year Electrical Engineering student at a Further Education and Training (FET) institution but she had never seen a laboratory. This was not meeting the challenge to attract young people to become scientists with quality skills. Another problem that needed attention was that the job market failed to provide jobs for young people who had Honors, Masters and Ph.D. degrees.

The Minister agreed saying that the department had been faced with these problems for a long time. He agreed that there was an immediate need to introduce modern forms of teaching with modern technologies. The Department of Education was assisting by providing up to date workshops and equipment in FETs which was aimed at developing children. He assured the Committee that his department was committed to reaching that goal.

The Director General added that in an attempt to find employment for young scientists who had qualified, the Department was developing a register that would capture the background, age, gender and other information about those science graduates. The register would be updated on a regular basis to ensure that those graduates were offered internship programmes.

The Chair congratulated the Minister and his delegation on the progress made by their Department.

The meeting was adjourned.

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