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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
13 March 2006
HUMAN SCIENCES RESEARCH COUNCIL BUSINESS PLAN 2006/07: BRIEFING
Documents handed out:
Business Plan for the Human Sciences Research Council: 2006/07
The Human Sciences Research Council presented its business plan for 2006/07 to the Committee highlighting successes, activities and challenges.
Members raised concerns about staff retention, poverty alleviation, local government corruption, partnerships and the Council’s impact on government policy.
Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) presentation
Dr O Shisana (Chief Executive Officer) gave an overview of the work of the HSRC – what it does, its vision and mission, and what it intends doing in coming fiscal year. She dealt with the challenges the organisation faced pertaining to finance, capacity and infrastructure. The HSRC received more grants externally, especially from international donors, than from the parliamentary grants. Government funding at this point was inadequate. About 47% or R128 million of their funding was allocated to research and development (R&D) while about 44% or R120 million was spent on staff.
The HSRC had a problem in retaining black scientists. Most of them left after receiving training from the HSRC. Its infrastructure was inadequate as it was housed in an old building and they had to use obsolete computers. On achievements and transformation, the organisation had a positive image. Its work was well recognised both locally and internationally. However, on transformation there were a number of problem areas pertaining to equity performance although on gender balance they had managed to overcome that. The HSRC was a productive organisation that had a role to play in the development of the South African economy and its people.
Mr A Mlangeni (ANC) said his main concern was poverty in the townships. Most of the people were unemployed while some survived on one meal a day. He asked what research had been done or could be done to help alleviate the suffering of millions of people in the townships.
Dr Shisana said poverty reduction was at the centre of the HSRC’s agenda. Most of their research revolved around job creation, food security and so on. It was important to have direct linkages with the affected communities to conceptualise, formulate and design a research project with them.
Mr B Mnyandu (ANC) asked whether the HSRC had done any research on the impact of corruption at local government level. He commended the HSRC for responding to an earlier request to provide the Committee with a breakdown on equity performance. He also asked how many field workers the HSRC had.
Dr Shisana said research on the impact of corruption at a local government level was a politically sensitive one and had to be done sensibly. On field workers, the Council aimed to have about 56% senior black researchers by 2008. So far they appeared to be exceeding the target. At the present moment, they had thirty-six senior African researchers, nine Coloureds and ten Indians. But as already mentioned, once these senior black researchers were trained they left for greener pastures mostly in government departments. These black professionals were in demand as they were well trained. It would be "nice" to have more resources to retain these professionals. The Council was also targeting demographic changes at executive directorship level. So far they appointed two African executive directors and one Coloured executive director. The Council’s aim was to have a balanced demographic profile.
Prof IJ Mohamed (ANC) said he would like to see the findings of the review panel. On funding, he felt that government should be pressurised to give more funding to the HSRC. On equity performance, he asked for the percentage of white employees and on HIV prevalence, he requested the HSRC to explain its trends to him. He commended the HSRC for a job well done but stated that their publications were so voluminous that a busy person struggled to assimilate their contents immediately. He wondered whether they could not find a better way of producing their publications such as fact sheets, summaries or handouts.
Dr Shisana promised to forward the findings of the review panel to Prof Mohamed. Forty-seven percent of the HSRC’s employees were white. She noted the observation on publications. As for HIV prevalence, she explained that someone who tested positive at age twenty-five was expected to live on average nine years. However, a new trend had emerged and older people were getting infected.
Mr A Ainslie (ANC) also commended the HSRC on its work saying that their documents were very useful. He agreed with Prof Mohamed’s suggestion that they be abridged if possible. On poverty alleviation, what was working and what was not? This was asked because he had seen many promising projects in poor communities fail. A large number of organisations were involved in poverty alleviation. Did the HSRC have any relationship with them? Was there duplication? He asked the HSRC to give him a list of partners it was involved with on poverty alleviation projects. He commented that the HSRC’s work on poverty alleviation and service delivery was related to municipalities. Did they feed their findings through to municipalities? Lastly, he asked what impact their reports had on government and policy-makers.
Dr Shisana felt it was difficult to explain why a large number of poverty alleviation of projects failed. She agreed that there a large number of organisations working on poverty alleviation, but is was unclear whether certain approaches would work or not. The success / failure rate should be measured to determine the correct approach.
Dr Shisana added that the HSRC was working with international donor organisations on food security programmes. This project also included the Departments of Agriculture and Land Affairs and several universities. They were working very closely with the South African Cities Network that included metropolitan councils and municipalities. They also had a close working relationship with the South African Local Government Association (SALGA).
On the impact their research had on government, Dr Shisana said the path from research to policy was a "meandering and difficult one" because they were not the only players. There were various other organisations that were vying for government’s attention such as Parliament itself, non-governmental organizations and various other political formations.
Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) asked how the HRSC could make the research profession more attractive to up and coming young professionals.
Dr Shisana stated that more incentives such as better salaries should be offered to such professionals. Once these professionals had acquired the necessary skills they moved on to jobs where better salaries were offered. That was why they required more funding from government.
The Chairperson asked several questions. Firstly, he observed that the HSRC had "destroyed" the exiles. He did not elaborate. He merely said that that was linked to skills development. He also asked what links the HSRC had with organisations such as the African Renaissance Institution of the University of South Africa (UNISA) and the National Research Foundation (NRF). He also asked whether the HSRC participated in the National Science Week.
The Chairperson asked the HSRC to involve Parliament in their work; warning "as long as parliamentary processes are not involved in your budget, it is difficult for Parliament to intervene on your behalf." Did the HSRC help individuals to publish in foreign journals? On the second economy, he asked whether they had looked at the Chinese model. He urged the HSRC to be self-reliant and asked them to be actively involved in promoting innovation in the townships.
Dr Shisana said she recognised the mistakes the "old" HSRC had made on exiles, but reiterated that the organisation was transforming. They had relationships with UNISA and the NRF and were working on joint projects. On the National Science, she was unsure but would inform the Committee as soon as possible. She added that there was room for improvement in the HRSC’s relationship with Parliament and suggested quarterly meetings to address this problem. They could investigate assistance with publication in foreign journals. On the Chinese model, she said there was more unemployment in China now than previously and the Chinese government was struggling to address that problem. The HSRC would look into grassroots innovation.
The meeting was adjourned.
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