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AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
24 October 2004
NATIONAL ADVISORY COUNCIL ON INNOVATION & SA COUNCIL FOR NATURAL SCIENTIFIC PROFESSIONS: BRIEFING ON ANNUAL REPORTS
Chairperson: Mr M Ngcobo (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Presentation and Annual report for 2005/06 by the South African Council for Natural and Scientific Professions
South African Council for Natural and Scientific Professions Annual Report (available later at www.sarnap.org.za)
Presentation and Annual report for 2005/06 by the National Advisory Council on innovation (NACI)
National Advisory Council on innovation (NACI) (available later at www.naci.org.za)
The National Advisory Council on Innovation presented its 2005/06 annual report to the Committee and briefed the Committee on the Council’s conception, its functions and objectives. Its statutory mandate was to advise the Minister of Science and Technology on matters pertaining to science, technology and innovation. It was charged with translation of scientific facts into national scientific policy. Development and maintenance of human resources for innovation also fell under its mandate. In answer to a question why there was no financial report, the Council clarified that it handled no finances as this fell under the Department. The Department undertook to forward full financial statements to the Committee. Several questions were asked about the scope and extent of the Council’s duties, and the Committee felt that it should be more involved in the appointment of the Council. Members queried the priorities, the outreach, whether the Minister implemented the recommendations and how the small number of councilors managed to function. It was agreed that the Ministry of Education should also become involved.
The South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions briefed the Committee on its role, which was to protect the community against incompetent practitioners, to gain international recognition and to increase professionalism and competence amongst natural scientists. It advised higher education institutions on training of natural scientists and collaborated on quality control and accreditation of programmes. It was in a stable financial position and had achieved a surplus in the last year. Registration was now mandatory. The number of female scientists registered was at 17%. Challenges included ensuring greater participation by females. Questions by Members included the recruitment time frames and process, the importance of communication on registration and the hiring of non-registered scientists.
The Committee adopted the minutes of meetings between 12 September and 17 October, and discussed correspondence received.
The Chairperson welcomed Professor Calie Pistorius to his first meeting with the Committee. In outlining the procedure, he stressed that each presenter should inform Parliament how far the organisations had achieved the strategic plans outlined at the beginning of the year, and how it had spent public funds.
Briefing by the National Advisory Council on innovation
Prof Calie Pistorius, Chairperson, National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) outlined NACI’s conception, its functions and objectives. He stressed that the statutory mandate of NACI was to advise the Minister of Science and Technology (S&T) on matters pertaining to science, technology and innovation. Translation of scientific facts into national scientific policy also fell under NACI’s mandate. He emphasised that objectives were to promote and achieve national objectives such as the improvement and sustainability of the quality of life in South Africa. It must also attend to the development of human resources for S&T in order to build the economy and strengthen the country’s competitiveness in the international sphere. Since there was a shortage of people with technical skills, the development and maintenance of human resources for innovation through selective support for education, training and research and development, both in the higher education sector and at science and private institutions, was of highest priority to the Council.
NACI briefed the Committee on its governance, stating that the Council met four times a year and the executive met ten times a year, with the sub committee meeting as necessary. The expenditures were controlled through the Department of Science and Technology.
The Chairperson pointed that there was no financial report given during the presentation and asked if it was available, so the Committee could ascertain how public funds had been spent.
Prof Pistorius pointed out that NACI did not handle finances and that DST did the finances for them.
Mr T van der Walt, Department of Science and Technology (DST) stated that the financial position was sound, and NACI had showed a growth of 8.2% for the past financial year. It had also seen an increase in the number of tenders awarded for the year.
Mr M Bhengu (IFP) requested that a complete financial report that included the breakdown of the finances be submitted to the Committee.
Mr Van Der Walt confirmed that a report would be sent to the Committee.
Mr J Blanche (DA) commented that the font size made it difficult to read the report and that in future he would prefer a plain presentation that was more simple and easy to read. He expressed his concern that NACI gave advice to the Government but not to the Committee, and felt that NACI should include the Committee in its consultations.
Prof Pistorius replied that NACI’s function was of an advisory nature to the Minister of Science and Technology and not any other entity.
Mr Blanche expressed his concern on the continuing loss of skills in South Africa since this meant loss of revenue and economy. He wanted to know whether there was success in curbing the loss.
Mr A Ainslie (ANC) commented that he had liked the report. He asked whether there was a system of indicators that showed whether the Minister implemented NACI’s recommendations.
Prof Pistorius replied that it was not within NACI’s job description. NACI was intended to be interpreters and not collectors of data.
Mr Ainslie further expressed his concern that there were only 22 members of the Council, and wondered how they accomplished their tasks. He asked whether any of the five groups dealt with poverty.
Prof Pistorius responded that although NACI had a lot of objectives to tackle, it did not tackle all of them at once within the year. Some were addressed on request by the Minister. Poverty had not yet been addressed. NACI mostly concentrated on the gender equality side of social development objectives. He promised to put the poverty issue in the next financial year planning meeting.
Mr Ainslie was disappointed that the Committee had no participation in the appointment of the NACI council.
The Chairperson agreed and added that the Committee found this to be a strange arrangement.
Prof Pistorius answered that NACI was exclusive to the Minister and as such, it was the Minister who had a right to choose his own advisers. Furthermore he suggested that Parliament consider having another body to advise it on science and technology matters.
Mr S Nxumalo (ANC) enquired how far NACI extended its outreach. Looking into his constituency, there was a discrepancy in the pass rate between rural schools and the “old model C” schools.
Prof Pistorius responded that he will look into this but the Committee needed to keep in mind that NACI dealt with the construction of policies and advice, not the implementation of those policies.
Mr Mohamed questioned what had actually been done regarding promotion of mathematics, since his attempts to acquire the Mathematics paper from the Minister of Education had been met with silence.
Prof Pistorius emphasized that NACI were not executors; their sole task was to give advice to the Ministers. This problem should be taken up with the Minister of Education.
Mr Mohamed commented that the closing down of some national nuclear regulator sites had resulted in the loss of five to six thousand skilled people. Through the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative (ASGISA) they were trying to win those people back but considered that many would not return.
The Chairperson wanted to know what advice NACI gave the Minister regarding social dimensions innovations and the National System of Innovation. On his recent trip to Japan, he learned that in order to tackle the issue of S&T, the country should be divided into, and dealt with various sections, one at a time. This would enable a region to see how to improve itself by developing regional skills of innovation (RSI). He further suggested that South Africa needed to look into the construction of an innovation hub, where all systems in industry interacted with each other, similar to the Singapore models.
The Chairperson wondered whether NACI was not missing its objective when it said it was the responsibility of the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills (JIPSA) to focus on shortage of skills. As far as he knew, JIPSA was a political entity and NACI a technical entity, as they give advice on technical issues. He suggested that NACI look into having a sub group that dealt with development of scarce skills and looked at new ways for their implementation. For example, using the model of India, NACI could start developing children at a much younger age, from primary school.
When the Chairperson had spoken to the current Director General of NACI, they had discussed the Dinaledi projects. They agreed that a strategy needed to be formulated to teach these students, both in the city centres and also in rural areas, the importance of science. In many countries in the world the issue of science and technology was interlinked with the Department of Education in fostering youth participation, and he suggested that South Africa must also look into that.
Prof Pistorius agreed that to encourage youth participation the Department of Education must be involved more actively and he would make a recommendation to the Minister of Science and Technology.
The Chairperson asked for clarification regarding the GLOBELICS project, what it involved and what value it brought to the country.
Prof Pistorius replied that this resulted from a conference on Science and Technology innovations that was held in August 2005 at the Tshwane University of Technology.
Briefing by the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions
Prof Pieter Marais, President of the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions, (SACNASP) outlined the objectives of SACNASP. It aimed to protect the community against incompetent practitioners, to gain international recognition and to increase professionalism and competence amongst natural scientists. Its role in the higher education sector, in accordance with the Natural Scientific Professions Act 27 of 2003, was to advise institutions regarding the training of natural scientists and to collaborate with Higher Education Quality Control (HEQC) in regard to accreditation of educational programmes at universities.
SACNASP’s financial situation had improved substantially over the last two years, mainly due to the increase in number of registrations. The annual fee was held to a 6% increase. It had achieved a surplus of 16.8% in this current financial year.
The Council consisted of four full time staff members and currently one position was vacant. There was ignorance regarding the necessity for scientists to register in the country and this issue must be addressed immediately. The registration was no longer voluntary, but mandatory. The first accreditation visits to the universities would take place within the next two years. The gender distribution of those who were registering showed 17% of female scientists registered, with a greater output expected from the universities.
The Chairperson commented that there was lack of communication between the Council and the profession and that the necessity and importance of registration must clearly be communicated.
Mr Bhengu queried whether the Council had developed time frames for recruiting females and black scientists.
Prof Marais replied that SACNASP had not set time frames or constructed a strategy to increase the numbers but they would look into doing that.
Prof Mohamed commented that he found it difficult to see the colours on the slides and suggested that it would be preferable in future to use number codes in future presentations.
Mr Marais responded that he would take the suggestion into account
Mr Nxumalo asked whether it was compulsory for scientists to obtain their qualifications before registering.
Prof Marais said that it was necessary for them to have graduated first before registering.
The Chairperson suggested that in order for the Council to obtain statistics on the graduates, it must consult with the tertiary institutions to obtain their lists of candidates. He also suggested an awareness campaign for Council members to speak to students and lecturers to teach them the importance of registering with the Council.
The Chairperson questioned what the Council’s response was to companies that hired unregistered scientists.
Mr Marais responded that these companies generally had one or more scientists who have registered. The Act stipulated that if a non-registered scientist was employed, he or she must practise under the supervision of a registered scientist. Many companies used this method.
The minutes of the following meetings were adopted:
12 September, 19 September, 10 October 2006, 11 October and 17 October 2006.
In respect of the Minutes of 10 October, there were some grammatical alterations to the third table on page 2.
The Chairperson announced that the Committee was awaiting feedback from the Swedish Embassy, since a new committee had just been elected.
He suggested that the Committee plan trips to various provinces to do an oversight on science and technology in the schools. The Committee should also plan a meeting with a representative from the Minister’s office to direct this office how many projects there were in the provinces.
The Chairperson announced that he had received a list of fellowship advertisements in various strategic plans in science and technology engineering from the South-South Corporation.
Mr Bhengu requested that the Chair forward the list to members of Committee so that they could possibly identify people who would be interested.
The meeting was adjourned
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