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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
7 November 2006
HUMAN SCIENCES RESEARCH COUNCIL AND ACADEMY OF SCIENCE OF SOUTH AFRICA 2006 ANNUAL REPORTS: BRIEFINGS
Chairperson: Mr E Ngcobo (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Human Science Research Council 2005/6 Annual Report Power point presentation
Human Science Research Council 2005/6 Annual Report [available at www.hsrc.ac.za]
Academy of Science South Africa 2005/6 Annual Report Power point presentation
Academy of Science South Africa 2005/6 Annual Report
The Human Sciences Research Council and the Academy of Science of South Africa presented their annual reports to the committee. The former broadly covered issues of resource management, and achievements in the 2006 financial year. Notable achievements in the respective categories were the efforts to streamline resource management for efficiency emphasizing the goal to balance funding equally between government funding and independent financing for financial sustainability, and the overall achievement of higher outputs with lower resources indicative of achievements of efficiency. The Academy’s presentation focused on the publication of important general scientific journals and their role in ensuring a higher standard of scientific research in South Africa. They also highlighted international cooperation and relevant studies conducted affecting the broader communities.
Members discussed the impact of the respective research bodies on South African communities especially around issues of HIV/ Aids and poverty alleviation.
Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Presentation
Dr O Shisana (Executive Director) pointed out that the presentation would be consistent with an earlier presentation made at the launch of the 2005/06 annual report. After highlighting the HSRC council membership (see documents), Dr Shisana pointed out that the presentation would consider two broad categories including; resource management and achievement in the financial year of 2006. Finally the presentation would consider some concluding remarks.
Regarding the issue of resource management, Dr Shisana maintained that the focus in resource management was to maximize the efficiency of HSRC’s finances. Staff interaction meetings have also been held to include staff input on improving the working environment. She argued that challenges have arisen in asset management and a new system is being developed to address this issue. Dr Shisana also highlighted the fact that an extensive audit had been conducted. She thanked the finance management division for their efforts with regard to establishing a more efficient financial management approach.
In terms of the functioning of HSRC, Dr Shisana pointed to the crucial requirement of the wellbeing of the staff and thus special efforts have been made in making sure that the staff are healthy, and that their health status with regard to issues such as blood pressure and HIV are known. The strong emphasis on staff health was emphasized based on the assumption that healthier and less stressed staff performs better. Thus Dr Shisana highlighted measures such as massage chairs to increase blood circulation and the establishment of a healthy eating café. The overall emphasis was on reducing stress and fatigue.
Regarding financial sustainability, Dr Shisana maintained that the HSRC has taken the initiative to consolidate marketing and fund raising strategies from a number of small projects and some large ones in order to reduce reliance on government and external grants. According to Dr Shisana, the objective was to establish a 50/50 balance between government grants and independent funds. She pointed out that in 2006 the turnover was R270 million and external funding was reduced from 64% to 61% moving closer to the 50/50 target. The relevant objective trends are included in the documents. The overall focus, however, was on the management of cash flow more efficiently to sustain the organization and a closer relationship with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) was helping with this. Regarding the trend in funding, a steady increase over the years was highlighted with the sharp dip in 2006 due to the restructuring of the HSRC.
Dr Shisana also considered the issue of enhancing policy impact. She highlighted the establishment of a new unit concerned with policy priorities which would offer policy alternatives to government on poverty reduction, unemployment, quality education, HIV and AIDS, and service delivery. As a result of these strategies, Dr Shisana maintained that the DST has agreed to fund research into impact assessment of government policies around these areas, especially with regard to poverty reduction, the pursuit of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, and the improvement of slum dwellings. Dr Shisana also highlighted the responsibility of HSRC through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to address and manage the program of social transformation.
Regarding the issue of capacity development, Dr Shisana argued that the HSRC was committed to capacity development to strengthen its research capacity and quality. She highlighted the HSRC’s major attempt to establish institutional collaboration. The parties highlighted were, government, Higher education of South Africa and universities, the Council for Development and Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), the Social Science Research Council in the USA, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK, and the Chinese Academy of Science. Multilateral co-operation included; the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNAIDS, the European Union (EU), the World Bank, United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and UNESCO. Finally, Dr Shisana pointed out that focus has also been placed on the establishment of “implementation networks” to consolidate the need for research and its broader effects on the society and implementation of policy.
Dr Shisana’s presentation also looked at the monitoring of the performance of HSRC and the acronym PAITELS was used to highlight their, Public purpose mandate, African focus in research and collaboration where 40% of the HSRC’s efforts relate to Africa as a whole, Implementation networking, Transformation, Excellence, Capacity building and Financial sustainability.
Concerning the achievements in 2006, Dr Shisana highlighted the achievements through the COUPE (Contracts Outreach User Performance Equity) strategy where missed targets revolved around external income, while the outreached targets and publishing targets were exceeded. This indicated higher output and quality with fewer resources, which Dr Shisana argued was indicative of a more efficient HSRC. The figures on personnel equity were also highlighted, where in general the number of white females decreased while black female staff increased. A similar pattern was recorded with black and white males. An overall increase in publications per researcher was also highlighted including publications in peer review journals which were much better than expected. The research impact included the National R&D Spending Survey which targeted poverty reduction by identification of relative deprivation levels to highlight the location of poverty to be focused on.
Dr Shisana also highlighted the support to the African Union (AU) vis-à-vis the preparation of the draft for the AU Youth Charter focusing on the rights, freedoms and responsibilities as well as the responsibilities of the respective governments to the youth. Other studies briefly highlighted were the National Prevalence, Behaviour and Communication Survey, studies on Service delivery, and finally the most frequently cited works such as the South African Social Attitudes survey.
To conclude, Dr Shisana reiterated the points made including the achievement of most of the targets set ending with a surplus, improved debt management, the publishing of double the target with fewer resources which was indicative of the achievement of more for less money.
The Chairperson was glad to see that the HSRC’s outputs were useful to the salient social goals of government.
Mr P Nefolovhodwe (AZAPO) began by asking what the reasons for the decrease in white male researchers were. Regarding research he asked if there were any groundbreaking findings that the HSRC had made in their research efforts.
Mr S Dithebe (ANC) posed several questions, the first of which questioned the HSRC strategies to tackle its asset management challenge. He was concerned about the HSRC moving away from government funding which could redefine their role. He asked if certain strings were attached to funding from external sources. Finally Mr Ditebe asked what lessons could be learned from other societies in transition such as Russia and if comparative research could be pursued with regard to this.
Mr V C Gore (ID) asked why black researchers were leaving and what mechanisms were being put in place to attract or retain these researchers. Secondly he asked why no reference was made to disability transformation and research around disability.
Prof I Mohamed (ANC) also argued that the HSRC should not veer away from government support but should rather put pressure on government for more funding as the GDP spending on science and technology was substantially lower than other countries. Prof Mohamed also raised general concern over the appalling situation in informal settlements and argued for pressure on government with regard to this. He was also concerned about dumping citing the case of dumping in the Ivory Coast. He argued for pressure on delivery.
Mr J P I Blanche (DA) was concerned that 40% of focus was on Africa as a whole while issues around physical planning specifically related to the transport of the poorer communities to work far from where they live as an apartheid legacy was still not addressed. He thus argued for a focus on these physical logistic issues in the HSRC’s research. Secondly Mr Blanche asked if there was a language restriction on research publication and if it hindered the inclusion of marginalized sections of society wanting to publish their work.
Dr Shisana responded to the first question regarding the decrease in white males at HSRC. She argued that the decrease was through normal attrition where these males resign even though they are highly valued. However, this phenomenon, she argued, makes room for the employment of black personnel to address transformation to fill the limited posts at HSRC. Concerning the question on ground-breaking research, Dr Shisana maintained that the HSRC specializes in macro studies on national policy issues and these studies are implicitly innovative. She cited examples such as first time studies on Educator Command and Supply factoring in variables such as HIV and other issues such as stress, the South African Social Attitudes Survey, research on the prevalence of AIDS, and impact assessment studies which was unique to the HSRC. All of these served as primary references most frequently cited in the media.
Mr M Fox of the HSRC delegation addressed the question on asset management challenges. He highlighted the problem of misslabeling of barcodes on assets, and pointed out the strategy of electronic tagging and monitoring to allow labour free tracking of assets.
Dr Shisana, addressing the issue of balancing funding, argued that the HSRC’s objective is to gain more money from both sides, but the balance was primary to achieve sustainability. However, she acknowledged the need to pressure government for larger grants. Regarding the issue of external funding and the “strings attached,” Dr Shisana argued that every grant has stipulations to ensure sound research. However, the HSRC, before accepting funding engages with and evaluates these stipulations in order to ensure relevance to the issues that the HSRC attempts to address.
Regarding the issue of transformation Dr Shisana acknowledged the problem of retaining black researchers. She argued that this was partly due to more lucrative and attractive government employment opportunities. However, she maintained that she was glad that the HSRC could serve as a platform on which government capacity could be improved especially with regard to the transfer of senior researchers. Dr Shisana also pointed out that retention strategies are being developed to benchmark remuneration.
Concerning the focus on disabilities, Dr Van Zyl (HSRC) argued that gains in disability equity transformation have been noted near the end of the annual report, but conceptual convolution tends to be a problem. She argued that this comes as a result of the undistinguished idea of functional disabilities impeding the respective agent’s ability to do the job and physical disabilities.
Ms G Karuri, addressing the issue of impact on poverty research, cited examples of research into areas such as the impact of altruism in addressing poverty, and the impact of the 2010 World Cup. Negative impacts such as on the environment were also looked at. Regarding the issue of waste dumping Ms Karuri maintained that she was unaware of this problem in the context of South Africa, but she thought it would be an interesting topic to research.
Dr Reddy (HSRC) also addressed the question of groundbreaking research highlighting achievements such as the participation in international surveys on maths and science in schools. Overall she argued that ground-breaking gains were being made in the intersection of issues on the home, health, education, and the world of work. She claimed that the HSRC was at the forefront of developing holistic national analysis and not fragmented analysis. In terms of the issue raised regarding comparative studies, Dr Reddy maintained that cross country collaboration were taking place such as collaborations with the EU and IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) and she acknowledge that these insights were salient.
Finally, regarding the proximity of workers to the work place, Dr Shisana agreed with the suggestion that research in this regard should be pursued. With regard to the issue of language restriction, she maintained that English was the working language manifest in publications. However, questionnaires and interviews etc. could be done in home languages.
Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF) Presentation
ASSAF was represented by its Executive Officer, Prof Weiland Gevers, and its President, Prof Robin Crewe. The presentation entailed an introduction to the niche of the academy, considered its staffing composition, focused on the issue of journal research and publication in South Africa highlighting such journal efforts such as the Quest journal for high school learners, highlighted its international activities, looked at some study topics engaged with, considered its local activities, and finally reviewed its multi-year strategic plan with a look at its financial statements.
Due to its independent status the ASSAF has a unique role to play in promoting individual disciplines and organization of international cooperation. He also pointed out that the ASSAF is partnered with international bodies such as the Network for African Science Academies (NASAC) and the Inter Academy Panel (IAP). He argued that the ASSAF might be seen as an “independent scholarly voice” which may aid and guide policy development in South Africa. The aim of the academy was the promotion of ground breaking scientific thinking across disciplines, the development of intellectual capacity, most importantly to provide effective advice on the needs and challenges of South Africans, and finally to link SA with the broader international scientific community.
Regarding the administration of the council, the presenter pointed out the council structure with a two year elective rotation, the overall membership of 261, and an infrastructural overview (see documents). Concerning its research journals, ASSAF publishes two journals namely the South African Journal of Science, and Quest-Science of South Africa. The presenter also made special reference to the completion of a study on strategic management of research journals commissioned by the DST as a review of South African journals, and the establishment of the development of a journals publishing unit playing an advisory role for publications of South African journals. Its internal activities entailed a close relationship with NASAC, IAP, and International Human Rights Network of Academies and Learning Societies (IHRL).
The presenter also pointed out the academy’s role in the African Academies Development Initiative (ASADI) with three key partners. The academy received R1.5 million over 5 years for this purpose which entails a separate budget and work plan and significantly develops its human resource capacity. The funding also allowed the development of study topics. The study topics highlighted were the symposiums on evidence-based practice as an establishment of advisory methodology, the nutritional influences on human immunity with special reference to TB and HIV infection, and the ASSAF committee on science and the alleviation of poverty. He highlighted several ministerial requests including the development of regulations under the ASSAF act, increasing the representation in disciplines such as agricultural science in the membership, and enhancing cooperation with the Department of Education in promoting the use of Quest magazine.
Regarding its national and regional activities, the participation in the South African Science and Technology capacities of the 21st century program promoting the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative of SA (ASGISA) and the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA) initiatives, the ASSAF Science-for-Society Gold Medals, the ASSAF lecturer for 2005, and the Sydney Brenner Fellowship were highlighted. The Multi-Year strategic plan which runs from 2006-2009, looked at strategic priorities, the enhancing of public communication, building a resource base for sustainability, and finally providing measurement of success. Finally the ASSAF presentation reviewed its financial statements (see documents).
The Chairperson asked how the academic outputs of the academy might impact on the poor.
A Committee Member asked why most of the awards were granted to the white community. The member also asked why a refund was granted to the Ford Foundation. Finally she asked why so little money was spent on recruitment and training.
Prof Mohamed asked if the trend of male and female students have changed substantially. He also commented that the issue of atomic energy has been in the pipeline for a while and asked what progress has been made regarding this. Concerning ASGISA and JIPSA initiatives Prof Mohamed asked whether anything is being done to address the brain drain of South African scientists.
Mr Blanche asked how the Quest journal was accepted and whether it was distributed throughout South African schools.
Mr Dithebe asked what ASSAF was doing to ensure that as journals are peer reviewed internationally they are accorded the same status and prestige as their international counterparts. Regarding climate change Mr Dithebe asked if government is taking into account their work when developing policy around climate change. Concerning nutrition he asked what innovative steps are being taken to link up government’s comprehensive plan generally so as to educate the general population with special reference to HIV Aids and TB.
Finally the chairperson asked about international representation on behalf of ASSAF and if plans are being made to develop the academy of science to promote science in society. Lastly he asked if any research is being done on developing nuclear and genetic technologies.
ASSAF said that two studies on nutrition and its impact of HIV and TB would have a direct impact on poor communities. Regarding the second study concerning science and the alleviation of poverty he argued that the study specifically looks at interventions in agriculture impacting on the food security of poor communities.
Regarding the question on awards to the white community, ASSAF argued that this was only the case in 2006 and was incidental. Where as in previous years the trend was different.
ASSAF said that because of international funding it was able to employ nine additional black staff; one of them coming from the HSRC. The Ford Foundation refund, he said was a technical matter that was completed early with a residue of funds left over, which was returned to the foundation. Regarding recruitment and training he argued that because of the close relationship with the National Innovation Fund (NIF) and the DST, ASSAF was able to rely on their extensive training programs.
Concerning the question related to the trends in maths and computer science, ASSAF argued that there was a shift from maths to computer science over the years but a reversal is the new trend due to career options in financial mathematics. Regarding solar energy ASSAF alluded to the discovery of a relatively inexpensive way of effectively using solar panels to supply power to rural communities and the manufacturing capacity is being developed both in SA and in Germany.
Regarding the Journals, ASSAF maintained that they have carried out extensive questionnaires with regard to the Quest journal in schools and have had favourable responses. Regarding the peer review journals ASSAF argued that the open access publishing of the best South African journals on the web would be valuable with regard to increasing citation and international prestige. Regarding climate change the presence of prestigious researchers such as Prof Philander was designed to mobilize better research on policy recommendations with regard to climate change and agriculture.
Finally with regard to ASSAF representation, ASSAF argued that difficulty in representation resulted from the limited capacity of the Academy. Regarding the final question regarding nuclear research, ASSAF maintained that they were involved in discussions with the South African Academy of Engineering to establish joint research in this field.
The meeting was adjourned.
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