Department of Science and Technology Budget & Strategic Plan briefing

Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


09 May 2007

Chairperson: Mr B J Tolo (ANC, Northern Cape)

Documents handed out:
Department of Science and Technology budget and strategic plan 2007/08 – 2009/10

The Committee was briefed by the Department of Science and Technology on their R&D strategy, framework, strategic initiatives, policy options and budget for 2007/8- 2009/10. Strategic goals included ensuring the national innovation system addressed economic and intellectual growth. It aimed to develop a highly representative and competent group of scientists and reducing importing experts. The Department’s initiatives in the 10 year plan include the establishment of competency centres, foundations for Technological Innovation and Public Goods. The projected expenditure for the next MTEF cycle up to 2010 was tabled. Total expenditure was had increased by 8% from the previous year. Transfers and subsidies accounted for 92.9% of funding.

Members asked questions on the monitoring of entities funded by the Department, its decision to allocate high percentage of funds to further education facilities, the number of research chairs and its work with other Departments. Questions were asked on the availability of assistance in the rural areas, the percentage of male and female students at camps, the steps to publicise careers in science and future aims in regard to funding. They expressed concern regarding the cessation of some projects and enquired what strides were being made in new technology innovation. It was pointed out that the results of science projects were not always immediately discernable. such as the mopane worms’ silk production and Dinaledi schools.

The Committee could not adopt the minutes from the previous meeting as it did not have a quorum.

Department of Science and Technology Budget and Strategic plan 2007/10:
Ms Marjorie Pyoss, Acting Director General, Department of Science and Technology (DST), briefed the Committee on the strategic plans and budget for financial years 2007/08 and 2009/10.She began by outlining the research and development strategy, which included improving the technical progress, business creation and social impact programmes. She continued with the core programmes in innovation, human capital and core infrastructure. 

The aim of such plans was to encourage the youth to take a more active role in the development of science and technology. In order to encourage more youths to participate in research activities at Universities until post doctoral level, DST were instigating centres of excellence. Foundation for Technological Innovation (FTI) offered support to the commercialisation of university research to benefit the public. DST also offered lucrative bursary schemes. Currently there were 21 research chairs in universities and the Department was aiming to allocate 32 more by 2010.

The strategy model included promoting South Africa as a preferred destination for global science facilities, establishment of Academy of Engineering, increasing capacity in technological intelligence, focusing on sustainable livelihoods through aquaculture and dealing with health innovation in human settlements. The South African Academy Bill was still under negotiation.  DST would be meeting with Cabinet on 6 September 2007 for further deliberations.
Some of the achievements Ms Pyoss alluded to were approval of the Space Agency for South Africa being approved, and tax incentives for R & D being approved. From the R10 million of international leveraging money, R 80 million was received by SA Science from foreign sources.
The International centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology would be based in Cape Town. The completion of the Sumbadila construction was completed. South Africa was also short-listed to host the square kilometre array (SKA) in June 2007.South Africa hadcompleted the design of the Karoo Array Telescope (KAT) prototype dish.

Ms Pyoss tabled the projected expenditure for the next MTEF cycle up to 2010, comparing it to expenditure in the 2007/08 financial years. She projected that total expenditure had increased by 8% from the previous year’s estimation and would increase to 12% for the 2008/09 financial year. Transfer and subsidies accounted for 92.9% of funding.

Mr M Thetjeng (DA, Limpopo Province) was concerned about the funding to carry out research being given at the highest level of education. He asked what was being done at grade level to encourage the youth to take science streams at high education levels.

Mr Lebs Mphahlele, Director, Science and Youth, DST, replied that the DST strategy to lure more youths to be exposed to science and technology was in inviting them to camps, where they could be exposed to careers in science and technology, and given application forms to tertiary institutions and scholarship forms. In addition DST had an incentive scheme to enter into such careers.

Ms F Mazibuko (ANC, Gauteng) commented that she did not see any correlation between what had been presented with what was happening in her constituency. She questioned why DST put the centres in developed cities and not in rural areas.

Mr Mphahlele replied that there were youth camps across the country, offered by DST, in conjunction with the Department of Education. Each province had a representative who dealt with such matters as the development of youth in Science and Technology. These representatives were to make contact with the schools in the communities and tell the learners how to apply.

Mr Mphahlele added that the DST was planning to increase the number of the centres in the country.

Mr M Thetjeng (DA, Limpopo) stated that there were many teachers in schools who did not know of the procedures to be followed for gifted learners in the school who would need financial assistance for further education. He wondered how the learners could get in touch with the proper authorities.

The Chairperson requested DST to give a list of the people responsible for the development of science and technology in various provinces.

Mr Mphahlele replied that the list would be given to the Committee secretary at the end of the meeting.

Ms F Mazibuko (ANC, Gauteng) expressed concern with 90% of the budget allocated to tertiary institutions, bearing in mind the other sectors such as the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) .She wondered what was DST’s expected outcome of such a strategy.

A representative of DST replied that his department focused on life skills and academic problems that students faced at postgraduate level.

Ms Pyoss added that a 10 year plan was proposed to encourage investments to be escalated fivefold from matric to post doctoral level. She further expounded on the database for unemployed science and technology graduates. She noted that DST collaborated with Tshumisano and Universities of technology for internships. More “fablabs” would be put up to target people who did not necessarily have science and technology backgrounds.

Mr M Sulliman (ANC, Northern Cape) wondered whether funds were just being allocated to anybody who wanted to carry out a research project, or whether there were precise research topics to be investigated. His main concern was that for the past ten years there had not been major breakthroughs in science that South Africans could call their own.

Ms Pyoss assured the members that there were strides being made in bringing new ideas from South Africa, however small these might seem. She gave examples such as cage net fishing used in aquaculture. Solar panels patented to South Africa would be manufactured in Germany due to the lack of manufacturing factories here. As a contribution to the economy, three other businesses hadshares in the project and South Africa could further manufacture or sell the technology to other African countries.

Ms Mazibuko asked for the gender breakdown at the camps.

Mr Mphahlele replied that 55% were girls and 45% were boys, attending the camps in all provinces.

The Chairperson asked why DST aimed at using only 1% of GDP, whereas other countries such as Japan aimed at 3%.

Ms Pyoss replied that DST was aware that the percentile was low. That was why the target would be increasing as the ten-year plan moved ahead. She reminded the committee that South Africa is still a developing country.

The Chairperson asked DST what they were doing in regard to Dinaledi schools’ financial support.

Ms Pyoss replied that the Ministers of Science and Technology and of Education would meet to solve the problem.

Ms J Masilo (ANC, North West) wondered why the project that used mopane worms for making silk in Khanyisa was halted.

Ms Pyoss replied that the project was stopped due to lack of capacity to convert the cotton balls to silk.

Mr M Sulliman wondered whether the Department was satisfied with results they were getting from the higher education institutions.

Dr Anusha Lucen, GE: CS&G, DST, replied that one had to remember that investing in science was not short term. There were shareholder complexities in terms of what was being monitored. The monitoring performance in South Africa used balanced score cards which looked at the financial and non –financial aspects. These monitoring tools showed that DST was indeed making a difference, even though small.

The Chairperson reminded the meeting that sometimes the results of developments in science were not as immediately determinable than in other departments. He hoped the Committee would  be able to meet with DST more often to monitor their progress, in terms of research being conducted country wide.

Ms Pyoss informed the members that the corporate strategy had been approved and was available.

Committee business
The Committee could not adopt the minutes from the previous meeting as it did not have sufficient members to form a quorum.

The meeting was adjourned.


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