Academy of Science of South Africa and Tshumisano Trust Strategy 2007/08

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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


22 May 2007

Mr E Ngcobo (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Academy of Science of South Africa presentation
Academy of Science of South Africa Business Plan 2007/08
Tshumisano presentation

Tshumisano Trust website
Academy of Science of South Africa website

The Academy of Science of South Africa presented a budget which had grown substantially over the last three years and which was also being funded by its American counterpart, the National Academy of Science. The vision of the Academy was to assist the country in providing solutions to problems that plague South Africa and the continent. They believed that evidence-based science and a multi-disciplinary approach to problems must find solutions. One of their first objectives was to facilitate free access to information. A report on nutrition and infectious diseases was in the offing and further studies in areas of poverty alleviation and small scale agriculture were some of the issues the Academy were confronting. These reports and the assistance the Academy could provide in the application of the recommendations made in these reports, would determine whether the Academy lived up to its ideals. In turn the Academy needed to be supported in its endeavours. The Committee mainly asked questions around duplication, environmentally friendly technology and relations with other countries.

The Tshumisano Trust presented a Business Plan for 2007/08. The proposed budget showed the Department of Science and Technology contributing R36 million and total income adding up to R46 million. The contribution from Germany was some R3.6 million. The organisational structure would increase by three people in the coming year. Strategic objectives included:
- a 20% increase in the number of Technology based SMMEs assisted,
- clustering of Technology Stations to enhance impact in focus areas,
- better functioning of all Technology Stations and Institutions of Advance Tooling (IATs),
- promotion of interaction with relevant SETAs emphasising skills development and training,
- ensuring delivery on the mandate of IATs and
- continued dialogue with the University of Technology Management and Higher Education structures.

Committee members raised the question of geographic location of IATs and Technology Stations and the apparent degree of involvement of Germany to the exclusion of any other countries.

Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF) presentation
Prof Wieland Gevers, Executive Officer, presented the Academy of Science of South Africa Business Plan for 2007/08. The vision of the institute was to be the apex organisation for science and scholarship in South Africa. It would do so by ensuring that its membership included the country’s most active scholars in all fields of enquiry, facilitating the generation of evidence –based solutions to national problems.
It was not simply an honorific academy, but one which envisaged bringing real solutions to pressing problems. The Academy had grown from four members of staff in 2004 to fourteen staff at present. Overall objectives for the coming year were consolidation of capacity, exercising governance, mobilisation of members, increasing an understanding of the Academy throughout government, delivering high-quality products, ensuring well functioning international linkages and overseeing the implementation of ten recommendations of its 2006 Report on a Strategic Approach for Research Publishing in South Africa.

Prof Gevers said they had formed links with countries like Russia and Hungary, while the US National Academy provided them with funds and support. He said the National Academy of Science in America had conducted 200 studies in the previous year of which 90% had been commissioned by the government. Similarly, it was a priority to increase the scope of commissioners of studies by the academy. He said they would maintain their basic model of volunteer service where members were only paid travel and subsistence. They also wanted to increase the distribution of the magazine Quest tenfold.
The ASSAF had set up a Consensus Study Panel for examining the issue of nutrition and infectious diseases and the report was due this year. They had set up a committee to oversee a broad study of selected topics in the use of science to alleviate poverty in South Africa. Equally significant was the production of a national report on research publishing with strong and feasible recommendations for improving the nation’s capacity for and contribution to high quality scholarship and research. |

Membership of the ASSAF currently stood at 279, of which 210 were men 66 were women, 201 were white and 75 were black. Internationally the representation of women in similar academies was not strong even after many years of establishment. The American NAS only had a 7% female membership, while the British Royal Academy had only 8%. The activities of the ASSAF were divided into four programmes:
- Programme 1: Administration and internal activities, including governance, membership and infrastructure. They required R2 017 747 for this programme.
- Programme 2: Strategic management and publication of SA research journals for which R3, 43 million was required. The latter was envisaged if government Grant-in-Aid funds were received this year.
- Programme 3: International academy relation requiring R217 718.
- Programme 4: National and regional activities requiring R382 200,
This totalled almost R5 million. This budget had been approved by Minister Mangena in February 2007.

Mr E Ngcobo said that despite the fact that the budget had been approved the committee still had a responsibility of oversight, whereby they assessed the progress made and the utilisation of funds.

Mr M Bhengu (IFP) said that the Committee was not tied by the approval of the Minister and that it could still accept or reject the budget. He commented poverty alleviation seemed to have become a very convenient bandwagon for the motivation of many projects, but that most of these so-called efforts were in fact only debating fora, from which very little materialised. He asked what was being achieved in this regard. He also questioned the gap in representivity.

Mr J Blanche (DA) asked why members of the Academy were elected individually, instead of involving corporations. Conflict often arose where individuals represented themselves. He suggested the electrical and mechanical engineering institutes be included as well, such as with the Amalgamated Automotive Institute. HE welcomed the review of journals, since in his opinion many were not up to scratch. He asked whether the Academy was recognised by other American and European Academies besides the Russian Academy.

Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) asked how the Academy sought to attract black women to the institute, as well as those with disabilities. How did the Academy address the challenge of skills shortage and JIPSA. Did Academy work in coordination with other institutions with regard to the task of poverty alleviation in order to prevent overlapping of work? She asked what was meant by indigenous journals and what the Academy stand was with regard to tuberculosis (TB) and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDRs and XDRs).

Mr B Mnyandu (ANC) asked for clarification with regard to the values espoused by the Academy and whether they wanted to maintain an independent state of mind, or independence from government, since at the same time they acknowledged their social responsibility in development and in assisting the government in their mission statement. He referred to recent developments in Australia where it had been made possible to extract the carbon dioxide component from coal, considerably improving the possibility of using this resource while not adding to the greenhouse gases causing global warming. He asked whether South Africa intended using this technology, since we had some one to two hundred years worth of coal resources left in this country. He said such technologies should be considered just as valid as the development of renewable energy. He expressed concern that ASSAF ensured that they did not duplicate the activities of other institutions in their role of promoting access to science in society and that resources should be pooled in such an event.

Mr Ngcobo asked to what extent the Academy had connection with other countries and how it intended to manage the perception of science in society, such as the issue of nuclear power. He asked how the Academy intended managing short-term political goals with long-term needs of the country, as well as the concerns for environment globally, such as the phenomena of environmental degradation and climate change. He pointed out that NACI were also well placed together with the Academy to provide the Minister with advice on these questions. He suggested that since the goal of providing free access to all scientific journals was going to be unavoidably expensive, he asked whether there were no creative solutions or alternatives to this issue.

Prof Gevers accepted that the Committee had a responsibility to ensure the appropriate use of funds and achievement of objectives. He was a keen to show the progress the Academy had made over the last few years from very meagre beginnings. It had grown into an institution that was here to stay and to serve the country. He agreed that the poverty alleviation theme had been widely abused and that in many instances similar agencies would submit a report and then wash their hands of the consequences or follow-up. The first report submitted by the Academy would be fully implemented. The spirit of the academy was to work with practitioners in order to facilitate real solutions and positive change. He recounted the instance where recently at a workshop for small-scale agriculture they had come into contact with a scientist from Zimbabwe who had found a method of providing farmers with virus-free sweet potato vines. This simple yet effective intervention had seen a rise in production from one ton per hectare to forty tons per hectare. This had changed the industry from one of subsistence to one which had commercial value. It was such simple yet brilliant interventions that the Academy was looking to providing to the country through evidence-based solutions. It did require support and resources to apply such solutions.

Prof Gevers said the Academy was at pains to elect all eligible members and that their members were from all backgrounds and indeed quite youthful, compared to many similar institutions. Furthermore, he said that of the ninety-five such academies across the world, most of them elected their members on an individual basis, since it was this model which seemed to be most effective, where other models had failed. It did not preclude looking at affiliations to other bodies, such as those mentioned by Mr Blanche, as this would also open up the possibility of greater access and representation in large enterprise. He said at least ninety out of two hundred currently accredited journals were of questionable value and therefore review was urgently required.

Prof Gevers said the Academy worked closely with the United States, as well as other African countries like Nigeria and Uganda. They were also affiliated with the Royal Academy in Britain, as well as their counterparts in France and Germany. The G8 countries had also formed further links with the emerging economies of Brazil, India, China and Mexico in this respect. The latter were routinely invited to attend meetings of the G8 heads of state

Prof Gevers said it was of utmost importance to the Academy to become more representative, since multiple perspectives were essential to the understanding of problems and their possible solutions. It was therefore essential to include women and those with disabilities, in their efforts to become agents of change. This also included JIPSA, for which they were keen to offer their services. They had approached the Departments of Education and the NRF in this regard. They were meeting the president of the NRF, Prof Mangaliso, in order to determine their modus operandi. The NRF was more a delivery agency, responsible for bringing up the next generation of scientists and the Academy did not want to interfere with this. Further synergy would be encouraged between NACI (
National Advisory Council on Innovation), which was now headed up by Dr Vuyani Lingela. He said the impact that the Quest magazine was having had been measured to some extent by the inclusion of surveys and questionnaires in the magazine, which was distributed to all secondary schools from grade ten to twelve. Although not many of these surveys had been completed and returned to them, those that had had indicated a very positive impact. Some more research in this regard was being done in the Dinaledi schools where a study was being conducted by PhD students on the degree of impact the magazine was having outside of all the other interventions. .

Indigenous journals referred to journals which only concerned themselves with science and technology of South African origin and which were published here.

Regarding the question on TB and the multi-drug resistant virus which had now reared its head, he said that their report on nutrition and infectious disease was in the pipeline. 

He agreed with Mr Mnyandu that the wording of the values of the Academy could be corrected which was meant to foster an independent state of mind unattached by vested interests of any kind, whether political or commercial. Their approach was one fully committed to the development of the country and doing so by working closely with government in order to provide solutions. He said the Academy had held talks with NAG, regarding the process of carbon sequestration, which was becoming an increasingly imperative consideration. He agreed that as one of the countries which still had substantial coal resources, the technology should be made available to use this energy in as environmentally appropriate way as possible, while at the same time continuing to explore newer technologies for energy solutions.

Prof Gevers said that Quest was one of the ways by which they were promoting the public understanding of science. They also wanted to establish a media centre for the purpose of providing the science behind certain stories and to serve as a media conferencing hub when public sensation or consternation had been created around certain issues.

Free access was very costly but the benefits far outweighed this cost. Instances where government had funded this free access were in the South American countries of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, where sixty Spanish journals with English abstracts were available to all at government cost. Japan had gone this so-called gold route and some states in India. The expensive part of access was publishing and printing and distribution, not so much the electronic aspect. Free access sometimes increased citation tenfold, sometimes from nil citation before access.

Prof Gevers reiterated the Academy vision to be the apex organisation for science and scholarship. He said knowledge developed as science developed, but that public debate could only happen if that knowledge was made available to society. He acknowledged the fact that science had to be harnessed in a way which balanced the need of human prosperity and health, with that of good global citizenship.

Tshumisano Trust presentation
Dr David Paho,
Chief Executive Officer, presented the Business Plan of the Tshumisano Trust for the year 2007/08. He said the mission was to develop capacity of institutions of higher learning, to improve learning and competitiveness of SMMEs in economic sectors. The Trust had established technology stations across the country, but this still required further expansion. The report on staff components within the programmes did not reflect well in certain instances, since trained staff members were often absorbed by industry. They were also still lacking representivity among blacks, women and people with disabilities.

Currently they had 111 interns which would increase to 120 spread throughout the country next year. Technology development initiatives for SMMEs totalled 1120 for 2006/07. Training and skills development for SMMEs showed some measure of success where on site upgrading of technology and skills had occurred, but resources in this area were spread thinly and required more support. Figures of the clothing and textile industry had decrease from year to year due to the increase in cheap imports from the Far East.

Programmes the Trust had initiated were the Institutes for Advanced Tooling (IATs), the Limpopo Agri-food Initiative and the Mpumalanga Agri-food Initiative. A SWOT analysis highlighted where improvement was needed, especially the need for more research output, the problem with staff turnover at Technology Stations and IATs and competitiveness. Achievements were cited as being increasingly prominent, support from the Department, buy-in from university management structures and improvement of cost recovery. Mr Paho raised the alarming fact that some R5 billion was spent on importing tools into the country and that this trend needed to be reversed.

Mr Blanche said he was surprised to see a station in Bloemfontein, since there seemed to be very little metal manufacturing there, whereas it might have been better situated in Gauteng, Port Elizabeth or Durban, supporting industry in these centres. He also would have thought that a plastics moulding plant would be more needed in Gauteng rather than Durban.

Mr Mnyandu asked whether use was being made of experience in higher institutions rather than depending on consultants. He asked whether other relationships had been forged with other countries such as Sweden, as there seemed to be en emphasis only on links with Germany. He asked what the relationship was between the Trust and the centres of excellence.

Mr Ngcobo asked whether these consultants were also German and what level of co-ordination was taking place between the Trust and the DTI and other similarly inclined institutions.

Mr Phaho said that the centre in Bloemfontein was the best-equipped centre in the Southern hemisphere and that it supplied companies across the country in the aerospace and automotive industry. The first jet engine was being built here and it was a centre with national as well as international reach. The centre in Durban served the Toyota manufacturing plant there. Mr Phaho said their relationship with the centres of excellence was to act as a conduit and to deliver a new generation of technology. He said the model on which the Trust was based was indeed based on a German model. The Trust did however have linkages elsewhere with Finland among others, as well as countries like India and Brazil through IPSA. He said they employed only one consultant and he was South African. His task was to develop SETAs at the moment.

Mr Blanche reiterated the point that this station was in the middle of the maize country and that small-scale business would be better served to have a component manufacturer closer to them.

Mr Phaho acknowledged that there was perhaps such a need, but said there was a station in Johannesburg and that the station in Bloemfontein did the prototyping of tools, which served all sectors and the entire country.

The meeting was adjourned.


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