National Research Foundation Annual Report 2006/07: briefing

Science and Technology

23 October 2007
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

23 October 2007

Chairperson: Mr G Oliphant (ANC)

Documents handed out:
National Research Foundation presentation
National Research Foundation Annual Report 2006/7 [available at]

Audio recording of meeting[Part1] [Part2] [Part3]&[Part4]

Members of the Committee met with the National Research Foundation (NRF) in order to discuss the annual report. The NRF presentation outlined the significant achievements made during the financial year, the financial results and the challenges faced within the organization. The NRF stated that they had received an unqualified audit report for the financial year, and the entire budget had been spent to actual on target. The main challenge faced by the NRF was the production of PhD’s, and more should be done in attracting people into the field of research.

Members asked the NRF to comment on the steps that had been taken in terms of recruiting the youth and the criteria that was used for the allocation of research chairs. Members also asked the NRF to comment on whether they received a return on investments with regard to the number of bursaries awarded. A member stated that it had been established that many researchers left the NRF in order to work in formal institutions such as local government. The NRF should therefore comment on how one could capacitate those officials in participating in research activities. Members felt that the high absentee rate amongst certain board members of the NRF board was cause for concern and clarity should be provided on the steps that have been taken to improve attendance.

National Research Foundation presentation
The NRF presentation was made by Prof Mzamo Mangaliso, President, NRF. He stated that the NRF’s mandate was to promote and support research through funding, human resource development and the provision of the necessary research facilities. Some of the achievements made include the
finalisation of contracts for the National Equipment Programmes by Research and Innovative Support and Advancement (RISA). RISA had also been successful in awarding 72 Research Chairs to date. The South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) on the other hand, had managed to expand school science programmes, and also design and implement a new national science communication programme. The South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), saw the training of students from different African countries; and the upgrade of Infrastructure at Sutherland.

With regard to the finances the NRF had received an unqualified audit report for the financial year, and the entire budget was spent to actual on target. During the financial year, the NRF funded about 8 592 students for higher degrees, and almost R200 million was invested in the provision of critical science infrastructure for use by all higher education institutions. However the was a still a need for the funding for Infrastructure, and funding for the maintenance & upkeep National Research Facilities.
Another major challenge was the production of PhD’s in South Africa. The
production of high quality PhDs needed to take place in large numbers. As PhDs was seen as the bedrock for an innovative and entrepreneurial knowledge society.

Ms F Mohamed (ANC) focused on page 12 of presentation. She asked for clarity on how one would look at the jobs per researchers, in terms of the number of researchers employed. Clarity should also be provided on whether it was possible to provide an updated version of 2007 PhD list. The NRF should state on what steps had been taken in terms of recruiting the youth, especially those infected with HIV/AIDS.

Prof Mangaliso replied that pg 12 referred to the number of researchers per thousand. He appealed to members to pressure the necessary powers for an increase in the funding of research. Work could be done more efficient and effectively if grant was raised. There was a serious need to start graduating more honours and masters students, and there was also a need to have number of researchers enhanced in order to increase job creation. With regard to the knowledge PhD production rates, the numbers for South Africa could be obtained right up to last year; however problem was the international comparative numbers which were difficult to obtain.

Ms Beverly Damonse, Executive Director, SAASTA, replied that with regard to HIV/AIDS and the youth the NRF was looking into a number of policies such as succession planning. The NRF had a dedicated team which was working closely with schools, and was taking a number of programmes into rural areas. The NRF was also looking for additional funding for university students. It should be noted however that the NRF did not make any investments to the HIV/AIDS population, as they did not have the necessary impact.

Mr J Blanche (DA) stated that there were many people in local government with high qualifications, the NRF should comment on how one could capacitate those officials in participating in research activities. The NRF also needed to start capacitating and motivating the younger generation in order for them to start performing research.

Mr Patrick Thompson, Executive Director, Human Resources replied that in terms of service delivery it was important that knowledge be transferred into service delivery. The NRF had realised that there was an increasing loss of researchers to the formal economy. The NRF had therefore launched a project known as the PhD project, which was aimed at incentivising people sitting in mid career position in continuing with research.

Prof Mangaliso replied that the NRF was trying to increase the funding for students at an honours level. The NRF proposed a two step plan of increasing attracting students into taking up studies at honours level. The first approach was to double the amount of funding given to honours level students and the second proposal was to reduce the requirements for getting into honours.

Prof B Reddy, Chairperson of the Board, replied that over the past year the NRF had brought a whole bunch of top rated scientists into management positions. However it was discovered that the pool of scientists was very small and the NRF could afford to turn scientists into managers, and have therefore launched the PHD programme, which was aimed at increasing the number of scientists.

Prof Krish Bharuth-Ram, Executive Directors: National Facilities, Finance added that South Africa had a bulk of research which was produced by ageing researchers, and the number of people entering the research field was lower than expected. The PhD project was one of the many measures taken to address the problem.

Mr S Farrow (DA) stated that higher education institutions needed to be made accountable for the transfers they received. The NRF should comment on what steps had been taken to gain additional income. With regard to bursaries, there was an increasing exodus of learners to the international arenas, therefore clarity should be provided on whether there was any return on investments. Clarity should also be provided into what was being done to address the issue of mathematics and science at schools.

Prof Mangaliso agreed with Mr Farrow and stated that higher institutions needed to be made accountable when it came to public funds. The DST had been working closely with the NRF in putting out a challenge to the universities to deliver on the PhD’s. The NRF also needed to diversify its source of income, and contingency plans had been placed to approach the private sector. With regard to bursaries plans had been put in place for learners who had taken out bursary to repay the bursary through some sort of service to the nation. The shortfall of mathematics and science was very unfortunate outcome, and the NRF would investigate the matter. The NRF planned on resuscitating a programme in which enabled individuals who were not given the opportunity to take mathematics and science in high school, to return and spend a year learning the subject.

Prof J Mohammed (ANC) asked the NRF to comment on how they monitored the progress of PhD students, and also provide clarity on the meaning of citation intensity. He stated that he found it strange that India had PhD per capita that was lower than South Africa’s, as India tended to be leaders in scientific research. The issue of women in science was a serious problem that needed to be addressed.

Prof Mangaliso replied that the definition of PhD was the advancing of knowledge, and the NRF would provide assistance to students where possible. With regard to women in science, it should me noted that the issue was a serious problem and black women remain relatively fewer in number. It should be noted that India was a country that was heavily populated. Since he measure was calculated by PhD per capita, i.e. number of PhD’s divided by population, then the measure could be discredited.

Mr S Dithebe (ANC) asked whether there had been a turnaround strategy to ensure that the president’s concerns on issues surrounding the sciences were being addressed. Clarity should be provided on whether learners were benefiting from science week and the ICT’S.

Prof Mangaliso replied that there was a turnaround strategy in place and the NRF continued to engange in discussions with the DST. The NRF needs resources so that it could increase the number of bursaries it offers to students and grants given to research.

Ms Damonse replied that national science week was a programme that was headed by the DST. The programme reached many learners across the country. A good relationship had been developed with the South African Broadcasting Co-operation and community radio stations, which enabled the NRF to access areas the organisation could never have gotten into before.

Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) asked for an elaboration on the indigenous knowledge systems and whether the NRF’s recommendations were being taken seriously. The NRF should also comment on the extent in which they collaborated with researchers in the field of science, and what was being done to attract graduates to create job creation for unemployed graduates.

Prof Mangaliso stated that the recommendations by the NRF should be taken seriously, since the organization made collaborations with other system players. The issue of job creation for graduates was an excellent idea which needed to be investigated further.

Dr Albert Van Jaarveld, Vice President, NRF, replied that the indigenous knowledge systems were generally underfunded. The NRF had been in discussion with DST in order to find ways of resolving the matter. With regard to the unemployed graduates, the DST had initiated an internship system which gave the graduates an opportunity to get into the research stream.

Mr B Myandu (ANC) asked for clarity on the criteria that were used for the allocation of research chairs.

Mr Morkel asked for clarity on how the private sector incorporated research into their day to day operations. Comment should also be provided on what steps have been taken to capacitate South African learners in gaining international experience. Comment should also be made on the promotion of science through technology at school level.

Prof Mangaliso replied that the NRF was looking into business enterprise and development in order to determine the way forward. With regard to gaining international exposure, discussion should be made with international firms who used to sponsor such programmes to re-introduce the programmes so that learners can be afforded the opportunities to gain international experience. With regard to the promotion of science through technology, the E Schools programme still needed to be rolled out, and government was the main service provider when it came to the infrastructure. It should be noted that internet access was key to a knowledge economy.

Mr A Ainslee (ANC) stated that there seemed to be a high absentee rate amongst certain board members of the NRF board, clarity should be provided on the steps that have been taken to improve attendance.

Prof Reddy replied that there were many challenges that faced the board, these included geographical challenges. However it should be noted that the present board was fully committed despite the fact that they were very busy individuals.

The meeting was adjourned.


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