Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Strategic Plan and Budget 2008/09

Science and Technology

11 March 2008
Chairperson: Mr G Oliphant (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in order to discuss their strategic plan and budget for 2008/09. The HSRC noted that they planned on establishing Centres of Excellence which would look at the areas of poverty, employment and growth, service delivery, and Africa’s social progress. The challenges they faced were outlined.

The HSRC was asked questions on a variety of matters including poverty measurement, whether the Department of Science and Technology was the department best suited for the HSRC to report to, the Technology Innovation Agency, and the quality of education.


Meeting report


11 March 2008

Human Sciences Research Council Strategic Plan and Budget 2008/09

Chairperson: Mr G Oliphant (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Human Sciences Research Council presentation

Audio recording of meeting


Members met with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in order to discuss their strategic plan and budget for 2008/09. The HSRC noted that they planned on establishing Centres of Excellence which would look at the areas of

poverty, employment and growth, service delivery, and Africa’s social progress. The challenges they faced were outlined.


The HSRC was asked questions on a variety of matters including poverty measurement, whether the Department of Science and Technology was the department best suited for the HSRC to report to, the Technology Innovation Agency, and the quality of education.

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Strategic Plan and Budget 2008/09
Dr Olive Shisana, CEO: HSRC, explained that HSRC’s mandate was to
undertake, promote and co-ordinate research on behalf of the State. The strategic priority of the organisation was to focus on national priority issues partly through the policy analysis unit and evidence-based demonstration centres. Some of the achievements included work on employment scenarios being featured in the October 2007 cover story of the Financial Mail, with its editor referring to employment scenarios as the ‘top economics story of the year’. The HSRC had also looked into the tertiary education sector and undertaken a survey of seven universities in order to determine why students dropped out, and how they were absorbed into the labour market. The HSRC planned on establishing Centres of Excellence that would focus on

poverty, employment and growth, service delivery, education quality improvement, and Africa’s social progress.

HSRC’s performance measures, budget, and new thematic research areas were also outlined.

Dr Shisana identified institutional challenges which included ensuring appropriate communication of, and compliance with, the new HSRC Act, and developing terms of reference for the 2009 HSRC institution-wide review. Other challenges were:

Sufficient levels of baseline funding to provide market-related salaries and career growth opportunities for current staff as well as potential new researchers;

Financial support to enable the HSRC to scale up its successful pilot project on data curation, meet future financial commitments in relation to the lease of IT equipment, and address critical problems encountered with its outsourced payroll system;

Engagement with the NRF, AISA, higher education institutions and other role players (including international agencies and South African government departments) with an interest in social and human sciences, on the prioritisation, operationalisation and financing of research opportunities linked to the Grand Challenge of human and social dynamics, and

Lessons learned from work of the newly-established research and demonstration centres, and appropriate models for the management and resourcing thereof.




Mr P Nefolovhodwe (AZAPO) said that it was always a pleasure to listen to the HSRC presentation He referred to the strategy of leasing IT equipment and asked how they managed to safeguard the security of information. He went on to say that it would be helpful to have workshops with poor communities in order to understand what could be done to address the challenges. The HSRC should also comment on the centre for poverty, and provide clarity on the forced removals and how it impacted on the lives of the people.

Dr Shisana replied that on the dialogue with poor communities, there was a need to get answers from people as opposed to prescribing solutions to them. The HSRC had used a methodology in which people were asked to comment on various issues. The HSRC listened to the comments and recorded the conversations. During the conversations new matters were discovered and it was an appropriate way of collecting information.

Ms Audrey Ohlson, Director: Finance, HSRC, noted that most of the equipment being used had become outdated. The HSRC was merely leasing servers and movable equipment such as laptops. There were monitoring procedures in place to address security before the equipment was returned, and the HSRC also had the option of buying the equipment once the leasing period was over.

Dr Themba Masilela, Executive Director,
Policy Analysis Unit, HSRC, replied to the question on the poverty centre. He said that one needed to make connections between the causes of poverty, the process of employment and the priorities that were given to growth. The connections fed through the communities, and their relationship with their environment. The connections were an important area on which the organisation had to focus.

Dr Shisana added that many people came from disadvantaged communities, and were usually unlikely to find jobs. These jobs were not high quality jobs, and would often be temporary and low paying. Therefore there were many inequalities that existed today, and most of them related to the quality of education that the individual received.

Mr R Ainslie (ANC) commented that the Director General of every department should put on old clothing and spend one week of every month working in the deep rural areas. There needed to be closer interactions with the poor. The
Centres of Excellence was an excellent idea, and more information should be provided about them. The performance indicators were very disappointing, and clarity should be provided on whether performance indicators led to policy. On measurement of poverty, it was also disappointing that there was no official measurement of poverty.

Dr Shisana replied that she noted all the points that had been raised. The Centres of Excellence would start on the first of April. The centre for quality improvement education had funding for the next 5 years; the centres for poverty, employment and service delivery would be funded through the baseline funding. On the performance indicators, the HSRC did not measure itself in terms of performance, but on impact. Getting a good measure of impact was not so easy, and it was something the HSRC was striving towards. On the measurement of poverty, there was not a standard measure in South Africa; however there were agreed international measures. Most of the international measures for poverty were not applicable to South Africa.

Dr Christa Van Zyl, Director, Business Development, HSRC, added that the most important measure of performance would be the impact and the outcome. There were been many steps taken between the research and outcome that lead towards impact and implementation. It was the HSRC’s job to make sure that the research made an impact and there was implementation.

Dr Vijay Reddy, Executive Director, Education, Science and Skills Development, HSRC, added that the HSRC worked on looking at the impact in different communities. Projects had been set up in the communities, and learnerships had been implemented so that the members of the community could go into the workplace. On the measurement of poverty, the issue was how one could keep reliable data in terms of determining an adequate measurement. 

Dr Masilela added the HSRC had been working with the Centre for Analysis of South African Social Policy and Stats SA to develop an index of multiple deprivations. The key challenge was to de-fabricate data, so that one could make interventions that had been targeted to specific communities. The HSRC had also been doing work around impact assessment, and tried to ensure that the people who would be affected by the impact were involved in the policy making decisions.

The Chairperson noted that huge budgets had been passed that were meant to deal with poverty, yet when one went to people on the ground, it was difficult to see the impact that had been made.

Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) asked the HSRC to comment on what the HSRC was planning to do that was “Business Unusual”. The HSRC should suggest to whom they thought it was best to report, so that their work would be of value across the board. On the new Technololgy Innovation Agency (TIA), what would be the HSRC’s role in ensuring that the TIA promoted innovations Clarity should be provided on the seven universities, and the role of men in looking into issues relating to gender. The HSRC should also state whether the country was on target to meet the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). What role could the HSRC play around the issue of the HIV/Aids vaccine?

Dr Shisana replied that there were times where their reports were very well received, and government was using work provided by the HSRC. There were also times where research was compiled however the policies that were implemented were not working. The centre for poverty addressed Business Unusual. The HSRC was working with the centres in order to deliver services, and look into circumstances that would make things work. On vaccine testing, the HSRC shared research with the South African National Aids Council. Therefore the HSRC was given an opportunity to work with top scientists in order to develop a plan of communication that would look into issues such as vaccine testing or anti retroviral testing. The HSRC still had to understand TIA, and once understood then the HSRC would apply its mind on how it could assist
Dr Reddy replied that the purpose of the research on university was looking at what happened to students when they reached the university system. They went to seven institutions and the findings were that many students dropped out as a result of family income problems during their first year, while others would leave the system, join the job market and return to study at a later stage. In terms of unemployed graduates, the worrying aspect was that the labour market was very hostile to African graduates, and white graduates who dropped out in their first year, had a better chance of getting into the labour market than African graduates. 

Mr Nefolovhodwe asked whether the report look into the issues of impediments in the labour market.

Dr Reddy replied that there were many social issues that needed to be researched, and the Labour Department had commissioned a study that looked into vulnerable people in society.

Dr Masilela added that in terms of the collaborations with the universities, the HSRC had memorandums of understanding with several universities, specifically with disadvantaged universities. The university staff were given access to the HSRC library and data. On the MDGs and capacity, the HSRC could not address the matter; however the country was making major progress on the MDGs, but was facing a major challenge in terms of human capital.

Dr Shisana said that the Science and Technology Department was the department best suited for the HSRC. This was because the HSRC was dealing with science and was solving the nations problems through science.

Mr P Blanche (DA) noted that the HSRC was answerable to the nation, and that the organisation should look into conducting research that would assist in improving service in communities and generating employment.


 Shisana replied that research was conducted to identify challenges and failures, and the reasons for the failures. The HSRC would identify problems, find solutions and try to replicate the solutions across the country. The HSRC needed to look at systems that could be applied to the different communities taking into account the different political contexts.

Mr S Dithebe (ANC) said that there were difficult and complex issues pertaining to education that had been raised by the HSRC, and that it was really important for South Africa as a nation to discuss the issues. On the policy dialogue that would be taking place, he asked if the Committee would be invited to participate. The HSRC noted that the grant voted by Parliament was inadequate to employ researchers on a full time basis. Was the HSRC asking the Committee to push for an increase in the grant? The HSRC should be commended for embracing open source software.

Dr Shisana replied that that the Committee would be invited to the policy dialogue. She also recommended that Parliament approach the Minister of Finance for additional funding for the HSRC. It wanted to make research a career and it took a very long time for an individual to become a seasoned researcher.

Dr Reddy added that social science research took time, and people needed to see changes in education performance. The HSRC had various approaches at looking at key issues, and there are many factors that had to be taken into consideration when tackling education performance. Interventions in education needed to take place during the early years, and issues such as analytical thinking needed to be stressed as part of educational development.

Mr Silau (ANC) asked whether the centre for poverty related to the State of Nation address. On HIV/Aids, the Minister of Health stressed that there was no cure for Aids. The Minister also stressed that top scientists, doctors and traditional healers should place their expertise together and find a South African cure. HSRC should comment on how they could assist. On education, there was a reference to quality versus access. Was the HSRC looking into how the issues regarding quality of education could be best handled?

Dr Shisana replied that their plan was informed by various factors and the whole issue of poverty was a real government priority, and the HSRC had decided to do something concrete. The organization needed to look at interventions which would look at reducing poverty.  The plan was indirectly informed by the President’s speech, as the HSRC hoped to work with government to address the issues. HIV/Aids was a global issue and the HSRC could not get involved in the matter as it was not in the organisation’s domain. The Medical Research Council was better suited to handling the matter.

Dr Reddy added that the HSRC planned on broadening the definition of education to be more than learning at schools, and had started to focus on the homes. The HSRC also planned on focusing on the FET collages, which was an area that played a key role in providing broader access to education.

The Chairperson noted that over the years the Committee had been looking at the issues that affected society. Research centres should look into ways of addressing crimes and poverty. Government had instruments in place; however research needed to be conducted on whether the instruments made an impact. Another neglected issue was racism; one should not wait for such issues to be highlighted in the media. More needed to be done and researchers needed to be out there conducting evidence-based research.

The meeting was adjourned.


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