Academy of Science of South Africa: Business Plan 2008/2009

Science and Technology

23 May 2008
Chairperson: Mr G Oliphant (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Academy of Science South Africa presented its 2008/09 Business Plan. The presentation focused on the academy’s vision statement, mission statement, financial objectives, budget, United States National Academy funding and the Academy’s programmes.

The Committee's questions included if ASSAf was working with international science academies, if the Academy focused on maths and science curricula since South Africa was facing problems with these fields in its schools and whether ASSAf worked with centres of excellence to promote science research.

Meeting report

Presentation by the Academy of Science South Africa
Prof Robin Crewe, ASSAf President; Professor
Roseanne Diab; ASSAf Chief Executive Officer; and Dr Xola Mati gave a presentation to the committee on the Academy’s 2008/09 Business Plan. The presentation focused on the academy’s vision statement, mission statement, 2008/09 financial objectives, 2008/09 consolidated budget, United States National Academy (USNA) funding and the ASSAf 1-4 programmes.

Prof Crewe made the following additional comments to the presentation:

The academy was broadening its action of excellence to include consolidation and application to for benefit of society. This differed from the international academies’ view of excellence as being strictly scholarly.

The most important objective of the Quest publication was that science discovery occur locally in South Africa and contribute to society and economic development. The academy also focused on ensuring the availability and dissemination of the publication to academic institutions.

The meeting of the Network of African Science Academies Council (NASAC) that took place a few months before resulted in ASSAf being elected as the vice-president of the council. ASSAf was also interacting with the Gates Foundation.

International Academy of Pathology (IAP) was a grouping of 100 councils from 100 countries. ASSAf sat on the review panel of proposals.

ASSAf was also a member of G8+5 group. The group was suggesting the inclusion of health and climate change, issues which directly affect South African, in the agenda for the meeting to take place in Japan.

The financial objectives of the academy included bringing ASSAf’s financial operations to a high degree of efficiency and effectiveness. ASSAf had thus employed a full time Chief Financial Officer as part of this objective.

The Chairperson commended the National Research Foundation (NRF) for regularly attending committee meetings.

Dr A Kaniki, Director of the NRF, re-emphasised the partnership between the NRF, ASSAf and the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

The Chairperson asked how the Academy ensured the participation of members of the public in the drawing up of objectives.

Prof Crewe replied that the Academy had facilitated the participation of the public through the recent appointment of a Public Relations Officer.

Prof Diab commented that the Academy also ensured the participation of the public through its publications

The Chairperson asked if ASSAf was currently working with Brazilian and Indian Science Academies.

Prof Crewe replied by affirming that ASSAf was working with both the Brazilian and Indian Academies of Science. He added that ASSAf had signed a bilateral agreement with the Indian Academy of Science and there had been talks with the Brazilian President at the G8+5 convention over cooperation with the Brazilian Academy of Science.

The Chairperson asked if ASSAf publications were made available to technikons, universities and colleges.

Dr Mati replied that ASSAf was currently in the process of strengthening its database of academic institutions receiving its publications. In addition there was also a process to “massify” the distribution of the publications, specifically to lecturers and students.

Ms Ncobo asked what ASSAf was doing as a new organisation in the science and technology field and if any research had been done on the current readership of publications.

Prof Crewe replied that ASSAf was a new organisation and therefore had to focus on establishing its profile and track record. ASSAf was also trying to establish the appropriate model for the South African context. The Academy had assessed the UK model and had established that it was not completely appropriate for the local context and could not simply be transposed into South Africa. International models had thus been adapted to suit the local context.

Dr Mati commented that ASSAf also had a monitoring and evaluation function. The dissemination of research reports and publications included a follow up through a questionnaire. Since the Academy had been strengthened, it would proceed to directly interface with readers in addition to the questionnaire. The Academy had also taken its publications, such as the nutrition reports, to research institutions that would critique them and provide feedback.

Prof Diab commented that as the new Chief Executive Officer and as a new member of the Academy, one of her primary objectives was to increase the profile of the Academy. She added that the Academy through the Quest publication managed to interface with the schools and get the readers’ opinions and contributions.

A committee member asked whether ASSAf would be involved in the implementation of the model.

Prof Crewe replied that ASSAfF would be involved in the implementation, although it was very small and would need assistance.

Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) referred to the Quest magazine and commented that South Africa was facing maths and science problems in schools. She asked if the Academy focused on maths and science as a matter of interest and concern since South Africa was facing problems with these fields in its schools.

Ms Ngcobo commented that the committee needed to interface with scientists and experts over issues and concerns affecting society.

Prof Crewe replied that it took about a year and half to meet the appropriate reporting methodology for maths and science. It was therefore a lengthy period before the Academy could report on issues that it found problematic in maths and science, as much interest and concern though it had over the fields. Nonetheless, if the Committee had particular issues of concern the Academy could facilitate an expert on the subject to give a presentation to the Committee on the issues of concern.

Prof Diab commented that the Academy’s program on systematic studies of evidence based issues of national importance also addressed the issues surrounding the maths and science subjects. She added that the schools had also asked the Academy through the Quest magazine for assistance with their curriculum change. The Academy was attending to the request.

Ms Ngcobo asked for clarification over the indication that ASSAf aimed to influence policies through its work and decisions.

Ms Ngcobo asked to know whether ASSAf worked with centres of excellence to promote science research.

Prof Crewe replied that some of Academy members were also members of the centres of excellence and the Academy was also trying to integrate the centres and have their work distributed and communicated to the public.

Ms Ngcobo commented that it was important for the Committee to regularly meet and interact with the Academy.

Prof Crewe commented that the scholarly publications resulted in recommendations for implementation as indicated in the presentation.

Mr C Morkel (ANC) commented that the Academy appeared to be made of a collection of individuals who had achieved a level of excellence in their field of expertise. He asked if the Academy also interacted with other scientists who were not part of the elite group of scientists.

Prof Crewe replied that the Academy members had to be recognised as leaders in their field of expertise regardless if whether they were registered with relevant associations. He added that the Academy was above all concerned with individuals’ contributions to their field of expertise and made an effort not to exclude anyone. The membership of the Academy was very broad thereby bringing a in a range of diverse experts on a particular field.

Mr Morkel asked to know how the Academy dealt with views expressed by other scientists not part of the academy.

Mr Morkel asked to know if there was a criteria used by the Academy to identify or determine a matter of national concern. He further asked to know how the Academy dealt with situations when government departments had different opinions over issues the Academy had identified as matters of national concern and if there was a peer review process.

Prof Crewe replied that issues of national concern were raised by both government departments and individuals. He added that the Academy, through the evidence based studies, assessed the evidence if divergent views arose on a particular topic or issue. Through its panel, the Academy safeguarded against bias by looking at the affiliations of the individuals who gave opinions on an issue. The academy also made sure that the members of the panels knew each others’ background so they would able to identify conflicts of interests and affiliations that had the potential to create biased opinions. Through these mechanisms, the Academy thus ensured that they did not have any minority reports on particular issues or topics. The reports by the panels would be sent to independent reviewers for their opinion. He added that the entire process was rigorous in order to protect the reputation of the Academy.

Prof Diab commented that the field of science was broadening to include social sciences. The inclusion of social scientists brought on control measures against bias and ensured objectivity in determining issues of concern, passing opinions and reporting.

Mr Morkel commended the Academy for the work it was doing with the Quest publication. He asked to know the level of the readership and audience the Academy was targeting in its Quest publication.

Dr Mati replied that the target audience of the Quest publication was mainly the youth, although it targeted a broader audience including readers who had a general interest in science as opposed to experts and academics. He added that the main agenda of Quest was to change the perception that science is not related to societal issues.

Prof Crewe commented that the Quest publication was mainly for the youth who were considering entering the science field and also for experts who wanted to get a general perspective on how the field was progressing.

Mr J Blanche (DA) asked whether it was not important for the Academy to consider other scientific journals in order to ensure that there was no duplication of material.

Mr Morkel asked whether the dissemination of information through the journal was a risk against the protection of intellectual property.

Prof Crewe replied that the question was exactly what information was being disseminated through the publications. He added that the academy asked the writers and institutions to provide copyrights. It was however up to the individuals and institutions to determine what information what intellectual property was worth protecting. He added that it also took approximately 7 years to get approval on a concept then have it protected. It was therefore a lengthy period, and it would therefore take very long to publish material if it was decided to protect information as intellectual property.

Prof I Mohammed (ANC) commented that there was a legislation that prohibited the publication of material without registering and getting the approval of the Department of Science and Technology. He added that this was a concern and a problem he had faced and decided to publish his work outside South Africa. He asked to know if Academy’s publications experienced such problems.

Prof Crewe replied that the legislation Professor Mohammed might have been referring to was the Intellectual Property Bill. He commented that individuals faced the dilemma of determining whether they had a piece of intellectual property worth protecting. Protecting intellectual property was important although the process was very long and daunting.

The Chairperson thanked ASSAf for its presentation and congratulated the Academy on the unbroken record of unqualified reports.

The Chairperson asked if the Academy could provide details of the collaboration it had with the Oppenheimer Foundation. 

The meeting was adjourned.


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