Source: The Department of Science and Technology
Title: SA: Pandor: Address by the Minister of Science and Technology, at the National Research Foundation’s President’s Awards, Erasmia
Dr Gillian Arendse, Programme Director;
Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, NRF Chief Executive Officer;
NRF Executives and Heads of National Facilities;
Vice Chancellors of Higher Education Institutions;
CEOs of Science Councils; and
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted to be here this evening.
If you think about our work in the DST as a pyramid, our investment in universities and basic research forms the base of the pyramid.
With a base that is too small or too weak or too narrow, we would be unable to support a modern business sector or staff our science-council sector.
As the pyramid rises and tapers to its summit, the DST promotes business through a variety of measures like the r&d tax credit at the middle of the pyramid and supports our national priorities or grand challenges at the summit or apex.
Let me be clear about this. We don’t ignore our science missions and our technology platforms, which continue to receive funding, but we do place a special emphasis on our grand challenges - our astronomy and space science industries, our renewable energy industries, and our budding pharmaceutical industry.
The broader, the better, the more secure the base of the pyramid, the easier it is to support an innovative and competitive business sector and a sound government science-council system higher up the pyramid.
Over the past two years we haveincreased our investment in the base of the pyramid substantially - our investment in our future scientists, our investment in fundamental research and our investment in our research infrastructure.
In my budget speech this year I committed government to providing a broadband connection via SANREN to all universities by the end of the year and to funding an additional 62 Research Chairs.
The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) is currently a R200 million-a-year initiative that supports 82 research-chair professors and 10 others co-funded with business.
A half of the current research chairs work in the natural and agricultural sciences, while the other half work in the health sciences, the social sciences and the humanities, and engineering. The majority of research chairs are in basic research fields, but there are a few in technology development and innovation. The majority of these research professors work at our six research-intensive universities.
In three years time SARChi will be a R428 million-a-year initiative that supports 154 research chair professors.
There will be a shift from science to technology.
The 62 new chairs will be in technology fields, like science and technology for poverty alleviation, and engineering and applied technology.
Science remains important. There is an open category that includes fundamental disciplines, and scarce and critical knowledge fields.
We must increase our investment in human capital and produce a greater number of skilled individuals in science, engineering and technology.
We must continue to invest in academic and research staff, and improve the research infrastructure so as to enhance the capacity of the research, development and innovation system.
We must also pay attention to our national priorities. We must continue to build upon the strength of our geographic position – our skies, our oceans, our earth that contains the cradle of humankind - while developing new and emerging technologies necessary and critical for economic and social development.
We can see these new and emerging technologies in advanced materials (aerospace and titanium), in renewable energy – we are working with the DTI (South African Renewables Initiative <http://blog.sari.org.za/> ) and the Department of Economic Development (Industrial Development Corporation) to build solar, wind, and wave industries – and most prominently in astronomy where the spin-off industries in IT have the potential to employ many science graduates.
We wait in anticipation to hear if we have won the bid to host SKA.
But even if we don’t, we still have an advanced astronomy sector with the best optical and radio instruments in the southern hemisphere.
Coming back to the base of the pyramid, a number of years ago the NRF had the foresight to propose and facilitate a study of our PhD education. Under the auspices of ASSAf and the chairmanship of Professor Jansen, the PhD Study <http://www.assaf.org.za/publications/reports/> was produced at the end of last year.
It made a number of findings and recommendations.
One finding was that too few of our academics are equipped to surpervise PhD students. A PhD is a fundamental pre-requisite for a person to participate meaningfully and productively in research as well as to supervise postgraduate students.
One recommendation was to send PhDs abroad for education and training. Many developing countries have established large programmes that develop their research capacity both at home and abroad. China <http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20110421200341899> and India have successfully developed their research capacity by sending students and staff to Europe or the Americas to acquire masters or doctoral degrees.
Brazil has just announced a programme to send 75,000 science students abroad <http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110804/full/news.2011.458.html?s=news_rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+news%2Frss%2Fnews_s14+%28NatureNews+-+Policy%29&utm_content=Google+Reader> over the next three years.
England <http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/jul/10/david-willets-students-brazil-deal> and Canada are keen to receive large batches of these Brazilian students, so as to make up some lost funding in the face of the cuts they have suffered.
There is much food for thought in these developments.
The foresight on the part of the NRF in facilitating the “PhD Study” has put them in a position to advise us on the best way to respond to our research capacity constraints. I look forward to receiving their recommendations in the fullness of time.
Despite our shortage of PhDs, it has to be said that our research output has never been better. Thomson Reuters tells us that our publication output is up since 2004 and that our international collaborations are growing in leaps and bounds.
But the truth is that our research system is currently being sustained by a relatively small number of active researchers. It can’t go on. It’s unsustainable in the long term. The NRF supports only 2,800 researchers out of a potential pool of 16,000. From this pool of 2,800; approximately 1,925 researchers are rated; with 78 receiving the highest rating of A.
Let me take this opportunity to congratulate all the winners here this evening. It’s a pleasure to see excellence rewarded.
We will continue to invest in established researchers so as to ensure South Africa’s international competitiveness in research and innovation. We have to continue to attract and retain the best minds to undertake cutting-edge research in such areas as astronomy (SALT and SKA) and paleosciences; while also helping to solve some of the country’s problems such as the pursuit of clean energy or reducing the burden of disease (HIV or TB).
I should add that the NRF, being in the business of research, is able to learn from many and varied reports on how best to run our universities, businesses and, of course, the country.
ASSAf and NACI are particularly busy. Recently two reports – one yet again from ASSAf - on the humanities have been published and are being busily absorbed by government and universities.
The non-ASSAF report - the Charter on Humanities and Social Sciences <http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=2.> - makes six key recommendations, one of which is the formation of an Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences to enhance research and ethical practice and to advise government departments and stakeholders on issues affecting human and social sciences in South Africa. Another is a proposal to split the National Research Foundation into two entities, one serving the sciences and another serving the humanities.
The funding formula is under review by a committee announced by my colleague Minister Nzimande and chaired by South African businessman and National Planning Commissioner, Cyril Ramaphosa.
The ASSAf report on the humanities <http://www.assaf.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/25-July-Final.pdf> recommends the establishment of a statutory council for the humanities. It also recommends a transformation of the organisation and design of ASSAf, the only recognised academy in South Africa, so that a more emphatic statement of ASSAf's commitment to the humanities becomes self-evident.
Once again, these are thought-provoking reports and I look forward to the NRF’s response to these recommendations.
I would like to close by congratulating the National Research Foundation (NRF) on the wonderful work they are doing in supporting and promoting research in our country.