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Address at Human Resources for Knowledge Management in South Africa conference, 23 June 2005, Minister Naledi Pandor speeches


Address by the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor MP, at the conference on “Human Resources for Knowledge Management in South Africa”, Cape Town

23 June 2005

Minister of Science and Technology,
Distinguished Guests

I am delighted to address you at this national conference on research in all its many aspects in South Africa.

The range of topics and the number of role players brought together over the next two days clearly indicates the complexity of the task involved in research development.

The presence of guests, who are involved in this enterprise in an international context, also makes it clear that the theme for this conference is an issue with which many countries in the developing and developed world continue to grapple. Skills development for research and development is a challenge for governments across the world.

According to an HSRC-commissioned survey South Africa spent about 0.81% of GDP (R10.1 billion) on research and development (R&D) in 2003/04 (our target is 1%), which is an improvement on the 0.76% of GDP spent in 2001/02.[1] However, this improvement conceals three worrying trends: the decline in our research output, the decline in our research capacity, and the decline in our public spending.

There are six issues that we see as critical to improving South Africa’s strategic research priorities.
1. We need more researchers with PhDs
A concerted national effort is required to generate an interest in academic research, particularly among our young people.
We need to develop strategies for attracting and retaining young people in a national research network that will not only benefit our national research and development agenda, but will also benefit social and economic development in our country.
Some universities have established emerging researcher support programmes and these should be emulated through the sector.
Emerging researchers need to be encouraged to study for higher degrees. We are short of researchers with PhDs in our universities.
Our poorer universities have learned that if they are to compete for research contracts they have to upgrade the degree qualifications of their staff. And some of our poorer universities have been extremely successful in doing this.

2. A renewed emphasis on strategic research for development
If we are to meet the development challenges we face in our country and on our continent, it is critical for the higher education sector to expand the number of researchers in fundamental and strategic research.
The foundations for our push into research for development has been the radical reform of the curriculum in schools, the revamp of the vocational and further education sector, and the streamlining of the higher education sector in order to make the supply of skills, particularly in scarce skills areas, more relevant to national development needs.
In saying this, however, I must reiterate that there must be a place in our system of innovation for research across the spectrum – pure and applied, disciplinary and inter-disciplinary, and short- and long-term knowledge production and development challenges.
Clearly this has implications for student literacy in general and mathematical and scientific literacy in particular at primary and secondary levels. We have begun to strengthen efforts to improve education outcomes at these levels. The culture of enquiry is an aspect that is explicitly encouraged in the approach to curriculum reform we have adopted as a country.
3. We need to broaden the participation of women and blacks in scientific research
Our focus in the immediate future must be on consolidating reform initiatives and on ensuring that our development objectives are indeed being achieved.

This will only happen if growth in the level and quality of the academic and research labour force is improved.
Nationally, the task of improving our research capacity may be vexing at times, but if well planned and coordinated, it provides particular advantages for growth and development.
Factors influencing recruitment, retention, and conditions of service for academics and researchers need to be explored, identified and improved in order to create the conditions required to build and expand the cohort of researchers in our country.

I am pleased to report that there has been progress in terms of human resource development for research and development. In 2003, in the field of science, engineering and technology, black graduates accounted for two thirds of the growth in graduates since 2000. This is heartening when compared to the fact that in higher education institutions, black graduates accounted for just over half (52%) of the growth in graduates overall. Despite such progress, the representation of black and women students among the pool of existing and potential researchers remains lower than desired.[2]
Gains have also been made in postgraduate enrolment and graduation particularly among black and female students, but these gains are under threat. The level and quality of researchers at higher education institutions and research agencies is under pressure.

The new funding framework for higher education rewards research output and also provides incentives for improved research activity at institutions, but the low baseline of such activity in many instances remains a critical concern.
Low success rates for black learners in higher education institutions also point to problems in the equity of success, and black students remain under 40% of head count enrolments at the postgraduate level. This is clearly a source for concern both because of the need for specialists in research and development, but also because it effectively signals sustained inequity in the academic and research labour market in the medium to long term.

In addition, our higher education institutions and science councils have to ensure that conditions are created in which black students are made to feel like valued members of the research community. Existing research agencies will need to provide support of both the technical and the “softer” variety of skills in an effort to make working environments attractive to postgraduate students and junior researchers. The research community needs to be responsive to the needs of emerging researchers in a way that enables them to carry out and communicate their findings so as to make a place in existing research networks.

This will require innovation in research methods and models applied in South Africa. It will also require a flexible approach to research partnerships and support with a renewed emphasis on monitoring and evaluating research outcomes both quantitatively and qualitatively.

4. Government’s role is to facilitate public-private partnerships
Expanding research capacity will increasingly involve an expanded role of the private sector in research investment.
In fact, business already contributes more to research and development than universities. According to HSRC research for 2003/4 “the business sector is the major performer and financer of R&D in the country and performs 55.5% of all R&D undertaken and finances 58% of total R&D. The higher education sector undertakes 20.5% of national R&D while government performs 21.9% of the total but finances 28.1% of R&D. About 10% of South Africa’s R&D is financed from abroad.”[3]
Clearly, universities are no longer the only knowledge-based organizations in society. They need to establish new partnerships with industry, so that they share knowledge and development and jointly pursue our national objectives.
In the past business would fund universities to conduct research projects and then after a number of years the funding would come to an end and the project wrapped up.

The new relationships will have to move beyond the client service provider model of the past to a more dialogic relationship between two or more knowledge-based entities learning from the other.

We also need to be more creative about the partnerships that universities enter into with other universities in Africa and abroad and also those partnerships that universities enter into with industry. Universities have established a wide network of strategic partnerships than ever before and the formerly Afrikaans-speaking universities have been more proactive at this than their English-language counterparts.

National, continental and global partnerships will feature more in ensuring skills development, and a concerted effort must be made to ensure the transfer of skills and the retention of researchers produced in such partnerships within the continent, at the very least.

5. A new balance between research and teaching
Furthermore, it is clear that there needs to be a balance between the research and the service provision responsibilities of many researchers. This is particularly true in the health sector. For many researchers in the health sector, academic responsibilities as well as service provision pressures sometimes overwhelm clinical research time to the detriment of the quantity and quality of research output.

However, research professionals must increasingly be made to understand the life conditions, motivation, and cultural systems of all our people, and they must be able to deal with different views, practices and belief systems.

This does not mean that quality will be sacrificed. Students and junior researchers must be ready to apply themselves to acquiring top rate skills and absorbing new knowledge and thinking in their chosen fields of study. In addition, their research training must be linked, by location, content or emphasis, to the socio-economic context of our country and our continent.

6. Government will focus public funding on strategic research in universities and science councils
Our higher education institutions face many strains and stresses. Yet we continue to expect that they will be responsive in the area of new knowledge without expecting government to provide support and resources that fund the demand and ensure expected outcomes.

The international experience points to a similar picture. Higher education institutions are required to train more young people, to stimulate research activity, and to be innovative in research outcomes; they are required to play a leading role in industrial applied research, to reconstruct and modernize curricula, and to stimulate the emergence of new young intellectuals.

All these requirements are to be pursued in a manner that allows institutions to attract and retain highly skilled and innovative professionals who have a long-term commitment to the public good and the public academy. All this while rich private institutions and industry are seeking out the same talent.

And this is to be achieved without a complementary increase in public funding of higher education, a mass increase in access for poor and talented students, increased debt, and impatience from former donors who believe they can best innovate in-house.

These are serious barriers to development and to securing higher education as a partner in development.
This conference, while building important networks and reflecting on salient policy questions, must also send a clear signal to policy makers on what we must do to support higher education in meeting all these challenges.

The international guests at this conference will almost certainly assist us in drawing on international experience in this important field of knowledge creation and human resource development.

In South Africa, we have begun to respond, somewhat slowly not yet adequately. Our review of higher education funding has been announced. We believe our focus in the immediate future should be on consolidating reform initiatives and on pursuing carefully crafted development priorities. This can only happen if the growth in the level and quality of the academic and research labour force is improved.

In closing, I hope that, in your deliberations over the next two days, many if the issues that I have highlighted will be discussed, as they are critical for the achievement of our country’s human resource development goals in the medium and long term.

[1] “National Survey of Research and Experimental Development (R&D) (2003/04 fiscal year)”, Department of Science and Technology (2005).
[2] Data from HEMIS (DOE). But see also the Education Statistics in South Africa at a Glance in 2003 (DoE, May 2005).
[3] Media release. 2005 South African Survey of Research and Development (R&D), 14 April 2005

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Written By: Administrator Account
Date Posted: 6/30/2008
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