The Department of Science and Innovation would not be abandoning basic science or the social sciences and humanities, Mr Daan Du Toit, Deputy-Director General: International Cooperation and Resources in the Department of Science and Innovation, told Universities SA’s 2nd Higher Education assembly last week. He said he was dispelling a rumour.
Contributing to the discussions during a breakaway session of USAf’s World of Work Strategy Group sub-themed Universities and the 4IR Labour Market, Du Toit said his department was rather looking to invest more smartly in those disciplines.
Mr Du Toit (right) talked to South Africa’s Decadal Plan for Science, Technology and Innovation – insisting at the outset that it was not his department’s plan, but one that had broad implications for the entire country. “It is a plan for the whole of society, for government, for universities. I want to put the focus on South Africa’s Decadal Plan that lays out how we use technology, science and innovation to respond to the challenges our country faces today.”
Preparing for the future
He said the 10-year plan asked questions like:
- What will the world of work look like?
- What are the implications for the labour market?
- What is the interface of universities with the 4th Industrial Revolution?
Du Toit reiterated: “This plan is not technology focused. In the key questions considered by the Decadal Plan, everything has been constructed in such a way that it is all about society.” Another question it was asking was: How does investment in science, technology, innovation and education speak to the societal challenges that we face as a country?
The Decadal Plan, he said, identifies several priorities; health, energy, adaptation to climate change; making service delivery more efficient through innovation. “Importantly, how do we use science and technology to prepare for South Africa’s education needs for the future, and the future of society?
Background to the Decadal Plan
The Decadal Plan covers the period 2022-2031 and is the implementation plan for South Africa’s new White Paper on Science Technology and Innovation, approved by Cabinet in 2019. “We’re in the stage of finalising the Decadal Plan which is firmly contextualised within the implementation of South Africa’s national development plan.
“Since the start of CoViD-19, it has become one of the instruments for implementing our Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP). On the global level it’s responding to the objectives of the sustainable development goals,” Mr Du Toit said, adding that the document was a culmination of extensive consultation with stakeholders including universities, particularly USAf. The Plan also draws input from the Higher Education Science and Technology Innovation Landscape Review.
Said Du Toit: “The reality in South Africa is that our fiscal resources are constrained. We have to plan smarter and better.”
Identifying system goals
Du Toit said that the Plan seeks to achieve five system goals that he identified as:
- Ensuring that South Africa becomes a more enabling environment for innovation. This was about translating research outputs into new products and services.
- Expanding and future proofing South Africa’s human capabilities.
- Expanding and transforming the research system.
- Building a more inclusive and coordinated National System of Innovation.
- Finding ways to increase funding and making that process more efficient. This included expanding strategic international cooperation (crucial for universities) as well as monitoring, evaluation and policy learning.
The DDG told the conference delegates that with the input and involvement of all stakeholders, DSI would adopt the Science and Innovation Compact. “This will be a high-level commitment to joint research and development plans; to how we use public procurement to stimulate local technology development as well as how we manage intellectual property.”
The philosophy behind the plan, he said, was “really about building a science and technology innovation system that impacts and benefits everyone in South Africa.
Preparing future skills
He said South Africa would prepare skills for the future through curriculum development. This came down to ensuring that there is better use of technology in education, noting a serious lack of investment in the engineering sciences. He also spoke of developing an ethical framework for the country and expanding South Africa’s human capabilities by increasing high-end PhDs, of investing in workplace learning and in the social sciences. “The work that is being done in the Decadal plan is to align the development of human capabilities with different master plans for different industries.”
Aspects being raised by the Decadal Plan include:
- Investing government resources more smartly in the post-school education and training (PSET) system including in science councils and other national facilities
- Pooling resources in an integrated and strategic manner to develop the human capabilities that South Africa needs.
The plan sets out several interventions.
- Enhancing enrolment planning to ensure a better mix of students in the PSET system that corresponds to the priority areas South Africa’s economy.
- Working together with National Treasury to ensure a more sustainable financial ecosystem for student funding.
- Integrating the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAS) and State- owned Enterprises in partnership with universities to build R&D skills responding to the challenges of 4IR.
- Continuous review of the Programme and Qualification Mix (PQM).
- Planning and implementing a digital platform for post-graduate student tracking to enable government to pin-point where to invest; identify where students go when they graduate; where they are more active and draw lessons from that data.
- Investing in skills forecasting capabilities.
- Supporting entrepreneurship development.
A key question, he added, is around expanding and transforming South Africa’s research base through fast tracking implementation of the universities framework.
Keeping true to objectives
Du Toit said his department was concerned about ensuring that all investment efforts remained true to the objectives of the Decadal Plan, specifically those of the 4IR. This included enhancing the capabilities of historically disadvantaged institutions, enhancing PhD qualifications at science councils and nationally and instituting dedicated programmes for industry-based research. All of this was essential for SA’s skills development in different disruptive technologies.
Wrapping up, the DDG said that the Decadal Plan was an opportunity for all concerned with science, technology and innovation to achieve greater impact through enhanced partnerships enabled by improved governance and coordination; to have a strategic and focused policy direction and to secure increased and more efficient funding.
“We understand South Africa does not lack good plans and good strategies; there are many of those. It’s about implementation! For that, we will really need Team South Africa’s support.”
Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.