Presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology
Dr Olive Shisana, President and CEO
My address this morning will be in three parts. The first will reaffirm who we are as HSRC, in terms of our mandated objectives and by virtue of the people working at the HSRC. The second part will indeed look back on our recent achievements focusing on our activities for the 2004/05 reporting year. The third part of the presentation will look ahead, towards new challenges and opportunities awaiting the HSRC and its stakeholders.
Who we are and what we do
The public-purpose mandate of the HSRC has several facets, and is clearly outlined in the Human Sciences Research Act:
Firstly, the HSRC has to promote, support and co-ordinate research in the human and social sciences. In this regard, I see the HSRC as a doer, a catalyst, and as an energizer. We are committed to bringing together the best minds and the best resources to address issues affecting human and social development. We are also committed to generating new knowledge.
Secondly, the HSRC has to provide advice to decision-makers, based on this research. This can only be done if the HSRC remains committed to undertaking, promoting and co-ordinating research of impeccable quality.
The third mandated objective of the HSRC is to disseminate research findings.
The fourth is to serve the public by conducting public interest research and evaluating implementation of programs.
The fifth objective is to train young social scientists, particularly women and black South Africans. I feel very passionate about this, for obvious reasons.
We can best achieve these objectives with the support of our important stakeholders, namely:
what we have achieved in the year under review
In the past year, the HSRC achieved sound financial management and overall performance in terms of the Public Finance Management Act. The Auditor-General, as can be seen on page 98 of the Annual Report, has given us an unqualified audit.
We not only managed the finances well, we also generated external income. Page 141 of the Annual Report shows that for every R1 it received from the Parliamentary Grant, the HSRC managed to earn close to an additional R2 to augment its research budget from other sources. We continue to seek funds elsewhere to meet our public sector mandate. Without additional funds we shall fail to meet the challenges facing us and the African continent. This does present a dilemma for us: to seek additional funding or to abandon additional research. This challenge can only be resolved if the government increases spending on social and human sciences .
The income statement of the HSRC on page 134 of the Annual Report shows that the organisation has not accumulated either a substantial surplus or a deficit, despite having to manage an overall turnover of close to R240 million for the year.
Furthermore, the HSRC has demonstrated excellent performance against its own rigorous benchmarks known by the acronym of "COUPE" in which each letter represents a particular performance indicator, namely C, for contracts and grants (to expand the HSRC’s funding base in a sustainable manner); O, for outreach (to improve external collaboration, thereby benefiting research capacity, quality and impact), U, for user needs (to ensure that our research remains relevant), P, for performance (focusing on improved organisational performance in terms of both efficiency and equity), and E, for Excellence.
The CEO’s message, on page 9 of this Annual Report, once again shows how the HSRC has performed against six sentinel COUPE indicators.
I would like to draw your attention in particular to the HSRC’s performance in terms of publications, which shows that almost every senior researcher, on average, had published a peer-reviewed article in the course of 2004/05. This is excellent by national and international standards. The rates are even higher when we consider other publications such as books, chapters in books, research reports for clients and occasional publications. I was particularly pleased, when we analysed these ratios according to race and gender dimensions, and found that the rates of peer-reviewed publications of black and female researchers in the HSRC are on the increase.
Let me continue by mentioning, very briefly, some special achievements for the year. The Annual Report, provides an overview of research for each of the ten research programs during 2004/05.
The HSRC has successful completed a large-scale survey of training in private enterprises across the South African economy for the Department of Labour. This will assist government in monitoring the implementation of the National Skills Development Strategy.
Our organization has developed a model to evaluate the functioning of education systems: "AQEE (literally, ‘a key’ Ñ ) to improve learning". This is based on a systems model that accounts for the interrelatedness of the essential policy goals of Access, Quality, Efficiency and Equity (AQEE) within the education system.
Still in the education sector, the HSRC, together with Medical Research Council (MRC) and the University of Kwazulu-Natal undertook one of the largest and comprehensive projects on education in South Africa, examining the demand for and supply of educators having taken into account the effect of HIV/AIDS. This study was a very good example of implementation research, where policy makers, labour movement, regulator and researchers worked together to ensure the project addressed policy needs and yielded results that were useful for designing interventions. As a result of this study, the Unions have already introduced an antiretroviral treatment program for educators living with HIV/AIDS in the three most heavily affected provinces of Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape. Parties to the Education Labour Relations Council have already started improving the service conditions of educators based on the findings of this research.
On the HIV front, the HSRC, together with collaborators at the University of Stellenbosch and the MRC has undertaken a ground-breaking study that examined the HIV risk exposure among children in the Free State. The study identified serious breaks in infection control in dental, maternal and neonatal services, and also in social practices such as surrogate breastfeeding in the era of HIV/AIDS. The results informed the Free State government, which changed the health care practices that increased the risk of exposure to HIV infection.
Still on the HIV/AIDS theme, through the Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS Research Alliance (SAHARA), the HSRC has been able to reach out to the African continent to catalyse the energies and expertise of African researchers to jointly undertake multi-country multi-site studies in the areas of HIV surveillance, prevention, care, and orphans and vulnerable children. It has done so with the collaboration of many partners such as SADC, NEPAD, universities and governments, NGOs and donors. It has transferred a large proportion of its income to its research partners in the Sub-Saharan region to ensure that scientists across the continent can jointly undertake priority research that generates recommendations for urgent implementation.
The HSRC is also party to another key project undertaken, that is the "Birth to 20," which is the largest and longest running study of child and youth health and development in Africa and one of the few large scale studies of its kind in the world. More than 3 200 children and their families in Soweto- have been followed up from before birth, when their mothers were pregnant, until (to date) age 15 years. The study is currently looking at two primary issues - sexual and reproductive health risks, and risks for chronic diseases, particularly obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease.
The HSRC rolled out a large repeat-visit monitoring and tracking survey for the government in mid-2004, which will be conducted annually and allows government departments to track aspects of their service delivery, evaluate performance, and measure the efficacy of interventions over time. A number of government departments participated in the first wave of the survey, and have recently joined the second instalment of the survey.
Our organization has attained the status of Official Statistics for the national R&D Survey. This is the first time that data collected by a party other than Statistics SA has received such designation in terms of the Statistics Act. Secondly the same data is now recognised by the OECD in Paris and is included in their authoritative publication the Main S&T Indicators that is released bi-annually.
Furthermore, together with several partners the HSRC has established a system for monitoring food insecurity, which is called Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System (FIVIMS) in Sekhukhuniland in Limpopo. This was done for the national Department of Agriculture, laying the foundation for national roll-out of a key initiative to detect, assess and hence provide essential information to effectively combat household food insecurity.
We have successfully introduced lecture series on the notion of identity, by some of the world’s greatest intellectuals. President Thabo Mbeki’s Heritage Speech on the 24 September this year, called on South Africans to engage in earnest in a vital national debate around the question of identity – this is at the forefront of the HSRC’s research agenda.
Clearly the HSRC is using social sciences to inform policy but also to advance knowledge, not only for South Africa but also for the world.
Where do we go from here: The future
Much of what I have shared with you up till now, provide the basis for the HSRC’s vision for the future. I intend to consolidate what has been achieved in the COUPE strategy and chart a new way forward where necessary.
My vision for the HSRC is to make it both a human and social sciences research council. The human part of the HSRC has been mostly silent. Much of the work of the HSRC has focused on the qualitative and quantitative aspects of social science research. The HSRC will now systematically add a lens using history, philosophy, arts, culture, heritage, language, religion and tradition to gain new insights into our society and make sense of our lives. The program on Society, Identity and Culture will now be dedicated to humanities.
I intend to see the HSRC being a knowledge hub that independently researches, analyses and informs public policy debate on current and future challenges and proposes solutions. The organization will create implementation research networks comprising researchers, policy makers, program developers, non-governmental organizations and donors to implement evidence-based programs arising from research. Such networks are likely to build a critical mass of scientists who will produce research findings and recommend evidence based solutions that when implemented help resolve the problems facing our continent. The networks may be used as places to share knowledge, provide technical support to policy makers and service providers, generate research questions and conduct multi-site multi-country research to generate evidence-based recommendations that can be rapidly implemented. Such networks will help to bridge the gap between research, policy and action; thus increasing the impact of our research.
Increasingly the HSRC has gone outside the boundaries of South Africa to reach out to the mother continent. However, the approach has generally been to seek opportunities for research and income generation. I believe we need to change our strategy on how to engage with the continent. When the HSRC integrates into Africa, it needs to be careful not to be seen as a "colonizer or imperialist" bringing its own ideas without gaining from other Africans. For the HSRC to be successfully integrated into Africa it will require a change of mindset. The primary objective of HSRC researchers should be catalytic, i.e., to encourage researchers in those countries to undertake research. The secondary objective could be conducting collaborative research. The third could be capacity building initiatives where countries do not have enough capacity.
The HSRC will be encouraged and supported to create Africa-wide networks whose aim is to jointly explore their history, understand how they as a people have historically dealt with their challenges and successes within their own political, social, economic and cultural milieu. From this base, new research questions that will inform the future development paths will be generated. If we become a hub of analysis and exchange of ideas through the establishment of a program of African visiting scholars, fellows and scientists, we stand a better chance of harnessing the energies and scientific expertise of our fellow colleagues in our continent.
Now coming to gender. Although South Africa has made major progress in appointing women, it is still a gender insensitive society. The HSRC would like to contribute to creating a gender-sensitive society. Therefore we are establishing a Gender and Development Unit which will pursue a strategy for researchers to make men's and women’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of our approach to research. A critical part of the function of this unit is to empower researchers to use gender analytical tools, to ensure that all our researchers use a gender lens in understanding social phenomena.
We are also establishing a policy analysis unit, which aims to serve as a "think tank" targeting critical challenges facing our country. The HSRC Policy Analysis Unit will be staffed by multidisciplinary theorists and intellectuals, who produce analysis and/or policy recommendations based on evidence. The Policy Analysis Unit will establish a forum to discuss key societal issues and inform policy makers, activists, donors and other stakeholders. The unit will also serve as a forum for exchange of ideas among academics and researchers from any part of the African continent. It will also host time- limited initiatives such as those that tackle unemployment and quality of education.
Unemployment is arguably the most pressing economic and social problem facing South Africa today. At least 25% of the labour force is unemployed. The HSRC has an important role to play in addressing this challenge. We are establishing an important new initiative called Employment, Growth and Development to identify clear scenarios and strategies for unemployment reduction and employment creation. This will be an important contribution to Government's strategies for accelerated and shared growth. We will bring the best minds together to draw these scenarios, based on the best available evidence.
A second major policy analysis initiative addresses the quality of education, hence we are establishing the National Education Quality Improvement Initiative. Its objective is to capitalise on regional collaboration to develop and evaluate a systems model for improving educational quality based on evidence.
To achieve these new developments we had to restructure the organization. I will briefly share the objectives of restructuring.
The renewed vision and strategy for the HSRC was informed by ongoing engagement with the HSRC management team and staff at all levels. Informed by this new strategic approach, a revised structure was developed and subsequently approved by the HSRC Council.
These changes were implemented as of the month of September, taking into account the preferences of staff as far as possible, and with no job losses. We regard our research and our administrative staff as the most crucial ingredient in the success of the organisation.
The organogram on the screen provides a visual overview of the challenges and opportunities faced by the HSRC, and the way in which we intend to address these.
The six consolidated research programs show our commitment to undertaking research in the social sciences, and in the humanities. We provide single points of entry, with a critical mass of researchers, to deal with research areas of national importance.
The cross-cutters show our commitment to dealing with policy issues, to ensure capacity development, to strengthen Africa-wide networks, to remain sensitive to the needs of women and men in all aspects of our work, and to ensure that our research work is underpinned by the highest levels of research rigour and methodological correctness.
What we need, in order to succeed, is your support. We have greatly benefited from your support in the past. Please call upon us in future, to help us contribute to the quality of life of all.