Address by Naledi Pandor MP, Minister of Science and Technology, 14th National Science and Technology Forum / BHP Billiton Awards gala dinner, Emperor's Palace, Kempton Park
21 Jun 2012
Mr Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Basic Education
Prof. Brenda Wingfield, National Science and Technology Forum Chair
Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi, Chairman of BHP Billiton
Ms Jansie Niehaus, Executive Director of the NSTF
Executive Committee and members of the NSTF
Vice-Chancellors of higher education institutions
Chief Executive Officers of science councils
Chief Executive Officers of companies and organisations
Sponsors and funders
Winners and all the finalists
Ladies and gentlemen
I’m honoured to be here this evening.
Tonight we celebrate excellence in science.
We celebrate excellence at a time when we are still savouring the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) -site-bidwin. It is a win for us and a win for Africa. Nine years of hard work has eventually paid off.
Australia has one third of our population, spends2.2% of Gross domestic product (GDP) on Research And Development (R&D), has 93,000 researchers, and began to invest in radio astronomy in the 1960s – and has Physics Nobel laureate and Australian National University astrophysicist Brian Schmidt on its SKA team.
We spend under 1% on R&D, have 15,000 researchers and began to invest in radio astronomy in the 1990s. Our success in securing the bid confirms the excellence we have in the astronomy sciences and recognises the strength of the SKA team led by Dr Bernie Fanaroff.
What really excites me about being one of the successful bidders for the SKA is the potential it unleashes to encourage a greater interest in scientific careers among the youth and the potential it offers to leverage greater investment in science directed at economic growth and social innovation.
We have used our collaboration with the international SKA consortium to attract young people into science and technology careers.
We are collaborating actively with some of the best universities and institutions in the world.
Our young scientists and engineers have been able to jump to a leading role in many of the areas of development of the SKA, because of the excellent skills imparted by our universities and the expertise and experience that they have picked up from our partners.
Our team now plays a leading role, for instance, in the Collaboration for Astronomy Signal Processing and Electronics Research (CASPER) (Collaboration for Astronomy Signal Processing and Electronics Research) collaboration, which has produced the innovative ROACH (Reconfigurable Open Architecture Computing Hardware) processing boards that provide innovative digital signal processing equipment for the telescopes. This began as a design solution for SKA in South Africa and now has collaborators in universities on every continent.
With its strong footprint of initiatives on the continent, the SKA is playing a dynamic role in contributing to African growth and development.
The SKA will require innovative and very large networking and computer processing power. In fact the networks will use enough fibre-optic cable to wrap around the earth twice and will carry nearly ten times the amount of data that flows daily on the internet.
SKA is going to generate a new industry in information communication technologies. We will train software engineers, data processors, system analysts and hundreds of technicians.
The awarding of the SKA to South Africa strikes a chord with the awards we are here tonight to celebrate. Excellence engenders excellence: success breeds success.
Yet even as we celebrate our success, you will forgive me if I issue a warning. We are running out of our best scientists. Or rather they are running out on us.
The alarming statistic is that half of our professors and associate professors are due to retire in the next decade. This is alarming because these over-50-year-olds now produce five in ten of our scientific papers. Back in 1990 the over-50-year-olds only produced one in ten of credited publications.
We have to develop strategies to respond to this potential loss of skilled professionals.
They will retire to start second lives in the private sector. Most of them will have another twenty good years to live.
While they will not be lost to science, they will be lost to our universities and to teaching the next generation of scientists.
The retirement scenario is frightening for knowledge creation in our universities. We have not prepared adequately for their replacement.
Over the past decade postgraduate student enrolments and the number of masters and doctoral graduates have not grown fast enough.
Improving staff qualifications at universities and science councils forms an important part of developing human capacity for research, scholarship and innovation. Here the Departnt of Science and Technology (DST) shares a responsibility with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).
We have particularly earmarked our new human resource development allocations to increase support for the next generation of researchers.
South Africa has talent, a lot of which we waste. We do that because not enough women become scientists. We have to devise creative strategies for attracting young people and women into science.
There are many instruments we could adopt to achieve these objectives. The actions we have taken to encourage women to put on the lab coat in universities and elsewhere have to be ramped up despite what David Benatar, Professor of Philosophy at University of Cape Town (UCT), says in his new book, Second Sexism, about the new gender discrimination against men in various walks of life. It’s not true in science - in science we still require increased investment in girls and women and continued support for boys and men.
There is a great deal of talent in South Africa, we need tools and strategies that are targeted at providing a firm foundation for expanded success and increased graduation rates. In addition we must create institutions to utilise and absorb the talent we produce. There have been some inaccurate statements about unemployed graduates.
Research shows those with degrees stand a better chance of employment and enterprise formation. Nonetheless we need a larger science infrastructure base to absorb young talent. Our internship programme is directed at creating increased opportunity and experience for young scientists and technologists.
This is why we have set aside R110 million over the 2012/15 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) for our internship programme. The R30 million funding for the first two years of the programme will allow us to almost double the number of interns we are currently funding.
The awardees of tonight signify the potential that exist in South Africa to reach the highest levels of Science achievement. The excellent work of the NSTF illustrates successfull collaboration between government, academia and industry.
In closing, I am pleased to see that the issue I raised last year about the fragmented science, engineering and technology awards establishment in our country is being addressed by the DST and our stakeholders to create a national awards programme. I am pleased to be here to celebrate with you to express my admiration for the wonderful talent and achievements of our scientists.
I would like to congratulate all those who receive awards tonight and wish you well in your future endeavours.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
21 Jun 2012
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