Internationalisation – Dr Nico Jooste and Prof Roseanne Diab
Report back – Prof Aldo Stroebel
Innovation for development – Ms Jaci Barnett and Dr Tracy Bromfield
Report back – Dr David Phaho
SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS AND PROPOSED WAY FORWARD – Prof Thandwa Mthembu
1 INTRODUCTION 1.1 Note from Higher Education South Africa The global demand for greater social accountability, responsiveness and relevance on the part of higher education manifests as an emphasis on universities’ contribution to the national economy. As knowledge becomes a force determining productivity and competitiveness, the rapid spread of open innovation and collaboration between industries in emerging and advanced economies around the globe demand special attention from universities and their potential to enhance the technological capabilities of business.
Knowledge-based institutions play a key role in preparing graduates with appropriate scarce and critical skills, and in contributing research to the development of new technology, new organisational forms and innovation. University education produces individuals with fundamental competencies able to absorb new technologies for business, thus building and increasing capabilities for commerce and industry in a national economy. University research can provide missing or complementary basic, applied or experimental research to inform industries’ innovation and research and development activities. In turn, industry has been identified as a key partner for higher education, as a potential source of much-needed third-stream income (Report to HESA’s Research and Innovation Strategy Group, 2012).
These trends are evident in South Africa, with attempts to promote university-industry linkages from the late 1990s, as part of new policy frameworks to bridge the innovation chasm between the science and technology system and the industrial system, and thus contribute to build a strong national system of innovation (DACST 1996, DST 2002).
Recent national policy shifts mean that higher education institutions are now required to align and co-ordinate their strategies with the state’s reprioritisation of socio-economic development goals that favour the poor and socially marginalised (HESA 2009). Knowledge and innovation are critical to socio-economic growth and development, but in a country of limited resources such as South Africa, interaction and partnerships between universities, science councils, and the private sector are even more essential to achieve these goals. The emphasis is shifting from promoting university interaction with business in the private sector in high-technology fields, to include interaction with a broader range of social partners – productive agents in the informal and rural sectors, and public-sector partners such as communities and civil society organisations (Kruss 2010, Goddard 2010).
Prof Ahmed Bawa, Chairperson of the Higher Education South Africa (HESA) Board
Welcoming delegates to the Second HESA Biennial Research and Innovation Conference, chairperson of HESA’s board, Prof Ahmed Bawa, said the conference would focus on what was working and what was not, in the policy environment.
Three issues have emerged in shaping the policy terrain around research. They are:
• Fragmentation of the system, with various laboratories in the private and public domains that did not work together, resulting in a dearth of PhDs;
• Pervasive imbalances in terms of race and gender, where some progress had been made to bring about change;
• Disarticulation between the research system and the needs of a developing South Africa.
South Africa lagged behind on the human development index, despite having a higher GDP than some other countries against which it was benchmarked. Despite the challenges that the country continued to face, good progress had been made in establishing research chairs and other initiatives aimed at growing research and innovation.
The Second HESA Biennial Research and Innovation Conference therefore intends to identify good practice and build on current strengths, as well as point out actions for supporting research and innovation in the country.
1.2 Purpose of the conference
– Prof Loyiso Nongxa, Co-Chairperson: HESA Research and Innovation Strategy Group
Prof Loyiso Nongxa, Co-Chairperson of the HESA Research and Innovation Strategy Group (RISG); Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand
HESA came about through a merger of the Committee of Technikon Principals (CTP) and the South African University Vice-Chancellors Association (SAUVCA), with the aim of enabling higher education institutions to respond to a range of themes arising within the country, the sector and externally, with a single voice.
Defining a common purpose around the areas of research and innovation is complicated by the fact that universities tend to compete for funding, capacity and resources. These issues were addressed in a Framework for Research and Innovation, aimed at both the public and private sectors, and a strategy group was established by HESA to look into research and innovation. A conference was hosted by HESA in 2010 with the theme “Strengthening Collaboration between Higher Education, Government and Industry for Research and Innovation”. Some of the key topics debated at that conference included:
• Government’s vision for research and innovation within a knowledge economy;
• The contribution of industry, the science councils, the higher education sector, government and other agencies to building and strengthening a research and innovation system for South Africa;
• Mechanisms, structures and partnerships necessary for effective facilitation, co-ordination, planning, implementation and monitoring of inter-sectoral plans for the achievement of research and innovation objectives; and
• Allocation of resources for research and innovation.
Building on the previous conference, the key themes identified for discussion at this conference include:
• Creating an enabling policy environment for the flourishing of research and innovation in the sector;
• Strengthening multi-sectoral collaborations;
• Internationalisation of South African Higher Education Research and Innovation agenda; and,
• Innovation for development.
2 STRENGTHENING COLLABORATION BETWEEN BUSINESS, INDUSTRY AND HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS
Keynote address – Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training The Honourable Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande
THE theme of strengthening collaboration between government, industry and higher education institutions to support and strengthen research and innovation is particularly prescient. The key focus of the conference is government’s strengthening of research and innovation in a knowledge economy, and the allocation of resources to strengthen research and innovation. However, as much as it is important to focus on research and innovation, it is essential to ground the approach to these issues on the overall development objectives of the country.
Dr Nzimande said he was aware that his criticism of the notion of a knowledge economy might be viewed as controversial. He said the knowledge economy presupposed that all societies were growing in the same way and that some countries had to catch up with others.
The New Growth Path has identified key job drivers (among other things) to respond to unemployment, poverty and inequality. Other drivers are increased investment in infrastructure development and manufacturing. While meeting the goals of a knowledge economy is important, as a country we should guard against it becoming a fetish. South Africa should still focus on industrialisation and beneficiation of its mineral wealth, and should be committed to investing in infrastructure.
Apart from creating jobs, infrastructural development is aimed at creating integrated human settlements to reverse the effects of apartheid. Investment in research and innovation must seek to buttress these developments. Universities should therefore think about where they locate themselves within the overall national development plan, and should consider the implications for research and innovation. They should also be thinking where resources should be allocated to grow these areas. South Africa should not simply try to imitate other countries, but be aware of its own challenges, and as part of the SADC region and the continent.
The Education White Paper Three mentioned a number of aims and objectives, among them a higher education system contributing to the good of society through the production of knowledge, capacity building and lifelong learning, high-level research capacity and sustained research activities. Our creativity should be located in creating a better society. All societies developed in this manner, and not through chasing the objectives of their peers.
The triple-helix of government, higher education and industry leaves out the important component of community engagement and outreach. Alternative knowledge sources from society are overlooked by this exclusion, instead of forging mutually beneficial relationships. Universities must learn from communities, and not only the other way around; this is a critical component of research and innovation. Indigenous knowledge is a critical component of research and innovation in South Africa, and interactions with communities should be used to full effect.
Government’s vision for research and innovation as envisioned by the Department of Higher Education and Training include:
• Partnerships and collaborations in defining post-school education and training – not only for purposes of research, but for the entire post-school education and training system. These partnerships should not be limited in scope, but should include structures outside of the system since knowledge is produced in society, and not only in universities.
• The post-school system should include institutions providing education and training to people who left school, but also to adults who never went to school. The current infrastructure for post-school provision includes universities, colleges, adult education centres, skills development centres and SETAs. It is necessary to understand what possibilities these hold for growing research and innovation.
Research development and innovation for a growing knowledge economy is a key principle of the department’s mandate. Increasing the number of graduates at this level will increase research output, while achieving societal transformation. One of the challenges facing the country is the revitalisation of the academic profession, since the average age of a South African academic is 59 years. Universities should think about using retired academics to strengthen the capacity of the system in the areas of research and innovation.
The Green Paper currently open for public comment highlights that the country has inadequate levels of research and innovation, impacting on its economic growth and development and ability to find solutions for societal problems. Not only do universities carry out research in various fields, but they also develop new researchers, making it a vital and important responsibility for both the Department of Higher Education and Training and Department of Science and Technology. It is important to ensure that research and innovation are mainstreamed into all programmes, and not limited to projects bringing income into the universities, despite its importance. The rest of the system should not be left unattended while the focus is only on third-stream income.
One of the aims of the current Ministerial Task Team on the Funding of Higher Education is to look at how research capacity and potential can be developed and expanded. Universities are encouraged and incentivised to focus on research, without forsaking teaching and learning at undergraduate levels. Unless the system has a good undergraduate foundation, we will not be able to realise our research and innovation goals.
We should also get past the notion that intellectual work is superior to vocational work; there should rather be collaboration between these two areas.
Although South Africa experienced significant growth in research and innovation, and there was an increase in research productivity, this growth was neither adequate nor sustainable. Academics should be given space to act as mentors and supervisors; research figures for 2010 showed that 57% of research emanated from only five institutions in the country. The research output of the majority of institutions remains lower than expected.
What should the ideal picture for research and innovation be? Should all institutions focus on research? What kind of differentiation do we need? The Department of Higher Education and Training is committed to resolving the differentiation debate, in terms of which a paper will be released and debate facilitated. How best do we stimulate the research agenda in South Africa? Should Fort Hare University focus on agriculture, for example, both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels?
The reality is that all institutions cannot be research intensive in the same way, which is why differentiation should be encouraged without reproducing the apartheid landscape. Universities of technology continue to produce lower research outputs, but how do we achieve a proper linkage between vocational/technical education and research? Comprehensive universities may have an advantage in this regard, although there is a concern about mission drift. We need to think creatively of Universities of Technology as centres for collaborative partnerships to produce cutting-edge research, graduates and diplomates.
Furthermore, we should guard against research being dictated by commercial considerations only. We should work towards increased government input in research activities, because too strong a commercial focus reproduces inequalities. A lot of big companies in South Africa tend to support only particular universities, while former black universities are completely neglected. Even our own state-owned enterprises are guilty of not supporting all institutions in the country. The University of Zululand, for example, is uniquely positioned close to one of our biggest ports, yet there is no collaboration between government and industry to stimulate research programmes at that university. As we discuss the issue of partnerships the issue of unequal support to universities should be addressed.
The organisations funding research tend to set the research agenda. It is in the interest of the country to give our researchers a role in setting the research agenda, while not overlooking the country’s development goals. We are part of Southern African Development Conference (SADC) and the African continent, and of the Commonwealth, so we need to take our region into account when strengthening our research hubs.
The SA Regional Universities’ Association (SARUA) highlighted that the university participation rate in the SADC region is the lowest in the world, increasing the pressing need for access to South African higher education institutions. It will therefore be in our best interests to grow capacity throughout the region.