Department of Science and Technology

Thursday, 7 July  2016

18:00

It's a great honour to be among people who are contributing towards sustainable educational initiatives.

Government is committed to providing access to quality education for all and committed to introducing free compulsory basic education.

But government cannot work alone.

To respond to the call of the Freedom Charter, that the doors of learning be opened to all, we need the assistance of corporates, like SASOL, to make bursaries available to talented students.

Constructive partnerships need to be built between the government and the corporate sector.

The corporate sector has a unique role to play in this regard. You know all too well the devastating consequences of the under-investment that was the dominant feature of the education system we inherited.

You know all too well that South Africa is a country of huge disparities in wealth, standards of living, and life expectancy - it is a society in which an increasingly competitive first-world economy coexists with widespread poverty and unemployment.

You know all too well that it is vital that South Africa continues to build a strong and productive skills base that will enable us to expand our economy and to compete in a globalising world.

And education is the key in this regard.

For it is through sustained educational development that we will create the intellectual base and the skills needed for social and economic transformation.

Public-private-partnerships play an integral part in changing the lives of pupils and students.

In other words, it is through projects and partnerships, such as this bursary fund programme, that education opens the door to a brighter and more prosperous future.

I therefore extend a special word of gratitude and congratulations to the SASOL Inzalo Foundation for this initiative.

The Sasol Inzalo Foundation was established as part of South Africa’s single biggest black economic empowerment equity transaction, which transferred 10% of Sasol shares to South Africans from designated groups in September 2007, and allocated 1,5% of Sasol’s shares to the Sasol Inzalo Foundation.

The Foundation is a public benefit organisation that drives excellence in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education.

South Africa's National Development Plan vision for 2030 identifies education, training and innovation as key pillars of the country's long-term development goals.

A critical contribution to South Africa's growth and development is a workforce with high level skills. To this effect the NDP has set targets for the country to produce 6,000 PhDs a year, increase the number of black and women researchers, double university participation and increase academics with PhDs to 75%.  With less than fifteen years to achieve these ambitious targets which require the system to more than double its output, support from the private sector is important.

Significant progress has been achieved in the country's higher education system since the dawn of democracy in 1994.  The country has made remarkable progress in establishing greater levels of equity in race and gender where blacks and women are in the majority of overall enrolled and graduating students. For the first time in 2014, blacks graduating with PhDs outnumbered whites.  The system however, still has substantial challenges that the Department of Science and Technology (DST), in collaboration with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), is working hard to address.

The country's higher education system is still mainly undergraduate. It is a concern that out of almost 1 million students registered in public higher education institutions in 2014, only 5% were master's and 2% were registered for doctoral degrees.

Also only about 100 000 students graduated in 2014 against an overall enrolment of almost 1 million. We have low progression rates from undergraduate to postgraduate levels, high attrition rates and comparatively low enrolment rates in natural and engineering sciences.

While, in 2014, blacks constituted 75% of overall graduations in SET disciplines, it remains a concern that women's enrolment and graduations in these disciplines have not gone beyond 50%.

A study commissioned by the Department in 2015 revealed that the main impediments leading to low retention and high attrition of postgraduate students are lack of funding and work demands for the majority of postgraduate students who work while they study.

In response the Sasol Inzalo Foundation has invested in STEM education, and partnered with the National Research Foundation to provide financial support to disadvantaged students.

ABSA is also currently investing R1.2 billion in a three year programme of skills investment.

Corporates are pulling together for South Africa.

My best wishes to you all. Hard work is its own reward.