Skills revolution and innovation critical to development says Minister Nzimande

The provision of high-quality skills and innovation are inseparable partners in the development of a modern economy, said the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, during the annual Black Business Council Summit.

Addressing the summit last week on the topic of skills development ("Skills needed for the future"), the Minister said there could be no modern economy without an effective combination of skills and innovation.


The Minister told the audience, which included thought leaders, government ministers, academics, economists, professionals, organised business and representatives of affiliated members of the Black Business Council, that education, training, science and innovation were important areas for investment.


"One of my priorities is to work closely with the private sector, including the Black Business Council, in a partnership for skills development and innovation. Our task is not merely to return our old economy to growth and development, but to take it on to higher value chains through the provision of skills and innovation for new industries. As you are aware, education and skills development is one of the seven priorities of this 6th administration," said the Minister.


Government is in investing in post-school education and training (PSET) as an important way of transitioning between school and the workplace. 


The Minister said that the period between 15 and 24 years was the most critical period in the lives of the country's young people, and it was often access to quality post-school education and training that made the difference between success or failure in life.


This year government is going to be spending R35bn through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to support more than 700 000 students in universities and in technical and vocational education and training colleges.


A task team will also be appointed to investigate the feasibility of establishing an affordable higher education loan scheme to cater for those families that do not qualify for NSFAS, but are not wealthy enough to afford university studies – the "missing middle".


The Minister highlighted that one of the biggest weaknesses in the PSET system was the poor relationship between industry, universities and colleges, which resulted in a failure to produce work-ready graduates or graduates capable of starting their own enterprises.


"Quality post-school education and training is the joint responsibility of government and industry and we must therefore stop the blame game and work together. It is for this reason that I have decided to prioritise the building of relations between my ministry and industry by appointing Mr Nqaba Nqandela as my industrial envoy – to build sustainable relations between my ministry and our two departments [Higher Education and Training, and Science and Innovation] on the one hand, and industry on the other hand. I urge you as the Black Business Council to work with him."


The Minister told the audience that that black business could not grow without innovation.


He said that the Department of Science and Innovation would this year produce a decadal plan for science, technology and innovation to support the country's economic growth and development objectives. This would build on important work that has been done in the bioeconomy, for instance, contributing to health and agriculture, and in renewable energy.


In his recent state of the nation address, the President announced that a new university of science and innovation is to be established in the industrial heartland of Ekurhuleni. This university will support existing industries, help in the development of new industries, and bring our country to the forefront of cutting-edge technologies.


In the coming weeks, Minister Nzimande will announce the first steps towards the establishment of the new institution.


The Minister invited the BBC to partner in the work of the South African affiliate of the World Economic Forum's network of centres for the 4IR. It is intended that the South African centre (one of two affiliate centres in Africa) will have a dynamic partnership with industry and the trade unions, as well as with universities and science councils, and will focus on the governance of technologies in a world of rapid technological changes. The priority areas of focus for this centre must be determined by South Africans.


The Department will also start working with National Treasury this year to start work towards the establishment of an innovation fund to strengthen and support innovation in the country. It is hoped that this will contribute to increasing investment in research, development and innovation over the next decade. 


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