Programme director; Prof Corli Witthuhn;

Dr Lis Lange, UFS Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic;

Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, CEO, National Research Foundation (NRF);

Dr Gansen Pillay, Deputy CEO for Research, Innovation Support and Advancement at the NRF;

Dr Ulf Diekmann and the rest of the IIASA SA-YSSP team;

Prof André Roodt and the rest of the SA-YSSP team


Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is an honour for me to be part of this important this gathering.  May I take this opportunity to welcome our guests from abroad and wish them a pleasant stay in our beautiful country.

As you may be aware, this is the third Southern African Young Scientists Summer Programme in partnership with the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).  There is no doubt that, since the inception of this programme, we have seen commendable progress, and the various member countries have benefited in a variety of ways.

One indicator of the success of this Programme has been the increased number of applications received and their improved quality.  We are particularly pleased to note that there has also been an increase in the number of South Africans being accepted in the Programme as well as the involvement of students from the SADC region. We can however, do better to increase the number of experts in the field of system analysis in South Africa and Africa as a whole, to address the common societal challenges that require inter-disciplinary solutions.

A large part of this progress would not have been possible had it not been for the willingness of the University of Free State to host this prestigious programme and the hard work they have done towards enhancing our country's applied systems analysis supervisory capacity.  We would like to thank them for this.

There is a growing realisation that the solutions to the problems that humanity is grappling with require a variety of knowledge forms and skills sets.  As humanity evolves, these challenges have become more and more complex, making it difficult for people to keep up, and obliging them to develop more comprehensive and integrated approaches to the challenges they face.

Realising this, we are pleased to be associated with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, which promotes an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving and solution finding, and has key research priorities that speak directly to my department's research priorities, as articulated in our Ten-Year Innovation Plan.  These include energy security and climate site2016, food and water security, and poverty alleviation and equity.

As a country, we are aware that no country can make meaningful advances in research without investing in human resources.  The developing world, in particular, has to train more and more researchers and scientists in critical areas.

Our country's long-term strategic vision, the National Development Plan, articulates this clearly: "To achieve the target of 100 PhDs per million per year, South Africa needs more than 5 000 PhDs graduates per year against the figure of 1 420 in 2010.  If South Africa is to be a leading innovator, most these doctorates should be in science, engineering, technology and mathematics."

To achieve this target, the NDP says: "South Africa needs to increase the percentage of PhD-qualified staff within the higher education sector from the current 34 per cent level to 75 per cent over 20 years; to double the rate of graduate, postgraduate and first-rate scientists; and to increase the number of African and women postgraduates, especially PhDs, to improve research and innovation capacity and normalise staff demographics."

In response to this challenge, guided by our Human Capital Development Strategy for Research, Innovation and Scholarship, we have developed a number of interventions to improve both enrolments and graduations, right up to doctoral level.  For instance, we recently conducted a study on the status of postgraduate research training in engineering in South Africa, with the aim of increasing the retention of students in postgraduate engineering programmes.

This study will illuminate, among other things, the representation of engineering postgraduate students as a percentage of all enrolled postgraduate students, and as a percentage of all science, engineering and technology students.  It will also seek to highlight the trends and gaps in the DST/NRF funding of engineering postgraduate studies, the rate of production of engineering undergraduate students in various engineering disciplines, and the factors that prevent engineering graduates from continuing with their studies at a postgraduate level.

Related to this, Minister Pandor has approved guidelines for improving equity in the allocation of DST/NRF bursaries and fellowships.  The guidelines are grounded on three fundamental principles: representivity, improved efficiencies, and prioritisation of SET disciplines.  They also stipulate that 55% of the postgraduate students supported through bursaries should be women.

This target has been met, although at doctoral level women make up a smaller proportion of women than at other levels.  In 2012/13, 56% of all honours students, 50% of all master's students, and 48% of all doctoral students supported were women.  In the 2013/14 financial year, of the 9 771 students supported, 6 110 (63%) were black and 5 186 (53%) were women.

Another initiative is our DST-NRF Thuthuka programme, which focuses on supporting emerging black and women researchers, and has to date awarded 1 058 research grants to 698 women and 594 black researchers, with a total of close to R200 million invested since 2008.

More recently, we launched the Research Career Advancement Fellowship programme, aimed at improving the demographic profile of the system in general, and academics in particular, with respect to age, race and gender.  The programme targets fellows with a minimum of two years' experience in postdoctoral research, who have shown interest in furthering their careers in research and academia, and have demonstrated the potential and ability for research leadership.

We see the Southern African Young Scientists Summer Programme as not only helping us to address our national human capital needs, but also providing us with a platform for sharing our experiences and learning from other countries, both from the African continent and from other parts of the world.

The Young Scientists Summer Programme also provides us with a platform for strengthening our existing research partnerships with our BRICS partners in various areas of mutual interest.

In our view, there can be no doubt that IIASA's interdisciplinary and transboundary approach is the most logical way of responding to the challenges of the 21st century.  This approach is further validated by the fact that, in the era in which we live, the world is more connected.  This, of course, has dangers as well as advantages.  A problem in one country can quickly become the problem of another.  A relevant example is the burgeoning threat of Ebola.

It is my sincere hope that you will not only review the progress made since the inception of this initiative, but also dedicate some time to looking at how some of the lessons, experiences and outcomes of this and other programmes can be used to inform policy, and address urgent cross-cutting challenges such as transnational violence and energy security, as well as health issues like Aids, TB and, as already mentioned, the Ebola virus.

It is our wish to continue building the foundation that was started by this partnership between South Africa and IIASA. It is clear that IIASA would like to expand this type of partnership to the majority of their members and it is understandable that your hands might be full. However, South Africa wishes to continue to form partnerships to increase the systems analysis expertise. We have only touched the tip of the iceberg and there is more that can still be done in this field.

I wish you fruitful deliberations and look forward to the outcome of your discussions.