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02 Jun 2005

Factsheet 1 : Some key findings in “Flight of the Flamingos”

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release
  • The school system does not produce enough students with the requisite passes in higher-grade mathematics and physical science to cope with the country’s human resources demands. So while progress has been made, the number of African school leavers with higher grade passes in mathematics (6 384) is still only 27% of the total school leavers (23 412) with these qualifications. There are also extreme disparities in African passes across the provinces and between male and female.
  • In comparison with other developing countries, the fact that only nine percent of South Africa’s adult population are qualified in science and technology, is a concern. This is higher than Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey, but lower than Zimbabwe, Mexico, and South Korea
  • The number of people with science and technology qualifications increased from 1.64 million individuals in 1996 (8.1 percent of the population 20 years or older) to 2.15 million individuals in 2001 (8.5 percent of those 20 years or older)
  • Although relatively small, an increasing proportion of our national skills base is due to the presence of foreign students. The number of foreign students enrolled in South African higher education institutions has risen from 12 600 in 1994 to 35 000 in 2001. The majority of these students (73 percent in 2000) are from other African countries
  • There are significant racial imbalances within the qualified science and technology population. In 1996 whites accounted for 11.4 percent of the South African population, but they accounted for 77 percent of those with doctoral degrees. Similar imbalances also exist in the gender of science and technology graduates, particularly at the higher level of qualifications.
  • While concerns have been expressed that academics publishing in R&D are ?greying?, data from the 2001/2 R&D Survey shows a more normal distribution of young and old R&D workers.
  • The study confirms the earlier work of Brown, Kaplan and Meyer regarding the under reporting of emigration to major consuming countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. This flow is up to four times as large as the official figures of Statistics South Africa. While official migration statistics show that 16 725 highly skilled South Africans emigrated between 1994 and 2001, this represented only 0.8 percent of South Africans with science and technology qualifications in 2001.
  • The study found that movements of R&D workers within South Africa were significantly more of an issue than international mobility. The pull of management and financial occupations was noted as being particularly strong with many organisations referring to this as the ‘MBA drain’. Data from the 2001/2 R&D Survey supported this as only 11% of departing R&D personnel from science councils were reported as going overseas.
  • Information on internal mobility is as problematic as international mobility. While firms maintain their own personnel data files, exit interviews are not consistently conducted and when they are the information given to employers is often as inaccurate as emigration data.
  • Interviews with mobile researchers indicate that while there are R&D workers who are leaving South Africa there are others who consider South Africa to be an exciting place to conduct their research.
  • Historic legacies and limited career opportunities reinforce each other to restrict and perpetuate the limited representivity in the national R&D workforce. ?Old boy clubs? remain a reality.
  • Brain drain is a popular focus in discussions of mobility, but one whose significance is difficult to identify at a real level. South Africans have only recently really been welcome to travel and work in other countries and many of those currently abroad may return in due course.
  • Human resources take time to develop. It is necessary to recognise that time lags operate between inception of strategy and sustained production of skills. Because of this a strategy that complements local and foreign skills must be developed to meet pressing needs.
  • It is important for business, government, higher education institutions and science councils to realise that South Africa is faced with a strong resource constraint surrounding highly skilled individuals. There is a need for these sectors and institutions to address this in their policy formulation and planning initiatives. Actions in one sector will affect other sectors.
  • Science, technology and education orientated government departments and other players must recognise the key nexus of immigration policy in relation to R&D worker mobility through the Immigration Act. The improvement of temporary residence and work permit processes for foreign researchers especially post-doctoral researchers and a better organisation of hosting institutions can have a positive impact on the mobility of researchers
  • A R&D worker mobility strategy to manage the reality of South African and foreign mobility is needed. Government advice on the best mix between importing skills and growing local skills needs to be sectorally based. In the short term external skills should be aimed at allowing local capacity to be developed in the medium to long term.
  • Reliable and consistent data are crucial to identifying needs and formulating effective mobility policies. Data of this sort will inform the public about what aspects of mobility are of real concern and what aspects specious.
  • The history of isolation in business, academia and research and its effects on South Africa?s reintegration into the global economy has not been sufficiently studied. A deeper understanding of the social dynamics of the science system is an important element necessary for the creation of stronger links between home and diaspora science communities.
  • South Africa, as a leader in African science and technology, needs to understand the forces and pressures that drive mobility locally as well as in other African Union countries.
  • One thing is clear though. If South Africa?s public research system is perceived to be weak or eroding, in that there are few job opportunities or resources available, this will encourage national researchers, especially the young, to seek positions in other countries. Likewise a weak S&T system will not attract the flows of skilled foreigners required to stimulate the S&T system.

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