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25 October 2010

HSRC focuses on the bigger picture

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

PRETORIA – The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) enjoys a positive public image and credibility in the professional sphere and in the public domain. Evidence of the high esteem the HSRC commands as a research institution is its ability to attract an increasing number of research commissions from a wide variety of clients within South Africa and internationally, said Mrs Phumelele Nzimande, chair of the HSRC Board at the launch of the organisation’s 2009/10 Annual Report here today.

Contributing to the country’s development, the HSRC’s research is clearly aligned with development priorities of government and Millennium Development Goals, Dr Olive Shisana, CEO of the HSRC, said. “Our mandate requires of us to address developmental challenges in SA, Africa and the world through strategic basic and applied research in human sciences”.

Projects that centre on the bigger picture

Under the theme, “the bigger picture”, the annual report reflected on social science that focuses on the detail when conducting research, without losing the bigger picture of the effect the research has on the people of South Africa and Africa.
During the reporting year, some 155 projects were running at one time or another. Shisana highlighted some of the significant projects that served development priorities:

Human trafficking

Funded by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), this study provided the first comprehensive assessment of human trafficking in South Africa.  The study constituted one of the four pillars of the NPA’s Human Trafficking Strategy to prevent, react and provide support to victims of crime, named Tsireledzani. 
The study considered in depth the legal context; identifying and clarifying the need for national legislation and databases to track cases of trafficking.

Recommendations for interventions ranged from victim counselling to national legislation and prosecution. It also re-affirmed need for collaborative, multi-agency, long-term and coordinated strategic action

Keeping students at universities.

A study on student retention and graduate destination concluded that poverty leads to student drop-out. The tension between success and diversity remains a trend and discrimination persists in absorption of black graduates into the labour market. The study also showed that race remains the most significant determinant of graduation and employment – though not of earnings in the labour market.

The Department of Higher Education and Training has taken these findings into account in its revision of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and in its development of guidelines for the social and academic transformation of universities.

National HIV survey

Analysis of the South African population-based HIV/AIDS behavioural risks, sero-status and media impact surveys conducted in 2002, 2005 and 2008, found positive changes over these periods in the reduction of HIV prevalence in children aged 2 to 14 years of age.

It showed a decline in HIV prevalence in the teenage population – corroborated by a decrease in mathematically derived HIV incidence in this age group.

Major challenges requiring concerted efforts over the short term are that the HIV infection risks in South Africa remain high; changes in sexual behaviour must take place to counter new infections; women aged 25-29 continue to have a very high level of HIV (33%, sustained over three surveys); a high partner turnover remains a high risk of HIV infection, the percentage of female teenagers (15-19 years) who have sex with older men have increased substantively.

The study enabled the HSRC to measure trends and changes in epidemic over time, and provides essential data for national indicator reporting – a responsibility given to the HSRC in the South African National Strategic Plan (NSP) of HIV & AIDS and STIs 2007 – 2011.

Finding work for young people

Policy research efforts focused on the majority of school leavers who are unlikely to go into tertiary education. The key question was how to improve the employment prospects of school leavers entering the labour market that will not go onto higher education. There are 3 million aged 15 – 24 who are not working and not studying, but interventions tend to reach small numbers.

The first recommendation focuses on activating the large placement sector that is now responsible for a majority of learnerships and employment placements. Policy might focus on matric graduates to give a signal to young people that there is a benefit to finishing matric.

More focus is needed on improving the ‘soft’ capabilities of young people to prepare them for an expanding services economy – such as personal presentation, communication, or skills to help them search for work.

Indicators for research and development (R&D)

Six full research and development surveys were conducted since 2002 by the HSRC on behalf of the Department of Science and Technology.

The 2007/08 survey findings, released during the financial year 2009/10, indicated that national R&D expenditure increased from R16.5 billion in 2006/07 to R18.6 billion in 2007/08. With the growth of South Africa’s GDP, R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP fell slightly from 0.95% of GDP in 2006/07 to 0.93% in 2007/08.

The number of full time equivalent researchers per 1000 total employment in South Africa is low, and indicative of the general shortage of skilled workers. In South Africa there were 1.5 researchers per 1000 total employment compared to 1.9 for China, 2.9 for Argentina 9.5 for Korea and higher for countries such as Japan, Finland and Sweden.
The work informs government’s strategic planning processes and provides inputs for policy makers.

Scientific excellence

Over the reporting year, the HSRC produced 1.52 international peer-reviewed publications per senior researcher, an achievement of which the organisation is especially proud, Shisana said. This shows that the HSRC researchers are increasingly being integrated into the world social science system.

Good financial management

Mrs Nzimande, expressed her appreciation of the “competent and transparent manner in which the HSRC has managed its resources, with effective and efficient internal controls, and with the attention it has given to risk management through its risk management forum and the risk management committee.”

The HSRC has attained unqualified audits over the last decade, including the 2009/10 financial year, with a positive growth in total turnover over the past four years at an average rate of 12,15%.

In terms of funding for 2009/10, the HSRC’ total turnover was R340 million, the highest ever, made up of the parliamentary grant of R148 million and external income of R193 million. The external income for research was mainly from international funders and donors.

“A small surplus of R229 000 was reported for 2009/10, indicating the HSRC’s ability to spend the funds allocated to achieve its mandate. We can be proud of a pro-active management of cash flow and expenses during difficult economic times”, Shisana said.

Income and expenditure: 1999-2010

Shisana said she is confident that the HSRC will continue to perform well with the support of the government, especially the Department of Science and Technology, and other partners who continue to support the HSRC financially.

“I want to assure you that your investment is giving excellent returns for the public.”

View the online version of the 2009/10 HSRC Annual Report

For further information, or a copy of the HSRC Annual Report 2009/10, please contact Ina van der Linde, +27(0)12 3022024, +27(0)823310614, or email: 

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