South Africa boosts R&D spending

10 December 2009

South Africa spent just over R18.6-billion on research and development (R&D) in 2007/8, which represents an increase of R2.1-billion of the gross expenditure on R&D compared to R16.5-billion in 2006/7.

This is according to the latest national survey of R&D activities undertaken by the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (CeSTII) of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

Indication of competitiveness

During 2007, the South African economy performed favourably, attaining a GDP growth rate of around 5%. Clearly, the results indicate that investment in R&D grew much slower than gross domestic product (GDP).

“This observation needs to be carefully analysed to identify any emerging trends and to inform appropriate policy responses, especially if the country is to attain the target of one percent of GDP by 2008/09,” the Department of Science and Technology said in a statement last week.

Increased expenditure on R&D in relation to GDP is a good indication of the competitiveness of a country’s economy.

Much like with the previous surveys, most R&D in South Africa is performed in the research field of the engineering sciences, which accounts for 22.5% of the total R&D, followed by the natural sciences with 20.4% and the medical and health sciences and ICTs, both at 14%.

The proportion of business sector R&D has grown from 55.9% to 57.7%, and is still the major performer of R&D in the country. The government, which includes the science councils, performs 21.7% of the total R&D, followed by the higher education sector with 19.4% and the non-profit sector with 1.2%.

“About 10.7% of South Africa’s R&D is financed from abroad,” the department pointed out.

Researchers, technicians, support staff

With a total of 31 352 full-time equivalent (FTE) R&D personnel, there is a marginal growth to an already small quantity. This category comprises researchers, technicians and other support staff.

About 62% of these personnel comprise the 19 320 FTE researchers or academically qualified people who perform, manage and guide the process of undertaking research that leads to new knowledge and novel research findings. This number has grown by four percent from 18 527 in 2006/07.

“South Africa is amongst the countries with the highest proportion of women researchers,” the department noted.

About 40.3% of the total researchers in South Africa are women, comparing favourably with countries such as Japan (13.0%) and Norway (33.3%). In developing countries Argentina leads the way with 51.5% women researchers.

Country comparisons

Highly competitive countries are found to spend more on R&D: with the R&D spending of 3.6% of GDP in 2006, Sweden is amongst the highest of the OECD member countries with high R&D intensity.

Other such countries are Korea with 3.47%, Japan with 3.44% and the United States of America with 2.68%.

The European Union has set a goal of achieving an average R&D expenditure of 3% of GDP by the year 2010. In 2007, the average for the 27 European Union member states was 1.77%.

“In comparison with other middle and lower-middle income countries, South Africa spends proportionately more on R&D than Argentina (0.51%) and India (0.80%) but less than China (1.49%) and the Russian Federation (1.12%),” the department said.

This survey was carried out according to the guidelines provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Frascati Manual and in consultation with Statistics South Africa and international experts in the field.

SAinfo reporter

Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material