R&D spending up, still short of target

9 September 2010

The South African government spent R21-billion on research and development (R&D) in 2008/09 – R2.4-billion more than the previous year, but still short of its target of at least one percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Presenting her department’s National Survey of Research and Experimental Development report for 2008/9 in Cape Town this week, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor also revealed that the country’s R&D spending had dropped slightly, from 0.93% to 0.92%of gross domestic product (GDP).

This was despite R&D expenditure having increased 2.2% in real terms between 2007 and 2008, from R18.6-billion to R21-billion.

‘More needs to be done’

Pandor said that despite South Africa’s R&D spend having grown five-fold in the last 11 years – from about R4-billion to R21-billion – more had to be done to meet the one percent target.

R&D spending increased from 0.6% of GDP in 1997, touching a high of 0.95% in 2006.

She said comparisons with developing countries such as India, China and Russia indicated that South Africa’s share of global R&D had grown from a relatively low base, and that its R&D investment matched its relative economic size.

The survey found that, in 2007, India spent 0.8% of GDP on R&D, Russia 1.03%, China 1.44%, and Brazil 0.91%.

Women researchers making strides

The department’s survey, undertaken by the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), revealed that South Africa has one of the highest proportions of women researchers in the world.

The 2008/09 survey showed that women represent 39.7% of researchers in South Africa, compared to 13% in Japan and 33.4% in Norway. Among developing countries, Argentina leads the way with 51.4% women researchers.

Private sector funding

The survey also found that the private sector accounted for 58% of spending on research, and that 24.4% of total research spending was in the field of engineering sciences – up from 22.5% in 2007.

The remainder of research spending was concentrated in the natural sciences (20.6%), medical and health sciences (14.6%), information and communication technologies (13.1%), social sciences and humanities (12.5%), and applied sciences and technology (9.1%).

Pandor said she was concerned by the decline in the contribution of agricultural sciences, which fell from 6.8% of the total spend to 5.5%.

More post-graduates needed

Pandor said a key concern was that the number of researchers in South Africa (at 19 384 in 2008/09), which had previously remained stagnant at about 1.5 per 1 000 employees, had now slipped to 1.4 per 1 000 employees.

In other developing countries, the rate was much higher – at 2.9 in Argentina, 1.9 in China and 6.4 in Russia.

Pandor said the findings of the survey indicated that South Africa needed to focus on boosting skills levels and increasing the number of post-graduate students – which currently stood at only 34% of all graduates.

She said part of the country’s challenge was that research funding was dispersed according to sectors, which meant there wasn’t a central point of administrative control, leaving research areas largely dependent on the focus of particular departments.

Future targets, incentives

Pandor said President Jacob Zuma wanted spending on research and development to reach 1.5% of GDP by 2014.

She added that this was a specified outcome in the performance agreements she, as well as Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, had signed with Zuma earlier this year.

Deputy Science and Technology Minister Andre Hanekom said his department would analyse the uptake on R&D spend, adding that not enough businesses had taken advantage of the department’s R&D tax incentive, introduced in 2006.

The National Survey of Research and Experimental Development report for 2008 can be downloaded from the HSRC website.

Source: BuaNews