18 September 2008
A new survey by the Human Sciences Research Council finds that South Africa spent at least R16.5-billion on research and development (R&D) over the 2006/07 financial year, an indication that the country is progressing towards being a knowledge-based economy.
The purpose of the survey, conducted by the HSRC’s Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators, found that R&D expenditure had increased from R14.1-billion in 2005/06.
Speaking in Pretoria this week, Department of Science and Technology director-general Phil Mjwara said the growth in spending puts the country on course to meet its goal of spending 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) on research and development by the 2008/9 financial year.
Ten-year innovation plan
According to the survey, the strengthening of the R&D system through national policies and mechanisms including special support for cooperation across what is termed the “triple helix” of business, government and higher education sectors can only lead to a more competitive international position through R&D based innovation.
“It is important to have a strong basic research component in a country’s national system of innovation in order to challenge and train new researchers,” Mjwara said in a statement.
“Applied research and experimental development contribute to economic development by providing new R&D based products and processes with potential for introduction to the market.”
The information is critical to South Africa’s forward planning, particularly in specifying the targets for the Ten-Year Innovation Plan, which aims to help drive South Africa’s transformation towards a knowledge-based economy in which the production and dissemination of knowledge leads to economic benefits.
Wide research fields
Most South African R&D work were performed in the research field of the engineering sciences (20.9% of total R&D), followed by the natural sciences (20.3%) and the medical and health sciences (15.1%).
Mjwara said that the local business sector was the major performer and financer of R&D activity in the country, performing 55.9% of all work undertaken and financing 51.3% of total R&D.
The higher education sector undertakes 20% of national R&D activity, while the government (including the science councils) performs 22.8% of the total but finances 33.9% of R&D.
About 10.6% of South Africa’s R&D activity is financed from abroad. Altogether about 18.6% of total R&D performed in the country comprised basic research representing an expenditure of about 0.18% of GDP.
South Africa currently has a total of 30 986 full-time equivalent R&D personnel, comprising researchers, technicians and other support staff.
Meanwhile, the demographic profile of researchers in South Africa is changing, with women researchers now comprise 39.7% of the total researchers, compared to 12.4% in Japan, and 31.7% in Norway. Among the developing countries, Argentina leads the way with 50.5 percent women researchers.