11 June 2008
Close to one percent of South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from research and development (R&D) spending by the public and private sectors, ensuring that the country’s economy remains competitive in the global arena.
Science and technology plays an important role in the South African economy, and is seen as essential in order to increase economic growth to 6% per annum by 2010, as called for by the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (Asgi-SA).
Addressing Parliament in Cape Town last month, Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena said R&D spending, which currently stood at 0.9% of South Africa’s GDP, was a good indication of the competitiveness of the country’s economy.
Delivering his budget speech, he said that the department had received an allocation of R3.7-billion for the 2008/9 financial year, for a wide range of science projects and programmes.
While private enterprises currently funded about half of the country’s R&D spend, he said the budget allocation was vital, as his department was responsible for ensuring that South Africa maintained and strengthened its competitiveness by increasing investment in relevant R&D initiatives.
Developing critical skills
In addition, a further R195-million has been set aside to strengthen the scientific capacity of higher education institutions in the country, as part of the department’s goal to combat the critical shortage of human resources in science, engineering and technology.
“This is in light of the number of research chairs, which will increase by at least 30% over the next three years, providing mentorship to postgraduate students,” said Mangena.
This investment in human capital development is in line with the department’s national R&D strategy, which among others, puts enormous value on human capital, and canvasses for the spirit and practice of innovation to be treated as a national asset.
One of the challenges facing the department was that the number of school-leavers who have science as a grade 12 subject remained low.
“If we continue to lose our best young minds, our National System of Innovation will be rendered completely ineffectual, and our infrastructure, environment and economy will suffer,” he said.
Skills development in science and technology remains a key challenge for the country’s science system and the department, through its Youth into Science Strategy, places emphasis on interventions aimed at popularising mathematics and science related careers at high school level.
Square Kilometre Array
In addition the country was currently working towards winning the bid to host the Square Kilometre Array in partnership with, and for the benefit of the entire continent, Mangena said.
By winning the bid, Southern Africa would receive a major boost in radio astronomy research, with more student training and an increased infrastructure layout.
The department is also working towards the creation and establishment of the Technology Innovation Agency, which will be a public funding agency to bridge the innovation gap between the local knowledge base and the productive economy.
These initiatives are all part of a larger plan, the Ten-Year Innovation Plan for South Africa, which maps the course for enhancing innovation and enormous potential to contribute to sustained economic growth over the next decade.