R&D spend up, but South Africa is still off target

Cape Town - Despite spending R2.4 billion more on Research and Development than last year, South Africa is still failing to meet the government's target of spending 1 percent of GDP on R&D.

Presenting the department's National Survey of Research and Experimental Development report for 2008/2009, Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor revealed that the country's R&D spend dropped slightly from 0.93 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 0.92 percent.

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

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

The country's spend on R&D has increased from 0.6 percent in 1997, touching a high of 0.95 percent 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 revealed that India (in 2007) spends 0.8 percent of GDP on R&D, Russia 1.03 percent and China 1.44 percent. Added to this according to R&D Magazine Brazil spends 0.91 percent of its GDP on R&D.

Pandor said a key concern is that the country's number of researchers (at 19 384), which until now had remained stagnant at 1.5 per 1 000 employees, had now slipped to 1.4 per 1 000 employees.

In other developing countries, the rate is 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 the country needed to focus specifically on boosting the skills level and increasing the number of post-graduate students - which she pointed out currently stood at only 34 percent 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 a particular department.

For South Africa to reach its target of one percent by 2008, gross R&D expenditure she said spending on R&D should have increased by an additional R1.7 billion, or by 22.6 percent, in place of the 14 percetn nominal annual increase in spending on research between 2006 and 2008.

The nominal increase in research spending between 2003 and 2004 hit a high of 19 percent, before declining to an average of 16 percent between 2005 and 2007.

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

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

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

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

This year's survey showed that women represent 39.7 percent of researchers in South Africa, compared to 13 percent in Japan and 33.4 percent in Norway. Among developing countries, Argentina, with 51.4 percent of women researchers leads the way.

The survey also revealed that the private sector accounted for 58 percent of spending on research and that 24.4 percent of total research spending was in the field of engineering sciences - up from 22.5 percent in 2007.

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

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

The 2008 National Survey of Research and Experimental Development report for 2008 can be downloaded from www.dst.gov.za. - BuaNews