South Africa: The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, has noted the dominant contribution of government funding for research and development (R&D) activities in the economy relative to that of South Africa’s private sector in recent years. This information comes from the 2020/21 National Survey on Research and Experimental Development (R&D survey).
Historically, the main sources of funding for R&D in South Africa have been the government and business sectors. The government sector (including science councils and universities’ own funds) contributed 56.3% of R&D funding in the country, while business contributed 26.9%, foreign funding 13.3% and other South African sources 3.5%.
Higher education and science councils are the main beneficiaries of government funding. It is notable that the proportion of R&D funding received from the government by these institutions has increased significantly, from 26.3% in 2019/20. There is a need for greater investment in R&D from South Africa’s private sector.
The R&D survey is undertaken annually by the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators, which is based at the Human Science Research Council (HSRC), on behalf of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).
The survey is finalised in partnership with Statistics South Africa. The resulting statistics provide important evidence on the size, growth and composition of R&D expenditure and human resources devoted to R&D.
South Africa’s GDP decreased by 6.4 per cent in 2021, which could be ascribed to the global Covid-19 pandemic and resulting national lockdown levels affecting most industries.
Gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD) for 2020/21 was R33.541 billion. However, GERD in constant 2015 prices fell from R28.14 billion in 2019/20 to R25.999 billion in 2020/21, which is a year-on-year decrease of 7.6%.
GERD is an aggregated measure of in-house R&D expenditure performed domestically in five institutional sectors, namely government, science councils, higher education institutions, the business sector and the not-for-profit sector.
Medical and health sciences account for the majority of R&D expenditure (R7.404 billion or 22.1%), followed by social sciences (R6.597 billion or 19.7%) and engineering sciences (R4.332 billion or 12.9%).
The DSI continued to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, supporting projects across the South African national system of innovation to address, among other things, the need for simple, accurate and affordable SARS-CoV-2 rapid diagnostic tests that can be used in remote settings.
The DSI and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), a DSI entity, funded projects to develop Covid-19 rapid antigen tests locally. These were managed by the South African Medical Research Council and resulted in the development of a rapid antigen acute infection test developed by Medical Diagnostech, which received approval from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority. The test provides results in two to 15 minutes and does not require laboratory equipment.
Innovation is necessary to drive the economic renewal, growth and transformation needed for South Africa’s sustainable and inclusive development agenda. Without it, our national economy will be unable to restructure and reposition itself in a highly dynamic and disruptive global economy. The DSI is leading work across the government system to stimulate and intensify technological innovation focused on inclusive growth.
The government intends to dialogue with industry to enable a progressive increase in the rate and scale of aggregate private sector investment in R&D. This is absolutely critical if we are to stimulate sustainable growth, job creation, industrial innovation and global competitiveness.
Later in the year, the President will convene a high-level science, technology and innovation (STI) meeting with government, industry, labour and civil society stakeholders to address this issue and other national STI challenges.
The Minister thanked all stakeholders and organisations in the private and public sectors that participated in the R&D survey, especially during the difficult time of Covid-19, and asked for their continued support and commitment.