Govt sets ambitious targets for R&D investment

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Science and technology minister Naledi Pandor.
Science and technology minister Naledi Pandor.

The economic knock has not deterred government from committing to increase investment in research and development (R&D) to R60 billion a year in the next three years.

The country's economic outlook has taken a beating in the wake of a credit rating downgrade steered by political instability.

Yesterday, science and technology minister Naledi Pandor announced government aims to double the investment in R&D from the 2014/15 figure of 0.77%, to 1.5% of gross domestic product.

This means SA will double the 2014/2015 investment of R29 billion to roughly R60 billion a year by 2020, she said.

Pandor's announcement not only paves the way for much-needed funding, but will be seen as a sign of government's continued commitment to improve R&D investment. Government has recognised the role of R&D in addressing the country's development challenges.

Delivering the results of the latest R&D survey, conducted by the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators at the Human Sciences Research Council, the minister noted the improvement of the outlook for R&D investment.

"It was R29.3 billion; an 8.1% increase over the previous year...This improvement took place against a slowing rate of GDP growth that was 2.2% in 2013 and 1.5% in 2014," she said.

According to Pandor, the continued year-on-year increase in government funding for R&D is particularly important in sustaining R&D spending and performance of science councils and higher education institutions.

"These two sectors are dependent on government R&D funding and have consistently increased their R&D spending since the start of the global economic crisis in 2008."

Pandor noted the latest survey also shows an important trend, and that is the increase in the number of R&D personnel.

The workforce increase now includes researchers and other personnel directly supporting R&D, she noted.

The number of researchers increased to 48 479 in 2014/15, the minister said. "About 84% of the increase in R&D personnel was postgraduate students.

"The Department of Science and Technology attributes this to the research chairs initiative and postgraduate bursaries, which are helping to expand the pipeline of researcher workforce. The ratio of researchers per 1 000 employed was 1.5 in 2014/15 and has remained around this level for the previous decade."

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