Mosibudi Mangena, South Africa's Minister of Science and Technology, has warned that the rapid growth in the contract income of the country's nine research councils could be reaching a point where it threatens their public development mandate.
The Government has encouraged councils to increase income over and above their Parliamentary grant and expand research through contracts offered by the public and private sectors and domestic and international donors.
But the minister is concerned that the ratios between core and contract funding could be tipping into an unhealthy balance.
In 2003-04, the Human Science Research Council's R100 million-plus (£8.88 million) in contract earnings outstripped its R66 million government grant. HSRC contract earnings have grown 17-fold since 2000. The minister asked: "Does this pressure threaten the longer-term research that science councils should sustain?"
He is also worried that the HSRC might become less public spirited and "a lot more controlled by those paying the bills".
The larger Council for Scientific and Industrial Research earned R639 million from contracts last financial year, nearly double its parliamentary grant.
While HSRC contract income comes mostly from the public sector and foundations, the CSIR's comes mostly from the private sector.
Core funding of the councils has been rising at significantly above-inflation rates in recent years. Last financial year, the councils received R1.64 billion in the science vote, up from R1.2 billion three years before, and funding is set to rise to R2.1 billion in 2006-07.
The biggest slices go to the National Research Foundation, the CSIR and the Agricultural Research Council. The HSRC receives only R70 million.