South Africa to replenish science after drought

August 13, 2004

South Africa's Department of Science and Technology aims to double national spending on research and development over the next six years.

Universities and the country's array of science councils hope to be the major beneficiaries of the increase.

A survey earlier this year found that most research in South Africa - 53 per cent - takes place in the private sector. Universities conduct a quarter of research and the Government, through the research councils, conducts 20 per cent.

The Government funds 48 per cent of research, nearly 6 per cent is financed from overseas and the rest is funded by the private sector.

The national survey of R&D, which will now be carried out every year, was conducted by the Human Science Research Council. It discovered that a third of researchers are women, that the research workforce is small - two researchers per 1,000 employees - and that it is largely white and "greying", with too few newly qualified researchers entering the system.

There have been efforts to distribute research more evenly across the formerly black/white divide in higher education. The system has been restructured and many established research institutions have been merged with historically black institutions.

Public-private proportions of research output are likely to see-saw in future as the Government increases its funding for mostly public- sector research and moves closer to its R&D spending target of 1 per cent of gross domestic product within the next two years.

Research funding by the Government took a dive in the early 1990s, during the transition from apartheid to democracy, when South Africa cut back on defence and nuclear research, from 1.1 per cent of GDP in 1990 to 0.7 per cent in 1994. This figure has started to climb in recent years.

In 2002, science and technology was split from arts and culture and was granted a dedicated department, as the Government committed itself to raising research spending and output levels. The science and technology minister, Mosibudi Mangena, is an applied mathematician and author.

By 2001-02 South Africa was spending R7.5 billion (£673 million), or 0.76 per cent of GDP, on research - and the amount has been rising steadily.

Rob Adam, director-general of science and technology, said: "We appear to have turned the corner."

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