Programme director

Prof Cheryl de la Rey

Dr Azar Jammine

NACI acting CEO, Mlungisi Cele

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

 

First of all I would like to thank the NACI and the other distinguished partners responsible for this report we are launching and for giving me the opportunity to speak here today.

In the past few South Africa’s economy has not been growing at a desirable pace.  As a result of this slow growth, our fight against the triple challenges, poverty, unemployment and inequality suffered a serious setback. In a country like ours with such huge challenges and such limited resources, research and development naturally becomes the first area to experience funding cuts. Over the past few years the country’s funding for research has remained stagnant at about 0.7% of the GDP. This is way below our target of 1.5% of GDP that we wanted to achieve by 2020. Necessarily, this means that the resources that we are investing on R&D must be used more effectively. For this to happen we need a better understanding of how and where we are using our resources and more importantly the impact we are making in the life of South Africans. The science, technology and innovation indicators report is a very important instrument for this purpose.  

It is now more than twenty years since the adoption of the 1996 White Paper on Science and Technology. The country has shown good progress in the implementation of the 1996 White Paper, however, South Africa has not yet fully realised the potential of STI to advance the objectives of the National Development Plan (NDP).  For example, the STI institutional landscape has been expanded and there has been a three-fold increase in publications, significant growth in the participation of black people and women in the research and development workforce, and a rise in doctoral graduation rates.  However, challenges remain. The NSI is still not fully inclusive, and since 1996 South Africa’s innovation performance (measured in patents and products) has been relatively flat.

According to recent reviews, the main factors constraining NSI performance are the inadequate and non-collaborative means of STI agenda setting for the country, insufficient policy coherence and coordination, weak partnerships between NSI actors (particularly the insufficient involvement of business and civil society), inadequate monitoring and evaluation, inadequate high-level science, engineering and technical skills for the economy, a too small research system, a poor environment for innovation, and significant levels of underfunding.

As the department of science and technology we are responsible for ensuring that the NSI improves its performance. This means that together with all the stakeholders we have to confound all the constraints that are limiting our NSI performance. This brings to the importance of the report we are launching today. It is important for decision makers to have at their disposal credible and accurate information necessary for making good decisions.

I am delighted that this report is already doing the work that the 2018 White paper which we are going to finalise this year envisages NACI should be doing as part of monitoring and evaluation of the science, technology and innovation landscape. This work requires that NACI develops a monitoring and evaluation framework that will cover the following:

  • Investments/inputs into the NSI (funding sources and spending, people, infrastructure, partnerships/linkages) to indicate how the size, shape and strength of the NSI is evolving.
  • The performance of the NSI (innovation activities, including R&D, outputs in terms of knowledge, products, technology transfer and applications).
  • The behaviour of NSI actors.
  •   How the STI system is transforming the economy.
  • Responsible Research and Innovation indicators.
  • The systemic impact of sustained investment in specific programmes/fields.
  • A composite South African Innovation Index will be developed, responding to the specific needs of the country, for example, in terms of skills development, inclusive economic growth and transformation.

The framework envisaged will assist us to reduce uncertainties in the information that will feed into the policy making process. The indicators report such as we are launching is an important document that should assist to us to improve our planning and implementation of our policies. This report has highlighted key areas that need our focus:

 

  • There is a low supply of doctoral qualifications for females in disciplines like engineering, mathematics and statistics, and computer and information sciences.
  • There are few black doctoral degree graduates in life sciences and engineering.
  • South Africa ranks 18th in the world for scientific publications in social sciences, arts and humanities.
  • Government’s contribution to business expenditure on research and development (BERD) is shown to be low and there is no  appropriate coordination mechanism for a coherent response by various government entities.
  • Government significantly contributes to the South African venture capital industry.
  • High-technology exports remain low, thus there is much reliance on imported high-technology products.

Having made these observations, it goes further to make the following recommendations:

  • that the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and its agencies, especially the National Research Foundation (NRF), intensify targeted and purposeful interventions that are aimed at increasing the representation of female students in the key SET disciplines such as engineering, mathematics and statistics, and computer science. In this regard, established instruments such as the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) and centres of excellence can be upscaled to achieve this objective. It is also recommended that an analysis be conducted to improve an understanding of student choices of courses at the undergraduate level.
  •   A comprehensive evaluation study is therefore recommended to focus on the effectiveness and efficiency of the various interventions that are aimed at improving performance in Mathematics and Physical Science.
  • that government accelerates the implementation of the STI budget coordination mechanisms. It is also recommended that government improves mechanisms to build capacity to prioritise STI funding areas, such as selected science and technology missions and emerging technologies to be developed and upscaled.
  •        that government considers the use of public sector innovation and the revamping of government-supported venture capital funds, especially for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

We will ensure that the recommendations made in this report inform our policy implementation in the department. As we move towards the Fourth Industrial revolution we need to ensure that our country has the capabilities to participate meaningfully. By addressing the challenges identified in these research we will be able to realise the benefits of the coming revolution. I am delighted to accept this report on behalf of the department of science and technology.

I thank you