An additional R5,8 billion is needed if South Africa is to achieve the National Development Plan's target of 100 000 PhDs by 2030.

Delivering the Department of Science and Technology's Budget Vote for 2014/15 in Parliament today, Minister Naledi Pandor said, "In order to reach this target we need train 6 000 PhDs per annum. We now produce just over 1 800 PhDs per year."

"Currently we lack research-supervision capacity and the doctoral-student pipeline is too narrow. We need to support researchers who are capable of supervising postgraduate students, and to create appropriate incentives for students to remain in the system up to doctoral level. We have recently begun investing in emerging researchers through postdoctoral fellowships in the Thuthuka programme, and research-career-advancement fellowships," she added.

The budget

The Department of Science and Technology received a total of R6 470,2 billion from the National Treasury for the 2014/15 financial year.

Most of this is distributed to the six entities reporting to the Department, which are the National Research Foundation (R851 million); the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (R825 million); the Technology Innovation Agency (R380 million); the Human Sciences Research Council (R276 million); the South African National Space Agency (R118 million) and the Academy of Science of South Africa (R21 million).

Key priorities in 2014/15

Over the medium term, the Department of Science and Technology will focus on developing human capital, creating new knowledge, investing in research and development infrastructure and encouraging innovation in South Africa by funding marketable products emerging from research.

The Department will also make transfers to fund the MeerKAT, precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.  The MeerKAT, which will eventually have 64 antennae, should increase from four dishes in 2014/15 to 27 in 2015/16 and 31 in 2016/17.

The African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (AVN) is being rolled out and will involve South Africa's eight SKA African partner countries.  Through the AVN programme, SKA South Africa, in partnership with the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, has also trained scientists and engineers from Ghana and Kenya.  The AVN programme will continue to assist with training more technicians and scientists.

R1,4 billion has been allocated over the medium term from the Economic Competitiveness and Support Package for industrial partnerships, research into satellite development, titanium technology and nanotechnology, and for the internship programme.

To improve South Africa's global competitiveness, the Department will make transfer payments to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) to fund 11 440 bursaries for postgraduate research students in 2014/15, and close to 30 000 over the next two financial years.

Transformation

The NRF will disseminate a total of R1,7 billion in research grants and bursaries this financial year to meet the strict transformation guidelines set by Minister Pandor, which include –

  • increasing the ratio of black to total researchers from 28% in 2013/14 to 40% in 2016/17.
  • Increasing the ratio of female to total researchers from 36% in 2013/14 to 50% in 2016/17.
  • increasing the ratio of black to total graduate students funded from 63% in 2013/14 to 71% in 2016/17.
  • increasing the ratio of female to total postgraduate students funded from 53% in 2013/14 to 55% in 2016/17.

South African Research Chairs Initiative

There are now 157 awarded chairs, of which 128 have been filled.  Of the chair holders, 73% were recruited in South Africa, 21% are women and 28% are black.  There are plans for another 20 chairs.  The initiative has contributed to the transformation of the system by increasing the number of black and female researchers.  Since the inception of the programme, the number of black undergraduate students has increased by 450% and the number of postgraduate students by 400%.

Centres of excellence

Centres of excellence are physical or virtual centres of research which concentrate existing capacity and resources to enable researchers to collaborate across disciplines on long-term projects that are locally relevant and internationally competitive in order to enhance the pursuit of research excellence and capacity development.

There are now 14 centres and investment in them has increased at an average of 20% a year since 2010/11.  The Department of Science and Technology is exploring a further three centres – in Aids, Human Settlements and Water Research, all in collaboration with other departments.

Attracting young people to science

The Department will invest R497 million over the Medium Term Economic Framework period in implementing a coordinated approach to science education, science awareness and science communication.  The programme, run through the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), will reach about 350 000 learners and about 13 000 teachers.

In pursuit of increasing public engagement on science, technology and innovation, a science and education centre will be built in Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape at a cost R30 million to encourage an appreciation for science and to offer teacher training in the area.  A mobile science laboratory, funded by the Department and the Sasol Inzalo Foundation, will help the science centre reach nearby rural areas.

Between 2012 and 2014, the Department exposed about 1 341 unemployed graduates to work experience in science, engineering and technology institutions.  Of these 58% were absorbed into permanent employment in the same institutions and others have found employment elsewhere.  The Department has allocated R80 million to fund 1 000 science postgraduates in the 2014/15 internship programme.

Increasing gross expenditure on R&D to 1,5% of GDP

The Department is busy investigating various methods to increase the investment in research and development to 1,5% of the GDP as mandated by the manifesto of the ANC during the general election this year.  That the ANC was the only party to make such a commitment is a clear signal of significance role to be played by science and technology in the radical transformation of South Africa.

The ICT RDI Roadmap

The roadmap is aimed at increasing public and private investment in ICT research, development and innovation by providing a mechanism to forecast technology developments in targeted areas and identify critical areas for development if South Africa's socio-economic objectives are to be met.  The Department will require an additional R9 billion to implement the roadmap successfully.

Concerted efforts by the Department and its ICT RDI implementing agency, the CSIR Meraka Institute, have succeeded in sourcing and leveraging additional funding of about R258 million for ICT RDI activities.

This includes –

  •  R15 million from the Development Bank of South Africa Green Fund for the development of an ICT Smart and Green Platform aimed at demonstrating how ICT can support green economy goals for the country;
  •  three-year funding of R61,1 million from the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform;
  • R62 million over three years from the National Treasury's Economic Competitiveness Support Package for the ICT Industry Innovation Partnership Fund;
  • R120 million from European Union General Budget Support funding for an ICT innovation programme.