The Minister of Science and Technology (DST) welcomes the release of the 2016/17 R&D survey results by the Statistician-General. The department intends facilitating more deeper engagement of the results with government departments, researchers, and policy analysts.


The year-on-year increase in GERD is welcomed. The 2016/17 Research and Development (R&D) Survey show that South Africa's gross expenditure on research and development (GERD) amounted to R35,693 billion in 2016/17. This represents an increase of 10,4% in nominal terms over the previous year.


GERD as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) – a key indicator of R&D intensity – improved to 0,82% in 2016/17, in spite of slowing economic growth.  GDP increased by only 0,6% in 2016, compared to 1,3% in 2015, 1,7% in 2014 and 2,5% in 2013.


Increasing R&D investment in support of innovation and inclusive economic growth is one of the key features of the draft 2018 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), and the National Survey of Research and Experimental Development (R&D Survey) is crucial for monitoring South Africa's progress in this regard.


Conducted annually on behalf of the Department of Science Technology (DST), the R&D Survey provides statistics on the country's performance in terms of key indicators of R&D expenditure and the human resources devoted to R&D. It is undertaken by the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (CeSTII), located within the Human Sciences Research Council, with support from Statistics South Africa.


At constant 2010 prices, South Africa's GERD amounted to R25,305 billion in 2016/17, representing a year-on-year increase of 3,4% in real terms.  This rate of increase has slowed from the 4,8% reported in the 2015/16 survey and 8,3% in the 2014/15 survey.


The headcount of R&D personnel in the country increased by 5 098 to 80 029 in 2016/17. Researcher full-time equivalents (FTEs) increased by 5,7% to 27 656.2. The proportion of female researchers increased and stood at 45,6% (15 078), one of the highest when compared globally. These improvements are attributed to the net intake of researchers, a large part of which is made up of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows at universities.


While these statistics point to increases in the financial and human resources devoted to R&D in South Africa, the broader socio-economic context demands much higher levels of investments.


For instance, the ratio of FTE researchers per 1 000 employed, which remained unchanged at 1,7 compared to 2015/16. The National Development Plan (NDP) requires a much larger pool of scientists, engineers and technologically skilled workers than is currently available.  


The GERD/GDP ratio, for the fourth consecutive year, increased under conditions of slowing economic growth. Business expenditure on research and development (BERD) need to increase more decisively in order to alter this trend. Incentives to encourage private sector investment and R&D activities are in place precisely for this purpose.


The higher education sector’s R&D expenditure continues to drive the increases in GERD. Within the business sector, the financial intermediation, insurance, real estate and business services sector continued its dominance, recording about 44.3% of BERD. This sector’s R&D spend surpassed that of the manufacturing sector since 2011/12. Manufacturing R&D constituted 27.8% of BERD in 2016/17. Mining R&D expenditure has declined for the third consecutive year.


The public, private and international sectors’ efforts complement each other in terms of R&D funding and performance. The government sector remained the main funder of R&D in the country at 46%, followed by the business sector at 39,4%. Foreign sources of R&D funding across all sectors stood at 11,7%, while other local sources funded the remaining 2,9%. Connections between the business and higher education sectors need to be strengthened in order to capitalise on the country's large researcher base, to overcome the constraints to business sector R&D and innovation performance.


The provincial distribution of R&D activity has changed slightly over the last 10 years. While most R&D activity still takes place Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, the proportions of R&D performed in these provinces have altered between 2007/08 and 2016/17. Significantly, over this period, the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, North West and Limpopo have increased their R&D activity.


For the third time in the series of R&D Survey reports, separate data tables are presented to show R&D trends of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). In-house R&D expenditure for SOEs increased by 32,9% year-on-year, from R1,97 billion to R2,62 billion in 2016/17, representing 6,0% of GERD.  This amount is still significantly lower than the peak of R3,44 billion reported in 2008/09.


As a department, we look forward to finalising the draft White Paper on STI as it presents a paradigm shift, and we remain determined to double the country’s expenditure on R&D as a percentage of the country's gross domestic product to 1.5% over the next decade.


The 2016/17 R&D Survey can be downloaded from:




For more information, please contact:


·          Mr Godfrey Mashamba (Department of Science and Technology) at 012 804 3758 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

·          Dr Glenda Kruss (CeSTII) at 021 466 8086 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Issued by the Department of Science and Technology