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SA looks to business and global partnerships to grow R&D

Image: David Stanley [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

South Africa’s science department has presented a plan to parliament which it hopes will triple the country’s R&D spend by 2019.

Science minister Naledi Pandor and Phil Mjwara, director-general of the Department of Science and Technology, presented their strategic plan for 2015-2020 to the parliamentary portfolio committee on science and technology on 21 April.

The department hopes to leverage international funding, especially in health research, as well as attract more R&D funding from industrial, provincial and municipal budgets, the plan states.

“By 2019 we hope to have a 300 per cent increase in the Rand value of investment by government and the private sector in research and development [in comparison to 2013 figures],” Mjwara told the committee.

This would bring the national R&D spend to around R60 billion ($4.9bn), which is expected to correspond to 1.5 per cent of GDP by 2020, the plan says, up from the 0.76 per cent of GDP spent in 2013.

The DST also wants to train researchers at unprecedented rates, grow the country’s relative contribution to global research, and develop national entrepreneurship.

In addition, it wants to promote science, technology and innovation activities across the rest of Africa. It aims to have 180 cooperation initiatives co-funded by DST and Africa partners by 2019.

By that year, it also hopes to have created a system for coordinating government departments’ research budgets, the plan says.

Mjwara said his department would “deepen support” to agriculture, forestry, agro-processing, aquaculture, manufacturing and mining as part of a drive to get more economic benefits from science, technology and innovation.

The strategic plan wants South Africa to move towards greater commercialisation of national science and technology outcomes. The international collaborations will extend to innovation, having hitherto been largely focused in the science arena, Mjwara said.

The DST’s efforts to push innovations to the commercialisation phase will hinge on successful inter-departmental work within government, which the DST hopes to improve with a new coordination mechanism.

“We are not getting that cohesive partnership [with other government departments] that one needs to really get the big impact that the president is hoping for,” Pandor said.

The wish for better coordination was welcomed by MPs on the committee.

“You don’t seem to have the power to make sure that you can tell [other government departments] what to do, neither do they. If this means enacting laws, we are prepared,” said Monwabisi Goqwana, the committee chairperson from the ruling African National Congress.

A new scheme in the works with the Department of Higher Education and Training will see the DST funnel funding towards research costs while the DHET will establish 240 research positions and cover salary and institutional costs.

Pandor said the DST was also working on a plan to rope in the Department of Small Business Development in areas of common interest.