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Cabinet approves South Africa’s new science policy

South Africa’s first new science policy in more than two decades has finally made its way to cabinet, with a strong focus on inclusivity and social development.

The long-awaited second White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation was approved by cabinet on 5 September.  It will now be published for public comment. The Department of Science and Technology will host a media briefing on it on 10 September.

The White Paper has yet to be made public. However, a draft version marked November 2017 gives an idea of what researchers can expect.

The draft paper states its vision as: Science, technology and innovation enabling inclusive development in a changing world.

The focus on transformation and socio-economic development should not surprise many South Africans, as these have been buzzwords for the DST and former science minister Naledi Pandor for a number of years.

In its draft form, the paper aims to position South Africa to take advantage of development trends such as the fourth industrial revolution and the rise of China as an economic power, optimising the national system of innovation and promoting inclusivity. Inclusivity in science will focus on demographic representivity, historically disadvantaged universities, and civil society engagement.

Raising industry R&D will be an “explicit policy mandate of public research institutions”, the draft says, particularly for the national science councils. Declining research spending by business has in the last few surveys been blamed for the failure to substantially increase gross expenditure on R&D.

According to the draft paper, the government wants to focus on supporting black and women researchers at emerging level. It calls for greater representation of women in the national system of innovation, an increased focus on women in the national research agenda, and specialised support for women researchers.