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DA: We’ll merge science and higher education if we gain power

South Africa’s largest opposition party will merge the science and higher education departments should it win the 2019 election, its election manifesto promises.

The Democratic Alliance released the manifesto on 23 February in Johannesburg.

The departments of science and technology and higher education and training would be combined in a proposed Department of Post-School Education, Research, and Innovation. This would “direct and fund research and innovation as well as attract investment”, the document states.

Like the ruling African National Congress, the DA does not commit itself to a spending target for research. As with the ANC, this is a departure from its 2014 manifesto, which promised to raise R&D spending to 1 per cent of GDP.

While the 2019 manifesto promises to boost and support certain areas of research, it does not explicitly state that it will increase overall research spending.

In contrast, Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters party vowed in its manifesto released two weeks ago that it would boost R&D spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP.

The DA argues for a shake-up in universities, creating a differentiated system in which some institutions would be dedicated to research, and others to teaching, technology or distance learning.

The DA says it wants to attract more top researchers and academics to the country, and commits itself to “protecting and promoting” academic freedom, innovation, and R&D. It emphasises the need to drive innovation in agriculture to create jobs and generate economic growth. It also wants the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to carry out research for mass electricity storage, to shore up the country’s uncertain electricity supplies.

Christian Democrats and UDM

Two other parties, the African Christian Democratic Party and the United Democratic Movement, also launched their manifestos over the weekend.

The ACDP promises more, but unspecified, investment in medical innovation, research and development, and to “promote investment” in innovation and R&D. The party says it would also encourage university students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The UDM offers little in the way of science and research in its manifesto, but promises that it will phase out the National Student Financial Aid Scheme because of maladministration and corruption. However, the party does back free higher education for the poor.