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Declare science and innovation ‘essential’ during pandemic, MPs urge

Committee raises ‘serious concern’ about impact of Covid-19 budget cuts on South African science

South Africa’s government should consider protecting the Department of Science and Innovation from budget cuts by declaring it an “essential service”, MPs have said. 

Last week MPs on the higher education, science, and technology portfolio committee heard presentations about how Covid-19-related budget cuts would affect the department. 

The cuts, which amount to 16 per cent of the DSI’s 2020/21, are likely to result in cuts to research grants, as well as research chairs and centres of excellence programmes.

In its report from the hearing the committee expresses “serious concern” about the short- and long-term impacts of the cuts on the DSI and its agencies, which include the National Research Foundation.

This concern is heightened because the DSI is “already seriously underfunded,” the committee notes, even though it is “central” to South Africa’s effort to curb Covid-19 and to ensure the country’s economic recovery from the pandemic. 

The committee recommends that the DSI and its entities should not be subjected to further budget cuts, and that the government could consider declaring the DSI an “essential service”.