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South African research intensity plummets

Image: Wesley Nitsckie [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

Survey shows decreased expenditure across the board

South Africa’s gross expenditure on research and development has fallen to 0.75 per cent of GDP in the latest survey on research intensity.

The 2018/19 survey, released on 19 February, details dismal findings across the board.

The fall in research intensity—GERD as a percentage of GDP—to 0.75 per cent in 2018/19 is the lowest level since 2013/14. It dropped from 0.83 per cent in 2017/18.

This is not the only bad news. GERD itself amounted to R36.8 billion in 2018/19, a fall of almost R2bn from the previous year. The last time GERD decreased between surveys was in 2010/11. R&D expenditure by government, science councils, and business all decreased from 2017/18, with a slight increase by higher education. 

Not-for-profit R&D expenditure saw a pronounced increase of R270 million. However, science council R&D expenditure fell by R870m. 

South Africa went into recession in the second quarter of 2018, prompting in a curb on government spending. ”The science council sector bore the brunt of the public sector budget cuts across government departments,” the report says. More than 350 science council R&D staff lost their jobs, 102 of whom were researchers. 

Business R&D spending continued to decrease, losing a further R1.4bn in 2018/19 with 678 R&D personnel losing their jobs.

“These numbers are indicative of a general trend of stagnation in the business sector evident since at least 2014/15, reflecting the poor economic environment culminating in the recession in 2018/19,” the report states.

Funding for R&D from government and business, which accounts for 87 per cent of the total, decreased by R607m and R1.53bn respectively. Foreign funding increased slightly by R62m. 

This is the first R&D spending data since the release of the 2017/18 survey in October 2019.