Department of Science and Technology: briefing

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Trade and Industry

04 March 2003
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TRADE AND INDUSTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
5 March 2003
DEPARTMENT OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: BRIEFING
 

Chairperson: R H Davies

Documents Handed Out:

South Africa's System of Innovation: Implementing the National R&D Strategy Presentation

SUMMARY

 


The Department of Science and Technology briefed the Committee about the implementation of the National Research and Development Strategy. Increased funding of research and development is imperative in fostering long-term sustainable economic growth. South Africa needs to improve both its science base and innovation to compete with other knowledge economies.

MINUTES
Dr A D Paterson, Chief Executive Officer, Department of Sales and Technology from the Department of Science and Technology briefed the Committee on the implementation of the National Research and Development (R&D) strategy.

Research and development in science and technology has changed both globally and within South Africa. In the decades following World War II, many countries spent a lot of money on research and development. Laboratories were given funds to conduct research, without much emphasis on valuable results. In the 1980s this resulted in a drive for more production from science laboratories. Innovation had to be relevant to society. This is the time when scientists realised they had to work for consumers. In the 1990s, it became evident that national systems of innovation were necessary for sustainable economic growth. The fostering of both human capital and innovation is necessary for long-term economic growth.

Between the 1996 White Paper on Science and Technology and the 2002 National Research & Development Strategy, South African government spending on research and development remained constant at 7% of GDP. Europe currently spends nearly four times that amount, 2,4% of GDP and is scheduled to raise that to 3% by 2010. There is declining private sector support for research & development, human resources are limited, and there is inadequate intellectual property framework.

The three strategic objectives that inform the policy of the Department of Science and Technology are innovation, human capital and transformation, and alignment and delivery. Increased innovation will lead to the production of solutions that will help improve the quality of life in South Africa. In order to increase the amount of innovation, South Africa must increase its science base. Finally, the Department must spend wisely in the area of research and development.

In developing countries, 50% of the potential for economic growth comes from innovation, which is dependant on a country's R&D capacity and human capital. Without improving research & development and the science base, developing countries are cutting themselves off from 50% of their growth potential.

Due to the small amount spent on research and development, South Africa is importing technology at a steep price. R800, 000 000 per year is spent on licenses (up from 200, 000, 000 in 1994). With the amount spent on other technology and services, South Africa spends R4, 000 000 000 per year to buy knowledge. That is equal to the amount of money South Africa spends on the creation of knowledge. That ratio is not properly balanced.

South Africa has only 2,5 patents per million citizens per year while South Korea has 779. This large gap bodes poorly for long-term economic growth in South Africa.

Problems with the demographics of South Africa's science base exist. The vast majority of published research comes from white males. While change has begun in the period from 1990 to 1998, the statistics are still inequitable. In 1998, 92% of publications were produced by whites. South Africa's human capital is not only unequally distributed along racial and gender lines. Most South African researchers are older, with nearly 50% of the researchers over 50 years old. Half of those are over 65 years old. The ageing science base in South Africa is part of a global trend, yet it is still alarming.

All of the disparities combine to form an 'innovation chasm' between South Africa and the more developed countries. South Africa spends money to purchase the technology it does not have because of this chasm. This money would be better spent on research and development.

The Department of Science and Technology targeted a set of technology missions:
- Science and technology and innovation for poverty alleviation.
- National biotechnology strategy.
- ICT
- The Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy.
- Innovation in the Resource based industries.

Popular policy in the developing countries is to allow the so-called 'sunset industries' to fizzle out. Investigation has shown that developed countries continue to support these industries. South Africa needs research and development in agriculture and mining, as these industries are still important to South Africa's economic health.

The Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy aimed to increase private sector participation in development. The strategy has lead to concrete proposals for innovative networks, centres, and projects. Automotive, Product Development Technology, and Clean Production Technology have existed as innovation centres. The Logistics Innovation Centre, and the Textiles and Clothing Innovation Centre are new centres. Furthermore, there are several new innovation networks including the advanced metals network, ICT in manufacturing network, the advanced materials network, and the craft development network.

The Department of Science and Technology's biotechnology strategy includes the development of three regional biotechnology innovation centres. Moreover, the strategy calls for launching a biotechnology initiative for increased public understanding.

The Department called for the strengthening of governance in science and technology. Legislation must define responsibilities for intellectual property from publicly financed research.

A six-year planning horizon has been set for science and technology. After six years, the goal for spending in research and development is 1% of GDP. The EU has targeted spending at 3% by 2010. Is South Africa doing enough? While South Africa has planned to increase spending for R&D, other countries are not standing still. South Africa should probably be doing more.

Dr Paterson posed what it would take to have as many engineers per 1000 people of the workforce by 2014 as South Korea had in 1990. South Africa would have to double the engineering faculty from now until 2014 to accomplish that.

South Africa's focus must be on innovation and human capital. South Africa must increase the scale, scope, and impact of science, technology, and innovation to move towards a knowledge economy.

DiscussionA member of the ANC asked about the frozen demographics in the field of science. Why do white males dominate the field? Why were a limited number of younger people entering the field? How can you encourage more students to become involved in science?

Dr Paterson noted that most career decisions come early. Children at the end of primary school and beginning of secondary school need to be targeted. Science and technology needs to be made more accessible and attractive. Science and technology curriculum exposure has been increased to 20%. The Department has allocated part of their budget to promoting after school science activities and interventions. South Africa should finance training for science and mathematical teachers. The quality of teaching needed to be upgraded. Incentives should be given to teachers who teach science subjects.

Professor S S Ripinga (ANC) stated that the building of the science base would have to begin from the lowest ground. What strategy would include segments from the whole population? Where do indigenous scientists fit into this system? How does South Africa maintain its science base in the threat of international competition?

Dr Paterson agreed that targeting needed to be addressed to everyone. He suggested one method would be to promote an interest in astronomy, for the southern skies is something that everyone shared. Indigenous knowledge systems are important to South Africa's knowledge base. The Department should finance indigenous knowledge work that intersects with other popular forms of knowledge. Dr Patterson acknowledged that it was difficult not to lose scientists to the international science system. Oftentimes, a scientist would get more benefits if he or she leaves South Africa to work in another country. Funding for benefits must be increased in order to maintain South African scientists.

Mr D Lockey (ANC) stated that we need to attract skills into South Africa. There had been no real progress in terms of upgrading science and mathematics teachers. How could we attract skilled people into the country? Over the last seven to eight years, 1 000 000 jobs had been lost. How does research and development assist the unemployed.

Dr Paterson explained that South Africa must target specific skills for development and education that would lead to increased development. The money for skills education needed to be spent wisely. The teacher salary structure should be changed to encourage more quality science and mathematics instructors.

Mr S M Rasmeni (ANC) stated that this was a country of two nations. One was rich and educated, and one was poor and uneducated. By spending more money on research and development, were we not widening the gap between these two nations? Many of the after-school programs would be inaccessible to poorer children, for their parents would not be able to afford the increased transportation costs.

Dr Paterson replied that we needed to spend more money on interventions in schools. We need to increase the hours of contact that children have with scientific subjects.

Prof Mohammed, an ANC member visiting from a different committee, stated that he agreed with the principles of fostering increased innovation. South Africa needed more engineers for industries such as mining. Mines needed to be more mechanised. He supported the idea that astronomy should be utilised in bringing people into the sciences. The funding allocated for research and development should double in three years, not reach 1% in six years. More money was needed for basic research.

Dr Paterson replied that skills development happened at the more hi-tech level. The Department was currently trying to attract people to the sciences using astronomy and should continue to do more in that regard. Disappointingly, the Department could not double spending on science and technology in three years. But the Department was engaging with the treasury to accomplish all that it could. Funding for basic research would be increased.

Ms C C September (ANC) explained that there was a lot of scepticism about technology. What could be done to relieve this scepticism.

Dr Paterson stated that the scepticism existed because people only question technology when it did not work. When technology was working properly, it becomes invisible.

The Chairperson concluded by thanking the Chief Operating Officer for his update. He noted that the Committee had supported the funding of research and development for a long time.

Meeting was adjourned.

 

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