Government has set itself an ambitious target of doubling South Africa’s spend on research
and development (R&D) in the coming years to grow the economy. The National Development Plan’s (NDP)
Medium Term Strategic Framework 2014-2019 sets a target of raising R&D spending to 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2019.
While developed countries spend about three per cent of GDP on R&D,
South Africa’s spending on it in recent years has never passed the one per cent mark, hitting a high of 0.95 per cent in 2006.
The latest fi gures, contained in the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) Government to go
R&D survey released last year, places the figure at 0.76 per cent for 2011/12, when the country spent R22 billion on R&D.
Public-private partnerships Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor told PSM that to achieve the 1.5 per cent target,
the department would, among other things, strengthen links between
the public and private sectors by encouraging joint industry research and public-private partnerships.
Currently, the government is the largest funder of R&D in the country,
but as the economy slows and departments’ allocations from the fiscus are squeezed, Government to go
the private sector will have to play a greater role in investing in R&D. But this is not going to be easy.
Recently, the Minister told a R&D incentive conference in Stellenbosch that she was concerned about the decline of business investment in R&D.
She told delegates that private sector innovation is dominated by activities that are not necessarily new, adding that businesses spend more on acquiring new equipment and software rather than on developing new products or processes.
Much of this is by a small handful of businesses and a large amount of technology is imported, rather than homegrown.
To get the private sector to ramp up R&D spending the department is using a range of measures.
These include continuing to deploy its R&D tax incentive, better tools to help start-ups
to commercialise new ideas, sector innovation funds and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.
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