South Africa Pushes to Focus Her Science Reseach on National Problems

South Africa’s government is updating the country’s 1996 legislation document that governs the country’s science, technology and innovation activities and agencies with the aim to refocus research efforts on poverty, unemployment, drought and other national problems.

According to Nature, The final draft shifts the focus of South Africa’s science sector towards business-led innovation that tackles societal problems and expands the economy. The draft also reaffirms the government’s goal to double funding for research and development (R&D) from 0.8% to 1.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the next decade.

Read: How Chemistry Kits are Helping Teachers Ignite the Spark of Science

According to Cheryl de la Rey, head of the National Advisory Council on Innovation, which led a 2016 review of the 1996 legislation that has guided the policy revision, the document which is yet to be approved by the government’s cabinet or signed into law lays great emphasis on applied and transdisciplinary research.

Already South Africa leads Africa in Science and boasts of one of the continent’s strongest science systems in the continent, which has been linked in part to the focus on military R&D in an effort to uphold white-minority rule and circumvent international economic sanctions by the apartheid government, which was in power until 1994.

Read: South Africa Ranked Top Innovation Nation in Africa, Nigeria at Bottom of World Ranking

The government and private sources together spent about 32 billion rand (US$2 billion) on research between 2015–16, with the government’accounting for about 14.4 billion rand of that total. This money supports 26 public universities and almost 52,000 researchers, figures which are comparable to those for a highly developed but smaller country such as Norway.

However, the current science policy which was introduced in 1996 after the fall of Apartheid perhaps mainly as part of the numerous adjustments of national policies that occurred during that period of transition from apartheid rule which aimed free the country’s national policies from all apartheid elements seems ineffective in today’s South Africa.

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South Africa’s government which is currently battling a technical recession is faced with pressing problems like poverty, unemployment (about 27 per cent), HIV, and more recently drought found science and innovation had had a limited impact on the country’s high unemployment rate, patent output is low, and research efforts had yielded few marketable technologies. The country’s science minister who has overseen the drafting of the latest legislation, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane commented: “If we [referring to science departments] don’t make an impact on the lives of South Africans, then we don’t deserve to exist.”

Read: How African Scientists Manage to Deliver Sound Science

The government is planning to improve science in the country and make an impact through science by improving science funding. The government plans to increase the amount of business spending on research which is lagging government spending. In Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries business spending on R&D usually outstrips government spending.

The government is also planning to produce more university graduates, publications and patents; exploit green economy ranges from recycling to clean-energy research, as an avenue for economic development, and as a way to mitigate and adapt to climate change; research on big data — which has the potential to create business opportunities and promote electronic governance platforms to speed up the delivery of services to citizens.

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