South Africa misses science spending goal


South Africa’s research and development (R&D) spend shrunk as a proportion of the country’s GDP for the second year running in the 2008-09 financial year, according to data published yesterday (press release). The drop means the country has failed to reach its goal of spending 1% of GDP on R&D by 2008, adopted in 2004.

According to the data from the country’s R&D survey - prepared every year by its Human Sciences Research Council - the combined private and public sector R&D spend increased by 2.2% in real terms in 2008-09, reaching a total of 21 billion rand ($2.9bn , £1,9bn). However, as a proportion of GDP it dropped to 0.92% in 2008-09, down from 0.93% in 2007-08 and 0.95% in 2006-07—the highest figure recorded in the country since the end of apartheid.

The drop is chiefly due to flagging government and charitable investment in science, with industry R&D spend growing at a faster rate.

“We are worried that this percentage of GDP is not growing at the level that we want it to,” Naledi Pandor, the country’s science minister, told journalists at a press briefing in Cape Town. The financial crisis, a shortage of researchers and disappointing uptake of the country’s R&D tax credits, introduced in 2008, were given as reasons for the decline by Pandor and Derek Hanekom, her deputy.

Pandor said her government remained committed to reaching the 1% target as the economy recovers, adding that a more ambitious goal of spending 1.5% of GDP on R&D by 2014 had been written into government delivery plans.

However, she admitted that recent cuts in the government’s research budget, including for the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, were a step in the wrong direction. “We must have an improvement in funding, particularly for R&D activities through the NRF and other science councils.”

The survey also noted a slight drop in the total number of researchers per 1000 South Africans, from 1.5 in 2007-08 to 1.4 in 2008-09. Although the reasons for this aren’t clear, it “compares very poorly” with other emerging economies such as Argentina, China and Russia, Pandor said.