R&D spending in SA shows signs of recovery

Pretoria – Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor says government aims to double the investment in Research and Development (R&D) from the 2014/15 figure of 0.77% to 1.5% of GDP by 2020.

“This means doubling the 2014/15 investment of R29 billion to roughly R60 billion a year by 2020,” the Minister said.

Releasing the results of the latest survey on research and experimental development (R&D) spending in the country at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria on Wednesday, Minister Pandor said the latest R&D Survey (2014/15) shows an improving outlook for R&D investment.

It was R29.3 billion, an 8.1% increase over the previous year in constant 2010 rands.

“The improvement took place against a slowing rate of GDP growth that was 2.2% in 2013 and 1.5% in 2014,” Minister Pandor said.

Trends to observe

Business enterprise expenditure on R&D (BERD) contributed most to the increase. The bulk of the increase came from the manufacturing industry.

The financial and business services industry, which includes software development, continues to be the largest contributor to BERD, having surpassed the manufacturing industry in 2011/12.

The electricity, gas and water supply industries, and the transport, storage and communication industries that have reported declines over the past three surveys have now increased their R&D expenditure.

R&D spending in mining and quarrying has declined by 20%.

“This is an area of concern, given the current interventions under the Operation Phakisa initiative to help revitalise the economy,” said Minister Pandor.

Government was the largest funder of R&D, funding 43.9% of GERD (gross domestic expenditure on R&D). The second largest R&D funding source was the business sector with 40.8%, foreign sources with 12.2% and other local sources with 3.1%.

The continued year-on-year increases in government funding for R&D is important in sustaining the R&D spending and performance of science councils and higher education institutions.

These two sectors are dependent on government R&D funding and have consistently increased their R&D spending since the start of the global economic crisis in 2008. 

“However, aside from the number of publications, we have been unable to track the outputs, outcomes and socio-economic impacts of this investment in public research institutions. 

“It's in this context that I welcome the publication of the first South African National Survey of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer at Publicly Funded Research Institutions. The survey reveals many trends that we did not know before, but I want to highlight four in particular,” Minister Pandor said.

Survey of IP and technology transfer

The management of technologies, patent families, trade mark families, registered design families and new patent applications filed increased more rapidly than the increase in research expenditure.

“This is clearly good news. Between 2011 and 2014, on average 100 new technologies were added annually to the portfolio managed by universities and science councils,” said Minister Pandor.

Second, there has been a quadrupling in the actual number of licences executed per year in the period. More than 88% of this revenue accrued consistently each year to the same four institutions that have well-established Technology Transfer Funds (TTFs). The majority of IP transactions yielded less than R100 000 per year.

Forty-five start-up companies were formed to commercialise the institutions’ technology, 73% of which were based on publicly funded IP.

The majority (53.5%) of all staff in the Offices of Technology Transfer (OTTs) had four years or less TT experience. Females comprised 56.4% of TTF staff in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), and 65.2% in SCs.

“Viewed in the context of overall trends in the racial and skills composition of the labour force in the country, these statistics show that there is clear room for improvement,” Minister Pandor said.

There is an increase in the number of R&D personnel. This includes researchers and other personnel directly supporting R&D. The number of researchers increased to 48 479 in 2014/15.

About 84% of the increase in R&D personnel were postgraduate students. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) attributes this to the Research Chairs Initiative and postgraduate bursaries, which are helping to expand the pipeline of researcher workforce.

According to the Minister, the ratio of researchers per 1 000 employed was 1.5 in 2014/15 and has remained around this level for the previous decade. This is mainly because the researcher workforce has only been expanding at an equivalent rate to that of total employment.

“All in all, the most important trend to observe from the R&D Survey 2014/2015 is that the business sector has replaced the higher education sector as the lead contributor to the increase in R&D spending.

“The growth of BERD has a direct and immediate impact on economic growth because the private sector is more likely to embrace related commercial opportunities by creating new and improving existing products, services and production technologies. These activities can impact directly on the creation of new enterprises, new industries, and new jobs.

“To encourage the private sector to invest in R&D, government introduced the R&D tax incentives in 2006. The initial uptake was less than government had hoped. So the incentive was modified by the Taxation Laws Amendment Act in October 2012,” Minister Pandor said.

Government woos investors

Government is working to attract international R&D and to take better advantage of the country’s integration into global R&D value chains.

One mechanism that is popular is an 'equity-equivalent arrangement', whereby multinational companies that do business with government are required to earn BEE points through a once-off equity equivalent funding contribution. A company can earn points for making investments towards skills and training support, enterprise development and R&D.

“Our Technology Innovation Agency has now been repositioned as an agency whose funding instruments will better enable innovators, entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises to commercialise their technology innovations.

“However, there is a need for a venture capital fund for high-technology SMMEs as well as start-ups,” Minister Pandor said.

She encouraged South African venture capitalists to facilitate joint investments in commercial science, technology and public-benefit projects as well as to assist with developing a new generation of venture capital companies through mechanisms such as Treasury’s Venture Capital Company Tax Incentive scheme. – SAnews.gov.za