Pandor announces ambitious science research target

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor. (Gallo)

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor. (Gallo)

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor on Wednesday announced an ambitious 2019 target for increasing South Africa’s spend on research and development (R&D).

South Africa’s percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) spend on R&D has steadily decreased to 0.76% in 2010-2011 from 0.93% in 2007-2008, according to the Human Sciences Research Council.

The percentage of GDP spent on R&D is considered an important metric for economic growth. The average for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries is about 2.4%.

South Africa cannot compete on an equal footing with developed countries, which have less immediate societal problems and larger GDPs, but it is also being outstripped by other emerging countries.

South Africa has consistently missed its 2008 target of 1%, but the ANC has set a hugely ambitious target of 1.5% by 2018.

Second time around
“We are already working on the phase of implementation, with a 2019 target,” Pandor said in her first briefing as minister. Pandor replaced Hanekom as minister of science and technology in President Jacob Zuma’s new Cabinet, which was announced on May 25.
But Pandor is a previous minister of science and technology, who was moved to the home affairs ministry after a Cabinet reshuffle in 2012.

Pandor said implementing the government’s National Development Plan (NDP) was “a priority for this administration”.

“The NDP identifies education, training and innovation as being at the centre of South Africa’s long-term development, and specifically states that ‘inadequate capacity will constrain knowledge production and innovation unless effectively addressed’,” she said.

This comes amid claims in a World Economic Forum report that South Africa has the worst maths and science education in the world. Pandor waived the report, saying it “clearly indicated that it was based on perception”.

“It was a perception survey, not a test of our learners on mathematics and science … I don’t think it spoke to the achievement of the science system in South Africa.”

Sarah Wild

Sarah Wild

Sarah Wild is a multiaward-winning science journalist. She studied physics, electronics and English literature at Rhodes University in an effort to make herself unemployable. It didn't work and she now writes about particle physics, cosmology and everything in between.In 2012, she published her first full-length non-fiction book Searching African Skies: The Square Kilometre Array and South Africa's Quest to Hear the Songs of the Stars, and in 2013 she was named the best science journalist in Africa by Siemens in their 2013 Pan-African Profiles Awards. Read more from Sarah Wild

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