Science needs more SA investment

2012-05-22 14:03
Cape Town - Science research in South Africa needs an urgent cash injection to increase capacity and deliver effective research, particularly for a developing country, an HSRC researcher at the Cesti programme has said.

The Cesti programme is tasked with the measurement of science and technology indicators through DST mandate and researchers primarily use the Gerd indicator (Gross Domestic Expenditure on R&D) to determine the state of science research.

"Our main headline indicator is Gerd as a percentage of GDP which currently stands at the 2008/9 figure of 0.92. We're expected a new result very soon; I can't tell you the figure because it's not official as yet," Dr Neo Molotsha operations manager of the Centre for Science Technology Indicators (Cesti) programme at the HSRC told News24.

Developed countries like Finland, Sweden, Japan and South Korea have a Gerd of around 3%, while in a developing country like SA, the percentage is much lower.

"Our R&D intensity is very low. In the developed countries, they are basing themselves at around 3% of GDP," Molotsha said.

Investment

She said that the country's low figure wasn't acceptable for the country because it's a developing economy.

Science research is often more urgent in developing countries to help diffuse challenges that hamper development and progress on Millennium Development Goals.

Molotsha urged the government to dramatically increase the level of investment into science research from just 1%, saying that the country lacked the people to conduct science research.

"At these levels, no. Above 2% for developing countries, yes. Below 1% is unacceptable, we should be way above that, but we need personnel, we need researchers to be able to do that. I think that's where we are lacking."

One of the problems in science research is a relatively small number of students who graduate from school with mathematics and physical science as well as the percentage of those students who choose to study the science at university.

Although 70.2% students out of a total of 496 090 passed matric in 2011, only 24.3% obtained a university entrance.

"We have to start at the primary level. We have few matriculants doing maths and science; getting into university, but when they get there, they go to several fields - they go to management - and we have a small pool remaining as researchers, and that is the problem in this country," said Molotsha.

Skills

Science fields have become particularly important as the government pushes to host the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope in the Northern Cape province.

The massive €1.5bn project will demand a mass of engineering skills to build and maintain the estimated 3 000 instruments, and Molotsha said that a lack of local skills would lead to the government being forced to import critical skills from other countries.

"I would think they have plans in place for a project like that. And if they don't have enough researchers in place, then they will actually import so they can build capacity within the country."


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