The South African National System of Innovation (NSI) is not yet fully inclusive and, since 1996, South Africa’s innovation performance, which is measured in patents and products, has been relatively flat, Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said on Friday.
However, there has been progress, especially with regard to the number of research publications published, the participation of more black people and women in the research and development (R&D) workforce, and doctoral graduate rates have risen, she said during an address at a summit to discuss the draft White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), which was approved by Cabinet in September and then published for public comment.
The White Paper sets out government’s long-term policy direction and approach for the STI sector.
Kubayi-Ngubane pointed out that the world was continuously changing, owing to rapid technological change, geopolitical shifts such as the rise of India and China as economic heavyweights, urbanisation and the growing proportion of young people in many countries around the world.
Additionally, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is upon us and, therefore, updated policy responses are necessary to expand the role that STI can play in, for example, re-industrialisation, service delivery, modernising the agricultural sector and mitigating environmental degradation.
The draft 2018 White Paper on STI emphasises the core themes of inclusivity, transformation and partnerships. Proposals are made to address policy coherence, human capital development, knowledge expansion, innovation performance and increased investment.
The National Development Plan has identified STI as a primary driver of economic growth, job creation and socioeconomic reform.
The White Paper finalisation in due course will be followed by a new Decadal Plan by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), which will ensure the implementation of the policy.
DST director-general Dr Phil Mjwara said the White Paper aimed to aid in facilitating innovation, expanding the research system and expanding the institutional landscape, while increasing NSI funding and funding efficiencies.
He highlighted that the department would host a yearly STI plenary, convened by the Presidency, with business, civil society, academia and government members in attendance.
An inter-Ministerial committee on STI will also be chaired by the Science and Technology Minister and be tasked with adopting an innovation compact across government, approving innovation decadal plans and securing financial resources.
Additionally, Mjwara said a National Advisory Council on Innovation, in cooperation with other advisory bodies, would support the inter-Ministerial committee on STI and undertake monitoring and evaluation for the NSI.
The NSI should ideally have a target gross expenditure on R&D of 1.5% of gross domestic product over the next decade, which the White Paper and Decadal Plans will support, in addition to supporting the establishment of a sovereign innovation fund.
Mjwara further noted that allocation of resources through an STI public investment framework would interface with the Department of Monitoring, Planning and Evaluation in the Presidency’s Budget Mandate Paper and the National Treasury’s Medium-Term Expenditure Framework processes.
The White Paper on STI provides that broad-based support to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), for example through walk-in support at technology stations, will be scaled up to ensure than even more of these businesses can access services, equipment and support in production or technology commercialisation, which should accelerate their R&D towards innovation.
Additionally, initiatives aimed at developing small businesses will be scaled up. Tailored technological support through technology assistance packages will be intensified to enable these businesses to meet the technical and commercial requirements for becoming qualified suppliers.
Links between SMEs and larger firms will be incentivised to diffuse technology and improve the ability of SMEs to innovate.
The White Paper on STI also provides that a mechanism be adopted, across all departments responsible for State-owned enterprises (SOEs), to improve the coordination of long-term planning and funding for R&D programmes in SOEs.
The paper stated conditions will be created to encourage SOEs to continue R&D partnerships among themselves and with universities, science councils and the local business sector.
Moreover, in harnessing the 4IR, STI efforts will be focused on emerging materials and technologies that will shape the near future, such as graphene, regenerative medicine, renewable energy technologies, carbon capture and storage, artificial intelligence and modelling, simulation and gaming.
“If South Africa is able to implement a model for integrated science, across natural sciences, social sciences and engineering, we can effectively contribute solutions to issues of climate change, water security, energy, good health and wellbeing, as well as poverty and inequality,” said University of Pretoria vice-chancellor and principal Professor Cheryl de la Rey.