The annual budget of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) remains stable, in real terms. “It’s in line with inflation,” DST director-general Dr Phil Mjwara told Engineering News Online at a press briefing on Tuesday. “It’s not declining, it’s not growing.” However, exchange rate volatility did have an impact as rand weakness drove up the costs of acquiring scientific and research equipment from abroad.
In response to a question from another journalist, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said “[w]e do know we [the country] are going through a low growth phase at the moment. We are working hard at the DST to contribute to increased growth through new industries and products.”
Funding was not at the level that the Department would like, and it was working on developing international partnerships to access foreign funding. “We do rather well in that regard,” she observed. “We are also pursuing a number of initiatives with the private sector.”
The DST was also encouraging other government departments, and not just at national level, to invest in innovation. She cited the example of the Gauteng provincial government’s support of the Innovation Hub in Pretoria. “Really, what you do is not rely on what comes out of national revenue.”
In her formal statement at the briefing, Pandor reported that her department’s budget for 2017/18 was R7.5-billion. “[T]he Department will maintain a clear focus on human capital development and the continuous modernisation of research infrastructure,” she assured.
The DST was heavily involved in achieving four, in particular, outcomes desired by the country’s Medium Term Strategic Framework. These are Outcome 2 (a “long and healthy life for all South Africans”); Outcome 4 (“decent employment through inclusive growth”); Outcome 5 (a “skilled and capable workforce to support an inclusive growth path”); and Outcome 6 (an “efficient, competitive, and responsive economic infrastructure network”).
To ensure the transformation of the country’s human capital, at least 80% of post-graduate bursaries awarded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) would go to black students, 55% to women and 4% to people with disabilities. This transformation, she stated, was a requirement for sustainable growth.
The assignment of the DST’s 2017/18 budget is as follows: research development and support (which funds research, researchers and research infrastructure) gets R4.3-billion. Socioeconomic innovation partnerships (which are focused on fighting poverty and creating sustainable jobs, human settlements and service delivery) is assigned R1.6-billion. Technology innovation (under which rubric fall the Technology Innovation Agency, or TIA, and the National Intellectual Property Management Office) receives R1.1-billion. International Cooperation and Resources gets R128.7-million and administration is allocated R383.7-million.
The Parliamentary grants allocated to agencies reporting to the DST are – the NRF: R926-million; the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research: R916-million; the Human Sciences Research Council: R305-million; the TIA: R397-million; the Academy of Science of South Africa: R25-million; and the South African National Space Agency: R131-million. These entities can and do also receive separate funding for specific projects.
“Our theme for this year’s budget vote is ‘The Oliver Tambo legacy – positioning the national system of innovation for the future’,” affirmed Pandor. “OR Tambo wasn’t just a luminary of our struggle for freedom; he was also an outstanding mathematics and science teacher.”