Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor on Monday expressed concern about a decline in the percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) spent by South Africa on research and development (R&D) in the 2007/8 financial year.
She pointed out during a media briefing in Pretoria that investment on R&D had increased by 12,7% to R18,6-billion, compared with the R16,5-billion spent in 2006/7.
Despite this increase, investment in R&D, as a percentage of GDP, declined slightly to 0,93%, compared with 0,95% in the previous year.
Pandor noted that the South African economy had grown by about 5% in 2007/8, but that investment in R&D had shown slower growth during the year.
Nevertheless, the Minister remained "very positive" that the country would reach its target of spending 1% of GDP on R&D in the 2008/9 financial year. However, she warned that this might also only be owing to the fact that the economy had slowed down.
Pandor noted that the Department of Science and Technology (DST) had to look at whether it was targeting the right investments, adding that increased R&D spend was a good indication of the competitiveness of a country.
She said that the DST would look at why the decline in R&D spend as a percentage of GDP occurred and what needed to change to ensure that the country consistently maintained increases in R&D investment.
Investment in R&D, as a percentage of GDP, has been steadily increasing from the 0,60% recorded in 1997 to 0,95% in 2006.
Pandor noted that South Africa spent more than other middle- or low-income countries, surpassing India's 0,80% of GDP R&D investment and Argentina's 0,51% of GDP R&D investment in 2007/8.
However, countries like China, with 1,49% of GDP spent on R&D, and Russia, which spent 1,12% of GDP on R&D, were outpacing many developing countries.
South Africa had to work harder to ensure that it boosted its investment in R&D and improved its innovation and patenting, Pandor stated.
Meanwhile, the National Survey of Research and Experimental Development for 2007/8, had highlighted that the majority of R&D investment was still being funded from domestic sources.
Foreign funding had increased slightly to 10,7%, or R1,99-billion, in 2007/8, compared with 10,6% or R1,75-billion the year before.
Government's share of the funding grew to 45,7% in 2007/8, compared with 40,4% the year before, while business' funding contribution fell to 42,7%, compared with 44,8% in 2006/7.
Nevertheless, business remained the largest R&D performing sector, spending R10,7-billion, or 57,7%, of total R&D expenditure in 2007/8, compared with R9,2-billion, or 55,9%, the year before.
The government's share of R&D performance fell to 19,4% in 2007/8, compared with 20% the year before, while higher education's performance also dropped to 21,7%, compared with 22,8% in 2006/7.
R&D expenditure in the engineering sciences sector improved to 22,5%, compared with 20,9% in 2006/7, while expenditure in the natural sciences had amounted to 20,4% of total R&D spend, up on 20,3% the year before.
The medical and health sciences sector and the information, computer and communications technology sectors had each benefited from 14% of the overall expenditure.
Meanwhile, Pandor pointed out that there was an improvement in the number of R&D personnel in South Africa, reaching 31 352 in 2007/8.
However, the DST was eager to see this figure expand further going forward, said the Minister.
Female researchers as a percentage of total researchers had also improved, to 40,3%, compared with 39,7% in 2006/7, the survey showed.
South Africa was one of the best performing countries in this regard, and compared well with other countries.
About 51,5% of Argentina's researchers were female, while 41,8% of researchers in Russia were women.
Spain had 36,7% female researchers and Norway 33,3%.
Meanwhile, Pandor highlighted that the DST and South Africa were doing a great deal of work in terms of climate change mitigation, saying this was at the core of its innovation strategy.
However, the Minister said that the link between science and the practical implementation of ideas was one element that the country had to work on.