Between 2005 and 2014, South Africa saw 32% more black doctoral graduates and in 2014, females made up 77% of science researchers in the country.

This is according to the 2015 South African Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators report released by the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) last week.

The publication provides aggregated data from various sources to evaluate the state of science, tech, engineering and innovation in South Africa.

Science, Engineering and Tech (SET) Graduations

Over the past ten years, there has been a gradual increase in the total number of SET graduations as well as the proportion of female SET graduates, with females accounting for at least 50% of these graduates since 2013.

Graduates increased from 33 506 in 2005 to 55 574, with female graduates increasing from 48.9% to 50.2% during the same period.

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When compared with Brazil, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the UK and US, South Africa didn’t fare too badly in terms of the number of SET graduates produced.

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Black doctoral degree graduates more than triple in under a decade

In 2005, 172 black science, engineering an tech students were awarded doctorates, compared to 317, whites. Indian and coloured students accounted for 48 and 23 doctorates awarded respectively.

By 2015, black doctoral candidates had increased by 32% to 525, followed by 437 white candidates, 85 Indians and 51 Coloureds.

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According to the publication, the growth of previously disadvantaged groups being awarded doctoral degrees is encouraging from a transformational point of view.

“The increase in the level of SET doctoral degrees being awarded indicated the establishment of a solid pool of researchers, something that is critical to building research capacity in the National System of Innovation,” said NACI Council member, Dr Azar Jammine.

However, there’s still a need to churn out more doctoral degrees in order to reach National Development Plan’s objective of 100 000 additional PhDs by 2030 to improve research and innovation capacity in South Africa.

In order to reach this target, 6 000 PhDs per year need to be produced.

Race groups and genders in research and development

The same positive upward trend is seen when looking at the number of researchers in science in the different race groups and genders.

Females accounted for 77% of all candidates in the 2013/14 year, while whites made up the majority race group (519), followed by blacks (467).

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Although South Africa is producing more researchers, a lot more needs to be done to help fund research and development to benefit the country and attract international investors and business.

In 2013/14, the largest investment in Research and Development (R and D) came from government (R11 million) followed by private businesses, with most funding going to the business sector.

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Compared to other countries, South Africa’s R and D expenditure as a percentage of GDP is very low (0.73% in 2013) and hasn’t seen much of an increase over the years.

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Dr Jammine noted a need for more investment in research and development in South Africa if wants to avoid not addressing the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

“We should make special efforts to offer Technology Innovation Fund opportunities to international venture capital companies that command large resources,” said Minister of the Department of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor.

“Such a move would improve South Africa’s access to second-stage financing, and local innovation would benefit from these companies’ experience and expertise,” she said.

Pandor commended South Africa’s fairly robust and able science and technology sector and its competent research institutions and increasing numbers of emerging researchers.

[Source – NACI via Department of Science and Technology]