South Africa’s state of innovation

SA’s exports of pharmaceuticals increased by a dramatic 43,5% between 2012 and 2013, while imports in the sector showed a decrease of 3%. 

This is according the latest annual South African Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators publication, launched in May by the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI).

The report provides aggregated data from various sources to evaluate the state of science, technology and innovation (STI) in SA by appraising, among other things, the country’s human capital development, research capacity and export performance, and the impact this has on quality of life and wealth creation.

The 2014 report focuses mainly on data for the period 2004 to 2014, which allows for a proper trend analysis over a period of time.

STI indicators

The measurement of STI indicators in SA is important in view of the National Development Plan’s requirement that the country upscale advanced manufacturing through substantial investment in research and development, and the commercialisation of South African inventions.

Speaking at the launch of the booklet, NACI Council member, Dr Azar Jammine, said there were early signs of import substitution in the pharmaceutical industry, but more time was needed to monitor the new development.

The publication shows that, while the direction of SA’s trade in general merchandise was shifting from developed countries to developing countries in East Asia and the Pacific, the country’s research and development collaborations were mainly with developed countries, including the US, UK and Germany.

In terms of SA’s BRICS knowledge generation collaborations, China was the leading collaborator in the 2009-2013 period, followed by India, Brazil and Russia.

Most research collaborations in Africa are with Nigeria (with a share of 1,4% in the 2009-2013 period), followed by Kenya (1,1%), Zimbabwe (0,8%) and Uganda (0,7%)

Human capital

Research collaboration is important considering SA’s need to develop human capital in science, technology and innovation. The country has 1.5 researchers per 1000 people employed, a small number compared to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries’ average of 7.7.

The shortage of research human capital is also evident at the higher education institutions.  In 2012, the percentage of academic staff with PhD degrees at higher education institutions was 31,3%.

However, according to the National Development Plan, South Africa needs to increase the proportion to over 75% by 2030.

Innovation portal

In addition to further STI Indicators booklets, Dr Jammine said NACI was planning to develop an innovation portal that would serve as a credible central repository for innovation-related data.

Source: Department of Science and Technology on behalf of the National Advisory Council on Innovation

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