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Black graduates add to SA’s research pool

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The number of science, engineering and technology (SET) doctoral degrees awarded to black graduates in South Africa is slightly overtaking the number awarded to whites graduates; however, they lag behind in business as researchers.
This is according the latest annual SET Indicators publication, released by the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI).
The report shows that doctoral SET degrees awarded to black graduates in South Africa’s public universities have grown from 172 in 2005 to 525 in 2014, compared to the growth of 317 to 437 doctoral degrees awarded to white graduates over the same period.
The report shows that most of the researchers in the higher education and business sectors are still white (54,7% and 68,2%, respectively), compared to the demographics of the SET sector, in which black graduates have become the majority.
The STI Indicators report provides aggregated data from various sources to evaluate the state of STI in South Africa 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.
Released during a symposium organised by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and NACI to facilitate dialogue between the government and business, the report shows an encouraging transformational picture of the SET fields.
Over the past ten years, there has been a gradual increase in the total number of SET graduations, as well the proportion of female SET graduates, who account for at least 50% of these graduations. The slight increase in postgraduate SET graduations between 2013 (27,7%) and 2014 (28,3%) was encouraging, following a decline from 29,9% to 27,7% experienced between 2012 and 2013.
The National Development Plan has set a target of 100 000 additional PhDs by 2030 to improve research and innovation capacity in South Africa. In order to reach this target, a total of 6 000 PhDs per annum needs to be produced.
Speaking at the event, NACI Council member Dr Azar Jammine said 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.
Talking about investment in research and development (R&D), Dr Jammine said more needed to be done to ensure a restoration of business confidence in South Africa to boost investment in R&D. “Unless we improve investment in R&D, we run the risk of not addressing South Africa’s triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.”
The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, said South Africa was fortunate to have a fairly robust and able science and technology sector, competent research institutions and increasing numbers of emerging researchers.
“We should make special efforts to offer Technology Innovation Fund opportunities to international venture capital companies that command large resources. 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 added.