Ministerial review into science and innovation ‘lacks industry input’
WHILE the ministerial review into the science, technology and innovation landscape notes that business and industry are the most important source of finance and performer of research and development (R&D), only two people represented the private sector on the 43-person committee, innovation-systems expert Neville Comins said in a science forum recently.
While research output has increased significantly in the past decade, the emergence of new patents — or those linked to industry and directly to economic development — has been poor.
The 1996 white paper on science and technology envisioned a national system of innovation to move South Africa from a resource-driven economy towards a knowledge-based one to facilitate economic growth, development and employment.
The report on the ministerial review, gazetted earlier this year, makes several recommendations to realise that vision.
Dr Comins, however, queried the lack of industry participation, saying "if you don’t talk to them, you can’t make recommendations". He also noted that no start-ups or small and medium-sized enterprises were included either.
"The review completely ignores the role of entrepreneurship in innovation; not understanding what the country needs doesn’t really help," he said when addressing the National Science and Technology Forum last week.
However, Michael Spicer, one of the private sector participants and the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, said this week: "The quantum of business people involved isn’t the issue. It is whether the government and ministries involved heed the recommendations.
"Business has to be more centrally involved in science, technology and innovation ," he said.
The report says: "Private business or industry is the most important source of finance for, and performer of R&D, and a key strategic partner for government to engage with in promoting R&D investment in the country."
Recommendation eight says: "Systematic efforts should be made to bring industry and government closer together."
However, David Kaplan, economics professor at the University of Cape Town and a contributor to the review, said: "There are institutional recommendations about how the system should be organisationally restructured, (but) it is limited in terms of its policy proposals — particularly in terms of business development."
"The aspirations are laudable," Prof Kaplan said. "But the how is lacking."
For Mr Spicer, the most important recommendation was nine: "Government departments … must draw into their ranks staff with direct experience of the business, civil and research environments".
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