How to improve research and development to grow SA’s economy Rabelani Dagada proffers five recommendations to address the poor state of research and development in the country.
ashortage of researchers, low PhD throughput, and poor research output in South Africa has been a concern for years. But what are the solutions required to address these issues? Here are my five recommendations.
1. Better the research environment
If SA wants to improve its competitiveness in this era of knowledge economy – then we should retain our researchers and create an environment that encourages postgraduate students to pursue further research. There are several challenges that researchers currently face. These are systemic and include quality of students, supervisory capacity of academics, government rules and procedures, and inadequate access to facilities and resources. But there are also local problems, peculiar to individuals’ history. These include insufficient funding, age of enrolment (some of those who are over 30 suffer from the immense pressure to balance family and academic commitments), poor studentsupervisor relationship and inadequate socialisation experiences (in some instances, students lack social and academic avenues that can help them interact with others who are working in similar research areas).
In the knowledge economy, SA has to take its intellectual responsibilities seriously. Many African countries suffer from a significant brain drain, and this country too will suffer human capital losses if it does not offer the brightest minds new opportunities and political and economic stability. While local universities do have sufficient resources when compared to their other African counterparts, government policies and procedures are not encouraging graduates to remain after completing their studies or, for those that are studying abroad, to return to the country after graduation. Both systemic and local challenges facing researchers emanate from a dearth of vision and insufficient funding across all levels of education and it remains an unfortunate reality for many in SA that a PhD is still seen as a luxury.
2. Invest in research and development
More financial resources should be channelled into research and development (R&D). One of the reasons why Asian economies are doing well is because they have been investing substantially into R&D. Essentially, Asia has overtaken the US in terms of research-related investments. To see the Asian high-tech skills, crack open an Although the company selling it is American, the physical components that constitute the iPhone are produced in Asia – the screen is from Japan, the flash memory from South Korea and it is assembled in China. The US contribution to the iPhone is the architecture design and software development. Apple uses highly qualified engineers to integrate the innovations from mostly Asian countries. Asia has employed research and technical skills to achieve their level of economic growth, particularly in the manufacturing sector. The South African government and corporate SA should both invest heavily into R&D. Researchers in the corporate environment should also be required to have master’s degrees and PhDs. The founders of Google and most of its engineers have PhDs. If SA wants to play a prominent role in the manufacturing and knowledge economies, these are some of the steps that have to be taken.
3. Afford academics longer careers
The retirement age of academics and researchers should be extended. At the age of 65 a researcher is still fairly young and it’s a waste of scarce resources to send these skilled people into retirement when the country and economy need their expertise desperately. By having many researchers active in universities, research institutes and corporate environments, you would inevitably create more jobs for the unemployed through innovation. The matter concerning the retirement age of the academics has already received the attention of the minister of higher education, Dr Blade Nzimande. The problem with the South African government is that it knows what has to be done, but never really get things implemented.
By having many researchers active in universities, research institutes and corporate environments, you would inevitably create more jobs for the unemployed through innovation.
4. Utilise industry professionals in academia
Universities should create part-time teaching and research positions for professionals based in industry. Due to low salaries in academia, it is difficult to attract highly skilled professionals to full-time positions at tertiary institutions. In effect, academics who contribute relevant research to industry can still make some decent money through consulting. Universities should attract part-time lecturers both for teaching and research purposes.
5. Government needs to step up
The government should make it easy for highly skilled researchers to work in SA. There is also an urgent need for governmental leadership in this matter. Relevant arms of government, including the department of science and technology and the department of higher education and training, should be working in conjunction with the National Research Foundation on implementing measures to facilitate relevant R&D opportunities. Both government and private companies should invest heavily into R&D.
Many of the iPhone’s components are produced in Asia.
Dr Blade Nzimande Minister of higher education