South Africa in­creases share of global knowl­edge gen­er­a­tion

The in­creased re­search out­put is not how­ever re­sult­ing in eco­nomic growth

Mail & Guardian - - Culture -

South Africa’s world share of sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions and that of ci­ta­tions is on the rise. The up­ward trend for pub­li­ca­tions show an in­crease from 0.39% in 1996 to 0.69% in 2015. For ci­ta­tions, the world share for these in­creased from 0.31% in 1996 to 0.91% in 2014, be­fore drop­ping to 0.89% in 2015.

Sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions con­sti­tute re­search out­puts such as jour­nal pa­pers, con­fer­ence pro­ceed­ings, re­search notes, etc. Only in­dexed sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions are in­cluded in pub­li­ca­tions data shown in the ta­ble be­low.

The ris­ing trend of the share of pub­li­ca­tions glob­ally taken up by South African pub­li­ca­tion data is im­pres­sive, but it calls into ques­tion why this suc­cess­ful out­put does not trans­late into more pro­lific progress in sci­en­tific in­no­va­tions, and through this, faster growth in the econ­omy over­all. There are clearly some fault lines, ei­ther in the form of the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of the re­search for the econ­omy’s progress, or in the trans­mis­sion of this suc­cess­ful re­search out­put into prac­ti­cal re­sults in the work­place.

The largest pro­por­tion of sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions in South Africa is in the nat­u­ral sciences re­search field (38.3% in 2015), fol­lowed by med­i­cal and health sciences (23.4%), en­gi­neer­ing tech­nol­ogy (15.0%) and so­cial sciences (14.4%).

Agri­cul­tural sciences re­search has been show­ing a pro­gres­sive de­cline over sev­eral decades and showed a neg­a­tive trend in 2014 and 2015 in terms of its share of the coun­try’s to­tal sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions. This is de­spite re­search and devel­op­ment (R&D) in­ten­sity in the agri­cul­tural in­dus­try of the busi­ness sec­tor hav­ing risen. A re­search field that is show­ing sig­nif­i­cant growth is that of so­cial sciences, in­creas­ing from 8.6% of pub­li­ca­tions dur­ing 19962000 to 14.8% dur­ing 2011-2015. Pub­li­ca­tions in so­cial sciences have in­creased their share in line with the pro­por­tion­ate in­crease in R&D ex­pen­di­ture.

The ma­jor­ity of uni­ver­si­ties’ pub­li­ca­tions comes from tra­di­tional uni­ver­si­ties such as Univer­sity of Cape Town, Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand, Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Na­tal, Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria and Univer­sity of Stel­len­bosch. Although the uni­ver­si­ties of tech­nol­ogy pro­duce a rel­a­tively small num­ber of pub­li­ca­tions, their pub­li­ca­tion out­put is grow­ing fast. Dur­ing the pe­riod 1996-2000, they con­trib­uted only 1.49% of to­tal uni­ver­si­ties’ pub­li­ca­tions, but this con­tri­bu­tion in­creased to 4.59% dur­ing 20112015. This in­crease is driven by a num­ber of fac­tors, such as the depart­ment of higher ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing’s re­search out­put in­cen­tive, but also the down­siz­ing of this sec­tor, with some be­ing ab­sorbed by the com­pre­hen­sive uni­ver­si­ties.

The merger of higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions neg­a­tively af­fected the re­search per­for­mance of com­pre­hen­sive uni­ver­si­ties dur­ing 20012005 — the num­ber and per­cent­age share of sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions by uni­ver­si­ties de­clined dur­ing this pe­riod.

But the re­search out­put of com­pre­hen­sive uni­ver­si­ties dou­bled along with that of uni­ver­si­ties of tech­nol­ogy from the pe­riod 20062010 and from 2011-2015. The dra­matic in­crease in sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions from these two type of uni­ver­si­ties has shifted the fo­cus from tech­nol­ogy devel­op­ment to knowl­edge gen­er­a­tion, as the num­ber of lo­cal pa­tent ap­pli­ca­tions by South Africans has de­clined.

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