South Africa increases share of global knowledge generation
The increased research output is not however resulting in economic growth
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.