The 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation, approved by Cabinet on March 13, was necessary because the previous White Paper on Science and Technology had been adopted in 1996 and global technological change and the development of “megatrends” since then required an updated policy, Department of Science and Technology (DST) senior policy specialist Urszula Rust has explained. She was addressing the recent DST/Academy of Science of South Africa Stakeholders Awareness Workshop on the 2019 White Paper.

“[R]eviews show that, despite good progress by the DST and other departments, there are still challenges within the STI (science, technology and innovation) system,” she reported. A key aim of the new White Paper was “[s]cience, technology and innovation enabling inclusive sustainable South African development in achanging world.”

“We need to instil a culture of STI,” she highlighted. The country’s innovation culture had to be strengthened, for example, by celebrating innovation role models. The aim was to build a science-aware society; this could include “training science journalists and expanding the network of science centres (with support from business)”.

There were a number of major differences sbetween the 1996 and 2019 White Papers, she pointed out. In 1996, there had been a focus on developing the National System of Innovation (NSI), while today the focus was on increasing the impact of STI on the country’s national priorities, including economic growth. The 1996 White Paper was concerned with science and technology, whereas the 2019 White Paper broadened its concerns to STI – including the development of an innovation culture, a whole-of-society approach and a government Innovation Compact (which would align STI with other government policies, such as trade). The 2019 document also had a much stronger focus on partnerships, encompassing government, business, civil society and academia.

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The new White Paper covered many aspects of STI. It sought to establish an NSI governance “environment” that was both inclusive and enabling. It wanted to facilitate innovation, increase and transform the human capital in the NSI, expand and transform the research system, expand the “institutional landscape” and increase “funding and funding efficiencies”.

The improvement of NSI governance included the creation of an “STI plenary” which would be an annual event, chaired by the Presidency, and including business, civil society, academia and government. There would also be a Ministerial STI structure, chaired by the Minister, which would be responsible for driving the Government Innovation Compact and the coordination and development of the decadal STI plans.

Other objectives included the employment of intellectual property from publicly funded research and development to assist in the “transformation of the ownership of the economy”, and focusing effort and resources on “sovereign” innovation priorities by incorporating them in the decadal plans. Greater use of the potential of the historically black universities and universities of technology, including the “silent majority” of lecturers who did no research, was also sought.

A research prioritisation process had to be institutionalised. And then the identified priority research areas had to be better funded. Government wanted South Africa’s gross expenditure on research and development to reach 1.5% of gross domestic product in the next ten years, but this could not be done by government alone. The creation of a sovereign innovation fund had been agreed in principle, but the details were still being worked out. Alternative funding sources, including crowdfunding, would be examined. There would also be a focus on encouraging STI-focused foreign direct investment. 

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EDITED BY: Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor