Taking science, technology and innovation another step forward



DST Minister Kubayi-Ngubane.

“Science, technology and innovation is a force for development and critical to ensuring long-term growth for South Africa”, said Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, at the first summit discussing the draft white paper on science, technology and innovation (STI). The summit was held at the University of Pretoria and is the culmination of a process of public comment on the draft policy document.

Cabinet approved the publication of the draft white paper for public comment in September 2018. The department has received input from a variety of stakeholders, and invited business, labour, academia and other stakeholders to review the white paper to take it forward.

The new policy, which is aimed at preparing the country for the future and involving various sectors of society, will replace the 1996 white paper. Since the implementation of the 1996 document, there have been major shifts in global and local economies. The advent of the fourth industrial revolution has seen the rapid development of new technologies and the growth of new industries. The new draft white paper addresses these new developments but also builds on existing programmes.

The Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) director-general Dr Phil Mjwara said that when South Africa developed the 1996 white paper on STI, the National Development Plan (NDP) was not in place. He said while good progress has been made in the implementation of the first document’s proposals, the potential of STI in advancing the objectives of the NDP has not yet been fully realised. Reviews show that despite good progress by the DST and STI-intensive departments, STI challenges remain. “The national system of innovation has not yet realised its potential to assist with South Africa’s socio-economic challenges”, Dr Mjwara said. “We have made good progress over the past ten years in some areas, for example the number students graduating annually with a PhD increased from 630 to 1576, but investment in research and development by both the industry and government has been slow.”

Also speaking at the summit, the European Commission’s DG of energy, Dr Dominique Ristori, said the most competitive countries in the world today are the ones that have invested in STI. “The world is currently facing huge challenges and STI is needed to tackle them. To achieve this, a conducive environment must be created for researchers and the scientific endeavour must involve all sectors of society”, he said.

In her address, Minister Kubayi-Ngubane said the new white paper is aimed at helping South Africa to benefit from global developments such as rapid technological advancement and geopolitical and demographic shifts, as well as responding to the threats associated with some of these global trends. Of all the technologies associated with the fourth industrial revolution, artificial intelligence is poised to have the most disruptive impact on the place of humans in economic production. She said that two leading countries in artificial intelligence, China and the USA, have developed strategies for AI, and suggested that we can learn from these.

The 2018 white paper focuses on:

  • Raising the profile of STI in South Africa by instilling an innovation culture and integrating STI into cross-cutting government planning at the highest levels.
  • Strengthening partnerships between business, government, academia and civil society, creating a more enabling environment for STI.
  • Focusing on innovation for social benefit and for fundamental economic transformation.
  • Expanding and transforming the human resource base of the national system of innovation.
  • Increasing investment, both public and private, in STI.

At the summit, breakaway session discussed the financing STI, the research enterprise, human resources and transformation, enabling innovation and commercialisation, and the fourth industrial revolution. The outcome of these discussions together with inputs received from industry and the public will feed into the final document which will be submitted to cabinet for approval. It is expected to be released in January 2019.

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Source: EE plublishers

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