Budget cuts to hit performance

NRF-iThemba LABS in Eerste River. Picture: Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

NRF-iThemba LABS in Eerste River. Picture: Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 14, 2024


The further budget cut of R1.1 billion in 2024/25 for the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) means planned performance and new programmes of interventions will continue to be negatively impacted.

In October last year, the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) announced a budget cut of R311.2 million, reducing the 2023-2024 allocation from R10.9bn to R10.6bn.

The budget for 2024/2025 currently stands at R9.7bn.

This was according to the portfolio committee on higher education’s adopted Legacy Report, which was presented on Wednesday at the NRF-iThemba LABS in Eerste River.

The report of the fifth Parliament committee covered its oversight work over the department and its entities, as well as challenges in the sector such as transformation, and made recommendations for the seventh administration to carry through.

Committee chairperson Nompendulo Mkhatshwa said through various briefings, annual reports, performance plans, postgraduate funding, and commercialisation of innovation, it had become evident that funding was a challenge.

“The lack of adequate funding, as well as persistent budget cuts and the need to reprioritise existing budgets, continues to plague the department and its entities. However, the department and the entities have tried to ensure that performance continues.

For example, on human capital development, the postgraduate funding policy, the early career or emerging researcher funding policy, the internship programme and the support provided to basic education.

“Efforts to increase the numbers of beneficiaries were severely curtailed by the lack of adequate funding, and in the case of the postgraduate funding policy where greater awards were allocated to qualifying students, the number of students supported had to be reduced. In addition, to enhance support to emerging researchers, awards to rated researchers had to be reduced.

“All entities are struggling to retain and recruit skilled staff, and upskill existing staff. This has a cumulative effect on the entities’ ability to meet performance targets.

“The CSIR, NRF, SANSA and HSRC are all struggling to maintain and update, as well acquire, new research infrastructure needed for R&D and skills development.”

She said in their efforts as the committee, they have been trying to lobby for greater investment and recommended an increased budget through the consideration of performance plans and annual reports in the house.

“The minister continues his efforts with the National Treasury around the Science, Technology and Innovation Public Budget Co-ordination Mechanism to secure additional funding for the science and innovation portfolio.

“The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation further advises against proposed funding reductions by the National Treasury, based on the key motive that economic transformation and growth are strategically linked to our investment in science, technology and innovation,” she said.

Deputy Minister Buti Manamela welcomed the report, stating that it can serve as a useful tool for departmental strategic planning.

He said through key policy guides, for the next five years their strategic priorities will continue to build a responsive, robust, and transformed national system of innovation.

This included investing in human capital development, especially the development of more young, black and women researchers and scientists, continuing to invest in the maintenance and building of critical scientific infrastructure such as the Square Kilometre Array, and continuing to use science, technology, and innovation to address challenges such as health care (especially pandemics), housing, skills development and youth unemployment.

Cape Times