Nzimande engaging Treasury on need for sustained funding of research enterprises
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Minister Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande says his department is engaging National Treasury on the need for sustained funding for research enterprises – particularly research in the infrastructure sector.
Nzimande said Treasury had already indicated that there would be no new funding for the next two years, meaning that his department would have to reprioritise its funds internally.
Nzimande made the statement when responding to parliamentary questions from IFP MP Sbuyiselwe Angela Buthelezi, who asked about strategies he has implemented to mitigate the reduction in research funding as a consequence of the austerity measures in response to Covid-19 and short-term plans to restore research funding for universities.
The minister indicated that the department had had meetings with the Presidency on funding of its mega research, including infrastructure for the Square Kilometre Array, the Space Hub, the Technology Localisation and the South African Isotope Facility at iThemba Laboratories for Accelerator-Based Sciences.
“The Department of Science and Innovation has submitted applications which are currently being evaluated by the Presidency. Furthermore, the department is drafting a discussion document for engagement with the National Skills Fund (NSF).
’’The aim is to broaden the scope of the NSF to include research skills development that will take place at universities with the aim of benefiting the business sector,” Nzimande said.
He also said the department was finalising a plan that outlined research priority areas and missions to be pursued in the next 10 years.
Nzimande added that significant investments would be made towards supporting research performed at universities.
“The department, with the South African Revenue Service, as administrators of the research and development tax incentive, continue to work with the private sector when it comes to supporting research and development in South Africa,” he added.
“The National Treasury and the department will in 2021 publish a discussion paper inviting public comment on the future of the incentive, and as is common practice, public workshops will follow. I encourage all to comment and participate in this process.”
Meanwhile, Nzimande said reduction in the research output block grant allocation in the Department of Higher Education and Training has been implemented as part of the reprioritisation in the 2021/22 financial year to address the funding challenges of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
He said the department has over the past years been gradually increasing the research output funding as the number of units has been “on an upward trajectory”.
“The challenges due to reduction of funding post Covid-19 are not unique to South Africa. In fact, even prior to this pandemic, research funding was on the decline worldwide.
’’Therefore, the work to seek research funding started some time ago,” Nzimande said, before naming partnerships that will assist to sustain the National System of Innovation.
He said his department firmly believed in the benefits of actively developing and maintaining global networks and partnerships.
”We will continue to maintain existing and forge new strategic partnerships in various trans-disciplinary research and knowledge areas. Ongoing engagements with existing and new strategic partners continue to unlock opportunities for collaboration at local, regional, national, continental and global levels.”