SA research output up

20 August 2012 - 02:07 By PHILANI NOMBEMBE

South Africa's investment in scientific research is paying dividends - the country has improved its international science ranking and its research output has more than doubled in the past decade.

An analysis of South African research output between 2000 and 2010 shows that the country has climbed two positions in world rankings to 33rd, ahead of Argentina, Ukraine, Hungary and New Zealand. In all, 203 countries and regions are on the Thompson Reuters National Science Indicators data base.

Professor Anastassios Pouris, head of the University of Pretoria's Institute for Technological Innovation, has found that "research publications in South Africa are on an ascending path".

"A multitude of government incentives was introduced in [2000 to 2010] and their effects have appeared in the country's research outputs," he said.

"In contrast to earlier investigations, it was found that South Africa's world share of [scientific] publications is on the verge of reaching the highest contribution ever. It is argued that, provided the plan of the minister of science and technology to increase the research and development expenditure materialises, South Africa may be on the verge of a scientific renaissance."

The US tops the research output list with 338784 research articles produced in 2010. South Africa's output increased from 3617 papers in 2000 to 7468 in 2010.

In its strategic plan for 2011 to 2016, the Department of Science and Technology said it would spend R45-billion on research and development by 2014.

Pouris said the introduction of the evaluating and rating system of the National Research Foundation in 2001, the 10-year innovation plan introduced by the department in 2007 and the establishment of the Technology Innovation Agency in 2008 had contributed to the improved performance.

HIV and Aids are among the country's strongest research areas.

"South Africa is producing proportionally a lot more [research] than the rest [of the world] on HIV and Aids," said Pouris.

Pouris's research paper, "Science in South Africa: The dawn of a renaissance?", was published last month. This week he said research outputs were closely linked with the quality of graduates.

"The increase in the number of publications is happening because there are more postgraduate students so [universities] have to employ more academics who produce more publications."

Lunga Ngqengelele, spokesman for Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, said: "Since 2009 the minister has tried to focus on improving science and technology and we are pleased that the investment is yielding results."