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OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy: South Africa 2007

image of OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy: South Africa 2007
A comprehensive assessment of the innovation system of South Africa, focusing on the role of government, and providing concrete recommendations on how to improve policies which impact on innovation performance, including R&D policies.

Post-apartheid South Africa has succeeded in swiftly opening its economy to international trade and capital flows, and in stabilising the economy while achieving reasonably good growth performance, mainly driven by productivity gains. However, important socio-economic problems persist, especially unemployment, poverty and the exclusion of a large fraction of the population from the formal economy. The country is now in the middle of two more specifically economic transitions: i) responding to globalisation and ii) transforming the structure of the economy away from its former heavy dependence on primary resource production and associated commodity-based industries. In this context, enhancing innovation capabilities is key to a sustained improvement of living standards based on productivity-driven growth. This review assesses the national innovation system of South Africa from this perspective, identifying areas and means for improvement with an emphasis on the role of public research organisations and policies.

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Business Enterprises in the Innovation System

The institutional focus of much policy thinking about innovation systems can easily lead to over-emphasis on the state institutions involved. This seems to have been the case in South Africa, as much description and discussion of the innovation system has focused heavily on components associated with government organisations and activities. Such a perspective downplays, or even ignores, some of the major roles played by business enterprises, not only in turning knowledge into improved livelihoods, higher incomes and delivered public services, but also in generating the knowledge and human capital to undertake those tasks. The well-known shortage of people with strong mathematical and scientific skills entering the higher education system and remaining there long enough to become research and development (R&D) workers affects industry as much as the knowledge infrastructure. Given the large number of non-R&D industrial innovation activities for which such people are needed, industry is arguably even more affected by this shortage. However, while industry suffers from this human resource problem, it is also a key part of the solution.

English

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