SA records an increase in research, development expenditure

Gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD) has increased in real terms for the first time in four years. A reflection of post-Covid recovery and increase.

This is according to the latest South African National Survey of Research and Experimental Development.

Slight improvement in R&D

GERD as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reached 0.62% in 2021/2022. This is up from 0.60% in the previous year. It’s an indication of a slight improvement in research and development (R&D) intensity.

The figure represents a 6.9% year-on-year increase from R25.965-billion in 2020/2021 to R27.756-billion in 2021/2022. This is in terms of 2015 prices.

Human Sciences Research Council

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) conducts an annual survey for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (CeSTII). The survey is done on behalf of the Department of Science and Innovation .

Chief Research Specialist and Principal Investigator at the HSRC, Dr Nazeem Mustapha, observed that countries that invest in research and development (R&D) at a high intensity are more likely to lead in global competitiveness.

Boost to new industries and existing ones

“South Africa is striving to reach higher levels of R&D intensity by increasing expenditure on R&D. This in turn can lead to new industries and boosting of existing ones. Also a boost to job creation, increased productivity, and sustained economic growth,” Mustapha said. 

GERD encompasses all spending on R&D on national territory in a given year. It includes domestically performed research and development. 

Positive economic growth for SA

Key indicators highlight positive economic growth in South Africa for the period under review. 

According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), South Africa’s GDP increased by 4.7% in 2021/2022. This after a 6% decline during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020/2021.


“The growth in R&D expenditure is reassuring, although this comes off a very low base. The previous year’s decline in growth represented the biggest fall in R&D expenditure in the 20 years that the HSRC has been conducting the survey. We expect the next survey’s result to provide us with a better sense of what the trend is,” Mustapha added. 

Data shows that R&D expenditure, funding and personnel movements’ nominal R&D expenditure rose across all five institutional sectors. 


The study identified the R3.480-billion increase in business sector R&D expenditure as the main contributor to the increase in GERD. 

The higher education sector increased R&D expenditure by R446-million. Government sector increased by R235-million. The not-for-profit sector increased R&D expenditure by R31-million. 

The government remains the largest funder of R&D, accounting for 52.5% of total funding. This is followed by business (29%) and foreign sources (14.5%). 

Meanwhile, foreign funding has increased significantly over the past decade. Most investments are directed towards higher education and business sectors. 


  • R&D staff increased by 2,857 individuals (3.5% year-on-year) in 2021/2022, including 1,716 researchers (a 2.8% increase).
  • Notably, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) increased their R&D expenditure, with R&D personnel numbers rising in various sectors. 
  • Enterprises in the business sector employed 917 new R&D personnel. This includes technicians as well as researchers. However, it shed 140 researchers. 
  • R&D personnel increased by 1,657 in the higher education sector, 155 in the government sector, and 79 in the science councils’ sector. 
  • The non-profit sector recorded an increase in the R&D personnel headcount of 49. 
  • In 2021/2022, 1.9 full-time equivalent researchers were employed for every 1,000 R&D workers, an increase of 0.1%. 
  • The ratio of female researchers as a percentage of total researchers rose by 0.4 percentage points to 47%. 

Key sectors

R&D activity has increased in the manufacturing and financial services sectors, which drive most R&D expenditure.

Meanwhile, medical and health sciences, along with social sciences, continue to receive the highest R&D expenditure. It stands at 22.8% and 18.4% respectively.

Highest R&D expenditure field 

The field of research with the third-highest R&D expenditure in South Africa is information, computer, and communication technology (13.1%). It surpasses the engineering sciences field (11.7%). However, growth in social sciences is stagnant. 

“A longitudinal analysis of shifts in the proportions of researchers and technicians, as well as the overall movement of R&D personnel, is of value,” said Dr Glenda Kruss, executive head of the HSRC Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators. 


She said such analysis can inform future investments to grow skills and capabilities for the national system of innovation. The analysis is now possible with time series data covering the past two decades, she said. 


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