South African President Ramaphosa hosts Singapore PM Hsien Loong in Cape Town

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the Presidential PhD Initiative, which received an initial investment of R1 billion from the National Skills Fund, to boost innovation in South Africa.

The announcement was made during the inaugural Presidential Science, Technology and Innovation Plenary in Pretoria on Tuesday. This initiative focuses on building critical skills in artificial intelligence research, advanced biotechnology, fuel cell development, battery storage and next-generation mining.

Ramaphosa explained that the first phase will help to bring the country's "brightest young minds to cutting-edge thinking and research by negotiating opportunities at world-leading universities and research centers," SA News reported.

The president urged the private sector and international partners to contribute to the Presidential Ph.D. Initiative fund, with the goal of reaching R5 billion by 2030.

"We must harness education, science and innovation to protect our natural environment, drive inclusive economic growth and enrich all areas of human endeavor," Ramaphosa said. "Science, technology and innovation are essential for economies to thrive and for societies to prosper."

He noted that this was a new world, where the Fourth Industrial Revolution, advancements in science, technology and innovation decide which countries will progress and which will be left behind, adding that South Africa consisted of several strengths.

The South African president, citing the 2022 Global Innovation Index published by the World Intellectual Property Organization, said the country ranked above the upper-middle-income group average in market sophistication, knowledge and technology outputs, and creative outputs.

"However, our performance is mixed for the factors that drive innovation, such as education expenditure, expenditure on research and development and access to information technology," he added.

Ramaphosa said there has been a significant increase in students graduating from public universities, noting that in 1994 the number was around 60,000 and by 2018, it had jumped to 230,000.

"The share of graduates in science, engineering and technology fields has been increasing compared to graduates in the humanities," he added.

The president acknowledged that the country needs to increase investment in research and development (R&D). South Africa's gross expenditure on R&D was 0.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2021, lower than the targeted 1.5%. Comparatively, the United States spent 2.6% and South Korea spent 5% of their respective GDPs on R&D.

"This is a situation that we are determined to turn around," Ramaphosa said. "Through greater cooperation between government and industry, we can reverse this trend."