South Africa Launches Presidential PhD Initiative with R1 Billion Investment in Research and Innovation

In a landmark move, South Africa is poised to elevate its research and innovation landscape through a groundbreaking investment of R1 billion (US$53 million) in the Presidential PhD Initiative. President Cyril Ramaphosa unveiled this ambitious initiative during the country's inaugural presidential science, technology, and innovation panel in Pretoria. The program aims to provide a transformative platform for the nation's brightest young minds by offering exposure to cutting-edge research opportunities at leading global universities and research centres.

Initially funded by the National Skills Fund, the Presidential PhD Initiative will focus on critical skills development in areas such as artificial intelligence research, advanced biotechnology, fuel cell development, battery storage, and next-generation mining. President Ramaphosa urged collaboration with the private sector and international partners, aiming to grow the initiative's fund to an impressive R5 billion by 2030.

While acknowledging South Africa's scientific prowess, President Ramaphosa highlighted challenges within the country's science, technology, and innovation system. Despite a significant rise in university graduates, research and development (R&D) investment remains at 0.6% of the GDP in 2021, falling short of the targeted 1.5%. The President emphasized the need for increased cooperation between the government and industry to reverse this trend.

The Presidential Science, Technology, and Innovation Plenary, attended by leaders from government, academia, civil society, and industry, is a pivotal platform to collectively drive South Africa's National System of Innovation (NSI). President Ramaphosa views science, technology, and innovation as instrumental in modernizing and expanding productive sectors, citing successful initiatives like the Mandela Mining Precinct and advancements in vaccine development.

President Ramaphosa underscored the importance of seamless coordination from ideation to commercialization, emphasizing the necessity of bridging the innovation gap. Drawing inspiration from successful models in other nations, he envisions a transformed landscape where education, science, and innovation collectively safeguard the environment, stimulate inclusive economic growth, and enrich human endeavours.

As South Africa aims to strengthen its position on the global innovation stage, the Presidential PhD Initiative represents a significant step towards fostering homegrown expertise and groundbreaking research. This investment signals an unwavering commitment to nurturing the next generation of researchers and innovators, paving the way for South Africa's continued excellence in the scientific arena.


Article by Jed Mwangi