A critical review of social sciences and humanities R&D expenditure in South Africa, 2005–2014

Keywords: Research, experimental development, policy, disciplines, funding


Expenditure on research and experimental development in the social sciences and humanities (SSH) in South Africa has almost doubled over the past decade. However, fine-grained analysis of patterns of R&D expenditure in SSH research fields over the period 2005/2006–2014/2015 reveals a number of critical issues for both institutional planning and national policymaking. We demonstrate that most SSH R&D expenditure in the 10-year reference period was targeted predominantly within just a few research fields: finance, economics, education, accounting and political science and public policy. By contrast, investment in SSH research fields such as architecture and habitat, media and communication studies, psychology, and transportation studies was strikingly low in the same period, with some research fields, such as dance or tourism, appearing to be at risk of decline. Using these R&D data as a proxy, we argue, principally, that institutional R&D planners and national policymakers need to find a greater balance between current priorities and future needs, if SSH R&D is to be ‘leveraged’ for larger socio-economic impacts, as is being envisaged in a new draft White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation.


  • R&D expenditure in the social sciences and humanities between 2005 and 2014 was concentrated in just a few research fields, such as finance, economics and education. By contrast, R&D expenditure was comparatively low in research fields such as media and communication studies, technology management, architecture and habitat, and dance.
  • In an era of rapid global technological change, but also deepening local societal challenges, South Africa’s national and institutional policymakers face strategic R&D choices. This article contributes to national debate about the status and perceived role(s) of the social sciences and humanities in this context.
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