Sunday, September 20, 2020

Lack of dedicated research funding blights innovation

The newly appointed Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology Professor Nelson Torto has attributed Botswana’s knowledge deficit to lack of synergy among institutions. 

He told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that Botswana does not have a structured way of funding research. He said funding provided under the innovation hub does not suffice requirement for conducting research by any standard.

The PAC had queried the PS on the status of the training levy, what can be done to make public policy and research more interactive and how Parliament could assist to best utilise the levy to name a few.

Admitting that Botswana does not have a fund dedicated to research Professor Torto said: “We have the innovation fund which is a small amount of money. Out of the budgeted amount the innovation fund is offering, it is a small amount of money by any standard.”

“The role of the innovation hub has been to be more of a facilitator. They have been assisting innovators to afford them opportunities to work on projects that do not necessarily need lots of money. Innovation hub is not into research, it affords the man on the street who is not a Professor, one who cannot write a proposal but has a good idea that can begin to be grown that is the role of the house,” Professor Torto said.

The Permanent secretary explained to the PAC that as leadership tasked with the responsibility, they realised government is fragmented in the way it has been doing things in trying to transform the economy. 

“There is a need to identify linkages between different Ministries allocated funds, are they enablers or drivers in their sectors. Clearly we need to articulate the situation, we need to know what we prioritise and if it’s important for Botswana then we need to find money for it. As of now we can’t say there is synergy in terms of how research is conducted,” Torto said.

On what can be done to bridge the gap between whatever research is there and public policy, Professor Torto said we need to have policy that is informed by research, it is a key area that needs to be catered for. We get value for money in terms of what has been researched would end up impacting the way government and institutions are run as well as the way we do business in Botswana.”

Currently the training levy is said to have P667 million and the challenge with it is its operationalisation. Professor Torto said “the operationalisation of the levy needs to be looked into so that it can be friendlier to the ones who do not have the initial step where they can actually go.”

On the low registration of patents, which are a measure of a knowledge-based economy, and a solution to existing problems by science, Professor Torto revealed: “Research value output varies from country to country. I like to say patents are money in the bank because patents cost money. I think we may need to look into what are the areas of needs to begin to seek solutions to areas of need through research if we can.”

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