Research Needs to Be Freed from Bureaucracy's Dead Hand
David Dickson's article, "African co-operation on science and technology" (September 12), refers.
This analysis stresses the importance of science quality and the danger of giving too much credence to projects with a commercial connotation. The author can only be commended.
The wish list and the caveats expressed in this article must stimulate the interest of the South African research community. Regrettably, the two criteria set out by Dickson are not well balanced in South Africa.
Basic research supported by the National Research Foundation receives too little money whereas the big co-operative programmes driven by the Department of Science and Technology, Innovation Fund, National Bioinformatics Network and others are rather generously funded.
Regrettably the big programmes adopt many of the ills of the European Framework Programme, with a strong emphasis on corrective action and social relevance.
Massive amounts of money are being expended in bureaucracy, unrealistic expectations and controls (such as quarterly progress reports, frequent site visits and re-evaluations).
The upshot of such policies is that researchers function mainly as computer jockeys satisfying the demands for extensive reports and are overburdened with formalities at the expense of producing results. The drastic decline of the South African research output since 1994 is well known.
A basic misconception is that research money must be tightly controlled and that this justifies a sophisticated and extensive bureaucracy. …