, Volume 116, Issue 1, pp 51–76 | Cite as

Research and innovation in South African universities: from the triple helix’s perspective

  • Swapan Kumar PatraEmail author
  • Mammo Muchie


This study explores the research and innovation in South African universities within the triple-helix framework. Patents and publications data have been used as output indicators to map the R&D activities of South African universities. The study observed that universities are the most prolific publishers and constitute about 91% of total South African publications. However, universities altogether produce only about 14% of total South African patents. Only a few universities are responsible for both patenting and publication portfolio of South Africa. The collaboration patterns from joint patents show that only about 19% patents are collaborative patents. South African public research institutes are more active in joint patents with universities followed by the foreign universities but local firms are less active in collaborative patents. The similar trends are observed in co-authored articles also. The study recommends that collaboration between universities and local firms need to be strengthened to develop technological capabilities in South Africa. South African universities need to collaborate more with the industries, particularly the local industries or institutes to achieve the ‘entrepreneurial university’ in terms of patents and technology transfer.


South African universities Triple helix Industry–academia linkages Social network analysis Patents Scientometrics 



Earlier version of the paper was presented as a poster in 14th Globelics Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia during 12–14th October 2016. Authors acknowledge the useful and constructive comments received from the participants of the conference.


Funding was provided by The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) - Innovation Studies, Tshwane University of Technology.


  1. A Programme for the Transformation of Higher Education, White Paper 3. (1997). Department of Education, South Africa.Google Scholar
  2. Abbasi, A., Hossaina, L., & Leydesdorff, L. (2012). Betweenness centrality as a driver of preferential attachment in the evolution of research collaboration networks. Journal of Informetrics, 6, 403–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Acs, Z. J., & Audretsch, D. B. (1989). Patents as a measure of innovative activity. Kyklos, 42(2), 171–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Archibugi, D., & Coco, A. (2004). A new indicator of technological capabilities for developed and developing countries (ArCo). World Development, 32(4), 629–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Archibugi, D., & Coco, A. (2005). Measuring technological capabilities at the country level: A survey and a menu for choice. Research Policy, 34(2), 175–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Belderbos, R. (2001). Overseas innovation by Japanese firms: An analysis of patent and subsidiary data. Research Policy, 20(2), 313–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Borgatti, S. P. (2005). Centrality and network flow. Social Networks, 27(1), 55–71.MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Borgatti, S. P. (2009). Social network analysis, two-mode concepts. In R. A. Meyers (Ed.), Encyclopedia of complexity and systems science (pp. 8279–8291). Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Borgatti, S. P., & Everett, M. G. (1997). Network analysis of 2-mode data. Social Networks, 19(3), 243–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Borgatti, S. P., & Everett, M. G. (2006). A Graph-theoretic perspective on centrality. Social Networks, 28(4), 466–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Borgatti, S. P., Everett, M. G., & Freeman, L. C. (2002). Ucinet for windows: Software for social network analysis. Harvard, MA: Analytic Technologies.Google Scholar
  12. Boshoff, N., & Mouton, J. (2003). Science policy indicators. In HSRC (Ed.), Human resources development review 2003: Education, employment and skills in South Africa. Pretoria: HSRC Press.Google Scholar
  13. Callaert, J., Looy, B. V., Verbeek, A., Debackere, K., & Thijs, B. (2006). Traces of prior art: An analysis of non-patent references found in patent documents. Scientometrics, 69(1), 3–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cloete, N., & Maassen, P. (2015). Roles of Universities and the African context. In N. Cloete, P. Maassen, & T. Bailey (Eds.), Knowledge production and contradictory functions in African higher education. African minds higher education dynamics series (Vol. 1). Cape Town: African Minds.Google Scholar
  15. Danell, R., & Persson, O. (2003). Regional R&D activities and interactions in the Swedish triple helix. Scientometrics, 58(2), 205–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Erfanmanesh, M., Rohani, V. A., & Abrizah, A. (2012). Co-authorship network of scientometrics research collaboration. Malaysian Journal of Library and Information Science, 17(3), 73–93.Google Scholar
  17. Etzkowitz, H. (2003). Innovation in innovation: The triple helix of university–industry–government relations. Social Science Information Sur Les Sciences Sociales, 42(3), 293–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Etzkowitz, H., de Mello, J. M. C., & Almeida, M. (2005). Towards “meta-innovation” in Brazil: The evolution of the incubator and the emergence of a triple helix. Research Policy, 34(4), 411–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Etzkowitz, H., & Dzisah, J. (2007). The triple helix of innovation: Towards a university-led development strategy for Africa. ATDF Journal, 4(2), 3–10.Google Scholar
  20. Etzkowitz, H., & Leydesdorff, L. (1998). The endless transition: A “triple helix” of university–industry–government relations. Minerva, 36(3), 203–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Etzkowitz, H., & Leydesdorff, L. (2000). The dynamics of innovation: From National Systems and “Mode 2” to a triple helix of university–industry–government relations. Research Policy, 29(2), 109–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Final Report of the Ministerial Review Committee on the Science, Technology and Innovation Landscape in South Africa. (2012). Department of Science and Technology, Republic of South Africa.Google Scholar
  23. Freeman, L. C. (1979). Centrality in social networks conceptual clarification. Social Networks, 1(3), 215–239.MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gibbons, M., Limoges, C., Nowotny, H., Schwartzman, S., Scott, P., & Trow, M. (1994). The new production of knowledge: The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  25. Giuliani, E., & Rabellotti, R. (2012). Universities in emerging economies: Bridging local industry with international science-evidence from Chile and South Africa. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 36(3), 679–702.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Griliches, Z. (1990). Patent statistics as economic indicators: A survey. Journal of Economic Literature, 28, 1661–1707.Google Scholar
  27. Hanneman, R. A., & Riddle, M. (2005). Introduction to social network methods. Riverside, CA: University of California.Google Scholar
  28. Hawe, P., Webster, C., & Shiell, A. (2004). A glossary of terms for navigating the field of social network analysis. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 58(12), 971–975.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Inglesi, R., & Pouris, A. (2008). Where are our universities going? A review, twenty years later. South African Journal of Science, 104(September/October), 345–348.Google Scholar
  30. Johnson, W. H. A. (2008). Roles, resources and benefits of intermediate organizations supporting triple helix collaborative R&D: The case of Precarn. Technovation, 28(8), 495–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Juma, C. (Ed.). (2005). Going for growth: Science, technology and innovation in Africa. London: The Smith Institute.Google Scholar
  32. Kaplan, D. (2004). South Africa’s National Research and development strategy: A review. Science Technology and Society, 9(2), 273–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kaplan, D. (2008). Science and technology policy in South Africa: Past performance and proposals for the future. Science Technology and Society, 13(1), 95–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kruss, G. (2006). Working partnerships: The challenge of creating mutual benefit for academics and industry. Perspectives in Education, 24(3), 1–13.Google Scholar
  35. Kruss, G. (2008). Balancing old and new organisational forms: Changing dynamics of government, industry and university interaction in South Africa. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, 20(6), 667–682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kruss, G., Adeoti, J., & Nabudere, D. (2012a). Universities and knowledge-based development in sub-Saharan Africa: Comparing University-Firm interaction in Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa. Journal of Development Studies, 48(4), 516–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kruss, G., & Visser, M. (2017). Putting university–industry interaction into perspective: A differentiated view from inside South African universities. Journal of Technology Transfer, 42(4), 884–908.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kruss, G., Visser, M., Haupt, G., & Aphane, M. (2012b). Academic interaction with external social partners: Investigating the contribution of universities to economic and social development. Cape Town: HSRC Press.Google Scholar
  39. Kwon, K. S., Park, H. W., So, M., & Leydesdorff, L. (2012). Has globalization strengthened South Korea’s national research system? National and international dynamics of the triple helix of scientific co-authorship relationships in South Korea. Scientometrics, 90(1), 163–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Leydesdorff, L. (2010). The knowledge-based economy and the triple helix model. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 44, 367–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Leydesdorff, L., & Meyer, M. (2003). The triple helix of university–industry–Government relations. Scientometrics, 58(2), 191–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Leydesdorff, L., & Meyer, M. (2006). Triple helix indicators of knowledge-based innovation systems: Introduction to the special issue. Research Policy, 35(10), 1441–1449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Leydesdorff, L., & Meyer, M. (2007). The scientometrics of a triple helix of university–industry–government relations: Introduction to the topical issue. Scientometrics, 70(2), 207–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Leydesdorff, L., & Sun, Y. (2009). National and international dimensions of the triple helix in Japan: university–industry–government versus international co-authorship relations. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 60(4), 778–788.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Leydesdorff, L., & Zawdie, G. (2010). The triple helix perspective of innovation systems. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, 22(7), 789–804.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Li-chun, Y., Kretschmer, H., Hanneman, R. A., & Ze-yuan, L. (2006). Connection and stratification in research collaboration: An analysis of the COLLNET network. Information Processing and Management, 42, 1599–1613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lundvall, B.-A. (1999). The globalising learning economy. Implications for innovation policy. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of European Communities.Google Scholar
  48. Maharajh, R., Motala, E., & Scerri, M. (2011). South Africa: Reforming higher education and transforming the national system of innovation. In B. Göransson & C. Brundenius (Eds.), Universities in transition: The changing role and challenges for Academic Institutions (pp. 193–218). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Manzini, S. T. (2012). The national system of innovation concept: An ontological review and critique. South African Journal of Science, 108(9/10), 1–7.MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mêgnigbêto, E. (2013). Triple helix of university–industry–government relationships in West Africa. Journal of Scientometric Research, 2(3), 214–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Mêgnigbêto, E. (2014). Information flow within the West African innovation systems. Triple Helix, 1(5), 1–3.Google Scholar
  52. Meyborg, M. (2013). The role of German universities in a system of joint knowledge generation and innovation: A social network analysis of publications and patents with a focus on the spatial dimension. Karlsruhe: KIT Scientific Publishing.Google Scholar
  53. Meyer, M., Sinilainen, T., & Utecht, J. T. (2003). Towards hybrid triple helix indicators: A study of university-related patents and a survey of academic inventors. Scientometrics, 58(2), 321–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Mowery, D., & Sampat, B. (2005). Universities in national innovation systems. In J. Fagerberg, D. Mowery, & R. Nelson (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Moya-Anegón, F. D., López-Illescas, C., & Moed, H. F. (2014). How to interpret the position of private sector institutions in bibliometric rankings of research institutions. Scientometrics, 98(1), 283–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Muchie, M. (2003). Re-thinking Africa’s Development through the National Innovation system. In M. Muchie, P. Gammeltoft, & B. A. Lundvall (Eds.), Putting Africa first: The making of African innovation system. Aalborg: Aalborg University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Nagaoka, S., Motohashi, K., & Goto, A. (2011). Patent statistics as an innovation indicator. In B. H. Hall & N. Rosenberg (Eds.), Handbook of the economics of innovation (pp. 1083–1127). Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  58. Nelson, R. R. (2005). The roles of research in universities and public labs in economic catch-up. In G. D. Santangelo (Ed.), Technological change and economic catch-up: The Role of science and multinationals (pp. 19–32). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  59. Newman, M. E. J. (2003). The structure and function of complex networks. SIAM Review, 45(2), 167–256.MathSciNetCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  60. Nowotny, H., Scott, P., & Gibbons, M. (2003). ‘Mode 2’ revisited: The new production of knowledge. Minerva, 41, 179–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy: South Africa. (2007). Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.Google Scholar
  62. OECD and SCImago Research Group (CSIC). (2016). Compendium of bibliometric science indicators. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  63. Otte, E., & Rousseau, R. (2002). Social network analysis: A powerful strategy, also for the information sciences. Journal of Information Science, 28(6), 441–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Patel, P., & Pavitt, K. (1995). Patterns of technological change. In P. Stoneman (Ed.), Handbook of the economics of innovation and technological change. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  65. Pouris, A., & Pouris, A. (2011). Patents and economic development in South Africa: Managing intellectual property rights. South African Journal of Science, 107(11/12), 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Reddy, P. (2011). The evolving role of universities in economic development: The case of university–industry linkages. In B. Göransson & C. Brundenius (Eds.), Universities in transition: The changing role and challenges for Academic Institutions (pp. 25–52). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Robins, G. (2013). A tutorial on methods for the modeling and analysis of social network data. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 57, 261–274.MathSciNetCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  68. Smith, K. (2006). Measuring innovation. In J. Fagerberg & D. C. Mowery (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of innovation (pp. 148–177). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  69. Ssebuwufu, J., Ludwick, T. & Béland M. (2012). Strengthening university–industry linkages in Africa: A study on institutional capacities and gaps. Accra: Association of African Universities: Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.Google Scholar
  70. Taylor, S. (2004). Knowledge circulation: The “triple helix” concept applied in South Africa. Industry and Higher Education, 18, 329–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Waghid, Y. (2002). Knowledge production and higher education transformation in South Africa: Towards reflexivity in university teaching, research and community service. Higher Education, 43(4), 457–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tshwane University of TechnologyPretoriaSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations