This paper examines the relative costs of research in South Africa and the apparent disparity in researchers' salaries. A 2004–2005 research and development survey provides data on the unit cost of research across higher education institutions (HEIs), science councils and the business sector. Analysis shows that research costs and salaries are highest in the business sector and lowest in HEIs, although the differences are not as wide as expected. Similarly, overhead costs are lowest in HEIs and highest in the business sector.

But the authors emphasise that while HEIs may provide the cheapest research — based on cost per hour — this does not mean that they necessarily provide the cheapest 'cost per deliverable', i.e. value to the client.

The authors call for more regular and detailed data to better understand the researcher labour market. They propose an annual salary survey focused on public sector researchers and a common pricing model for all institutions performing public research.