by | Prof. Datin Paduka Dr. Khatijah binti Mohamad Yusoff | Dr. Vilasini Pillai
The Malaysian government has adopted bold initiatives such as the New Economic Model (NEM) to assure the realization of Vision 2020.
The broad strategic directions of the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) incorporating, among others, the 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEA) and 8 Strategic Reform Initiatives (SRIs) have been introduced to ensure that the country moves forward towards its goal of becoming a prosperous, sustainable and an inclusive economy by the close of this decade. Malaysia’s goal of becoming a high income nation by 2020 will be achieved by a scientifically aware society that is innovative and forward-looking. Hence, the importance of science and technology in helping to reach the core objectives of Vision 2020 cannot be understated.
Realising that STI are central to propel the socio-economic landscape of the nation, it is imperative that we strengthen the position and define the vital role that STI can play in the government’s transformation agenda. The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) has formulated the National STI Policy (NSTIP) with a ten-year agenda to make Malaysia more competent and competitive in STI through strengthening existing strategies while charting new, bold and creative ones in critical areas to move ahead in a globally competitive world.
The general thrust of the NSTIP is to strengthen our basic foundations namely, our competency in generating and deploying knowledge through STI, strengthening our STI human capital, elevating the innovative potential of local industry, enhancing STI governance as well as developing a Malaysian society that is sensitised to STI. The Policy and its implementation plans will undoubtedly unleash a new vigour for science that will propel the nation’s economic trajectory to a higher plane.
Malaysia’s STI position has improved tremendously over the years through the various Malaysia Plans. Increasing emphasis has been placed on building Malaysian STI capabilities through steady increases in R&D funding and the establishment of a number of policies and programs. Despite this upbeat trend, our performance pales when compared to countries like the Republic of Korea, Taiwan or Singapore. We are plagued by many concerns; declining interest in science at schools, investments in scientific research not translating into commerce, unfocused research and development, business not taking science seriously, scarce talent in science.
In these thriving nations, it is a robust institutional framework that enables an efficient STI-led development. These countries have witnessed impressive economic performance in recent years as they have legislated important aspects of the STI agenda like the funding, monitoring and evaluation ecosystem and having an oversight body that strategizes, plans and sets directions for STI investments. These nations have also made heavy investments in STI leading them to become the formidable giants in today’s competitive world. The prerequisites and components of a successful innovation ecosystem are simply these: a multidisciplinary collaborative network, a creative research culture, well-funded assets and the presence of strong STI governance. When these and other factors are combined in the right mix, the result is innovation, productivity, and prosperity. A Science Act will provide more teeth to a new institutional framework of science governance.
We need to build on our strengths and address our challenges urgently and systematically. The STI framework must be enhanced through the Science Act to ensure sustained commitment by the Government and industry for STI, improved transparency, accountability, partnerships, the widespread promotion of entrepreneurship and safe and responsible use of STI.
The Malaysian public research institutions and universities termed collectively as the Public Research Assets (PRAs) have played a dynamic role in conducting R&D, thus supporting the national agenda of national development and wealth creation.
Research in Malaysia has a long history, dating back to the 1900 when the British Colonial initiated research activities with the establishment of institutes on the cultivation and processing of rubber and research in tropical medicine. Since then, more and more Public Research Assets have been established and these investments play a critical role in the innovation process by bringing new products and services to marketplace.
Aside from the contribution of these institutions to the socio-economic development of Malaysia, the demands and expectations from these institutions have been increasing and changing given that the Government has aspired to move the nation to become a developed nation by 2020.
The Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC), chaired by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, as well as the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) strongly felt that at this stage of new technologies, paradigms, expectations and demands, that the current state of the nation’s PRAs be critically reviewed and closely examined to ensure their continued viability and vitality in the face of global competitiveness and impact.
The NSRC was given the task to undertake this study to take stock of the current state of the PRAs, identify the gaps between expectations and performance, and benchmark the PRAs against countries of comparable means. The study found that the research ecosystem in Malaysia requires a thorough realignment with respect to policies, governance, human capital, culture and work practice, funding and a support system. The study’s findings and recommendations have to be implemented expeditiously and thoroughly to overcome stagnation and potential reversal of earlier accomplishments of the nation’s PRAs.
The Science Act will enhance our PRAs and enable them to have a substantial impact on the nation. Such commitment will be completely in step with the current push for the Public Service Delivery Programme with the emphasis on performance and accomplishment.
NSRC together with MOSTI and other key stakeholders has come up with a rough framework of the Science Act to bring the STI agenda to the forefront of this nation’s aspirations. It will help to drive science in a more coordinated and strategic way. A sound institutional and regulatory framework is central to an effective and well-functioning STI system. Since matters pertaining to STI transcend all ministries and involve the participation of various stakeholders such as civil servant, industry, academia and the community, issues pertaining to coordination, collaboration and harmonisation assume importance.
The need for an entity, similar to the National Science Foundation of the US and the National Research Foundation of Singapore, to manage all R&D funding is crucial to the implementation of all research programmes effectively, efficiently with a coordinated and proper evaluation and monitoring system in place to ensure maximisation of all public R&D funds. This will ensure that research is more focussed, targeted and streamlined to crucial areas of concern for our nation as well as meet the demands of our transformative policies towards a high income nation.