Better coordination in R&D crucial

Transition to a more innovation-based growth model is even more urgent in the current uncertain global context, says World Bank

by AFIQ AZIZ / pic by HUSSEIN SHAHARUDDIN

IT IS crucial for local public research organisations and universities to enhance innovation driven growth to weather global crises, said a new World Bank report.

The report found that better coordination between research institutions, government and industries could put Malaysia on track to achieve the aspiration of becoming a high-income nation.

The report titled “Assessing the Effectiveness of Public Research Institutions: Fostering Knowledge Linkages and Transferring Technology in Malaysia” drew its findings from a new survey which analysed the levels of knowledge and technology transfer in the country.

World Bank noted that while research and development (R&D) funding and improvements to policy have expanded in Malaysia over the years, more can be done to uplift the country status to be at par with the high-income countries like Singapore, Japan and South Korea.

World Bank country manager (Malaysia) Firas Raad (picture) said policy changes made in performance-based budgeting have seen improvements in publications and patents, as well as collaborations with industry.

However, he said there has been little progress in the commercialisation of research outputs and technology transfer activities from research organisations to industry.

Firas said with multiple actors namely ministries, agencies and research organisations, and the varying nature of research, the landscape of research institutions is highly complex.

This situation, he said has led to a lack of coordination in facilitating and encouraging research commercialisation, and the transfer of new knowledge and technology.

“Other key challenges most cited in the field include funding inconsistencies, mismatched incentives and differing expectations between academia and industry,” the report found.

Firas stressed that the transition to a more innovation-based growth model is even more urgent in the current uncertain global context.

“While the GDP growth rate has proven resilient in recent years, declining oil and gas output coupled with economic shocks, including the recent Covid-19 pandemic, have dented the growth momentum,” he said during the virtual launch of the report yesterday.

The report was launched by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar yesterday.

Khairy Jamaluddin said the key challenge for Malaysia now is how to facilitate and accelerate the transition to this innovation-based growth model in the country.

This, he said, will include the mechanism to improvise public policies and institutions, so all stakeholders can work more effectively to encourage innovation, technology adoption and commercialisation of research.

“The report calls for deeper partnerships among science and technology players in Malaysia in coordination with the ministry to elevate the quality and outcomes of the research ecosystem in Malaysia,” Khairy Jamaluddin said.

The report also stated that Malaysia has seen rapid growth in the number of scientific publications, but without a corresponding increase in quality.

Quoting data from Scopus, the report said scientific output from Malaysia increased 4.5 times between 2008 and 2018.

However, the quality of research as reflected in the citation impact index of scientific publications remained low when compared to high-income countries.

While Malaysia’s research intensity and spending are higher than its regional peers, it is still lagging behind richer countries.

Malaysia’s R&D intensity peaked at 1.44% of GDP in 2016, but it has since been declining, falling short of the levels seen in high-income economies, the World Bank said.

As such, the bank recommended for greater coordination and long-term strategic planning across the research and innovation ecosystem in Malaysia, which is paramount now than before.

Such efforts would include better implementation of academic incentives towards technology transfer and commercialisation of research, and other reforms including the establishment of a centralised research management agency which has been mooted since the publication of the 11th Malaysia Plan.

“In this difficult period, a sustained increase in private investment, coupled with improvements in productivity will be necessary to maintain a sustainable economic growth trajectory.

“This will enable Malaysia to reach high-income and developed country status,” he added.