Singapore's National Science & Technology Board embarks on a S$7 billion plan to foster an environment for high-tech R&D
SINGAPORE - To build a vibrant environment for technological R&D in Singapore - that's the challenge that is ahead for the NSTB (National Science & Technology Board) as it reveals a government budget of S$7 billion for a Science & Technology 2005 Plan (S&T 2005).
|The bottom line will be to make the
R&D efforts turn a profit. |
- Lee-Ying Adams
That's no small feat, even with the backing of cash, which is sizable, in this case, for a country the size of Singapore. To do so, NSTB will have to oversee the growth of varied trends in the science and technology arena. They will have to seed and grow promising areas and bank on the eventual monetary success of those areas.
The bottom line, according to Lee-Ying Adams, assistant managing director of operations for NSTB, will be to make the R&D efforts turn a profit.
To succeed in what they do, NSTB will have to actively engage in encouraging the proliferation of R&D activities and to cultivate suitable conditions for an R&D community to grow in the country.
In a pre-announcement briefing, Tan Kit Jong, director of planning division, NSTB outlined a bold and comprehensive plan focusing on five main strategies:
The organization has had some success in the past.
S&T 2005 plan is actually the third blueprint that has been rolled out by the Singapore government to foster the growth of science and technology in the country.
|...while the overall growth is reflected by private sector expenditure on R&D, government spending continues to make up a prominent chunk of the whole figure.|
$6 billion has previously been spent in two former plans, the National Technology Plan in 1991 and the National Science and Technology Plan in 1996.
Through the years, NSTB has funded 13 research institutes and centers, which, in turn, developed 670 new products and processes, spun off 39 companies and carried out 1600 joint projects with industries.
On the whole, R&D expenditure has grown from just over $500 million in 1990 to $2.66 billion in 1999, increasing from just below 1% of the GDP to 1.84%.
It is interesting to note that while the overall growth is reflected by private sector expenditure on R&D, government spending continues to make up a prominent chunk of the whole figure.
In 1999, private enterprises contributed a little over 1.5 billion to the gross expenditure on R&D while public funds made up for the rest with well over a billion spent.
For the future, NSTB can be expected to follow a similar strategy to actively seek out, identify and fund R&D projects.
While stressing that it's not cast in stone, NSTB's Adams revealed that about half of the new funding will go toward financing R&D projects and risk sharing incentives with private enterprises.
The other area that NSTB will be growing is the talent pool of research scientists and engineers (RSE) within the labor force.
"If we can influence the thinking of the young, or the very young, then we can be assured that there will be a steady supply of local R&D talent."
- Lee-Ying Adams
This is the other indicator that will be used to measure the progress of the country's R&D program.
NSTB hopes to do this by attracting foreign talent into Singapore's fold and to cultivate its own locals toward an R&D career.
To succeed, the country must first establish R&D as a viable and lucrative career. NSTB claims that this has already been successfully achieved.
In addition, the board is looking to work closely with the education system to introduce the very young to the field of R&D.
Schemes, including technology contests and access to laboratories are being devised to keep the field of R&D within the reach of the school system. Scholarships at the post-graduate level will also be offered.
"When we think in terms of manpower development, really when you think it through, we are talking about the whole lifespan of a person," said Adams. "If we can influence the thinking of the young, or the very young, then we can be assured that there will be a steady supply of local R&D talent."
An estimated 20% of the new funding is expected to go toward this area of development.
As with the gross expenditure on R&D, Singapore has seen some growth in developing its pool of RSEs over the past ten years, increasing from slightly over 20 per 10,000 labor force to 69 in 1999.
"If we can have international reputable R&D companies or organizations collaborating with us, that action in itself says that Singapore may have arrived at a certain level."
However, the figure still stands slightly below that of the other advanced economies, where typically, RSEs per 10,000 labor force hovers around 75.
Countries like Japan, Finland, Germany and the U.S. also post higher gross expenditure on R&D, at about 2-3% of GDP.
The $7 billion S&T 2005 plan, with an explicit strategic intent "to identify and build world-class capabilities, strengthen and seed strategic growth sectors which are globally competitive in the knowledge economy," will aim to achieve those targets.
As not all aspects of an R&D community can be quantified, the plan also has a third thrust to ferment and form relations with international R&D consortiums. Success in this area will be significant indicators of the intangibles in the undertaking.
"If we can have international reputable R&D companies or organizations collaborating with us," said Adams, "that action in itself says that Singapore may have arrived at a certain level."
The fund will be managed by the NSTB with the aid of two internal councils, the Biomedical Research Council and the Science and Engineering Research Council.
An official annoucement of the funding was made today by Brigadier General George Yeo, Minister for Trade and Industry, at the official opening of the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering Building.