Mapping Global Scientific Network: Setting Malaysia’s Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Priorities for Global Engagement

Overview

Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM), which functions as the national STI Think Tank under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, was formed to promote STI agenda through various platforms and engagement with media, industry and societies. In 2015, ASM published its first Malaysia’s Science Outlook. The outlook, which serves as an official advisory document to the Malaysia’s policymakers, provides independent review of key trend in science, technology and innovation in Malaysia. The philosophy of the Science Outlook is to evaluate where Malaysia is in STI by benchmarking ourselves with other country that is advancing in STI, identify the gaps, consider future implications and recommend the way forward to realize Malaysia’s inspirations in STI. There are 6 pillars in the 2015 Science Outlook namely STI Governance, Research, Development and Commercialization, STI Talent, Energizing Industries, STI Enculturation and Strategic International Alliance. Preparation of the outlook involved many processes including stocktaking exercise to study the current trends and challenges in STI, data gathering and international peer review. This was followed by a thorough evaluation and gap analysis on various indicators of STI development.

Front Cover of Malaysia’s Science Outlook 2015
Front Cover of Malaysia’s Science Outlook 2015

Having tabled the first Science Outlook at the Parliament, ASM realized that it is essential to produce a latest version of the document to update the policymakers on the current situation of the country with respect to STI. As an S&T Fellow who has been designated under ASM, I have been assigned to assist with the preparation of the Science Outlook 2016-2017. One of my specific tasks is to look into the preparation of one of the chapter namely Strategic International Alliance.  Although international collaboration is being heralded as the hallmark of contemporary scientific production, little quantitative evidence has portrayed the landscape and trends of such collaboration. Policy makers are faced with questions of how to support, benefit from and exploit the collaborations. The need to enhance strategic international alliances was not articulated or highlighted in the initial STI frameworks (at least, until the current policy was introduced), as the focus has been primarily on building and strengthening national capabilities and capacity for research, technology and innovation. Realizing this issue, the latest Science Outlook will look into collaboration trends among universities in Malaysia and their strategic partner, which lead to highly impactful papers published in international journals.

Strategic International Alliances: Tapping into the Global Potential

Collaborative partnership is a key factor in the growth of any country. A partner can provide capital, share resources or supplement one another’s expertise and strengths for their mutual benefits. Collaborative partnerships may also create significant obstacles in terms of the level of STI strengths, skilled and expert workers or different industry capabilities. Hence, it is important for Malaysia to target strategic partners such as ASEAN, BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and MIST (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey), which will eventually improve Malaysia’s image in STI capabilities.

Although the need to enhance strategic international alliances was not spelled out and emphasized and in the initial S&T frameworks as the focus has been primarily on building and strengthening national capabilities and capacity for research, technology and innovation, history has witnessed Malaysia’s commitment to collaborate, co-create and foster strategic partnerships for socio- economic growth through various MOUs, agreements and treaties in the S&T cooperation with high-potential partner countries. For instance, the “Look East Policy” (LEP) of Malaysia, introduced by YAB Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad (Malaysia’s third Prime Minister) in 1982, allowed the country to forge partnerships with the likes of Japan and South Korea for the exchange of capital (both human and financial), goods and most importantly, a vision of a boundless future. The very premise on which the LEP took flight i.e. strategic international cooperation continues to be instrumental in the cross-pollination of people, products, processes, practices and principles of governance, while helping to forge new business and trade collaborations, even in S&T space.

Photos with Prof. Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to Malaysia’s Prime Minister and Delegates from US after a discussion on international alliances (September, 2016).
Photos with Prof. Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to Malaysia’s Prime Minister and Delegates from US after a discussion on international alliances (September, 2016).

With Malaysia’s liberalization and regional integration for business and trade, strategic international alliances will become extremely critical to further national interests and achieve the country’s aspiration to emerge as a developed economy. The successful implementation of our progressive policies will be determined by our ability to break all barriers of trade and the extent to which Malaysian industry is able to establish international partnerships to gain competitive advantages in local, regional and global marketplaces. Looking at the network of collaboration through publications and patents in ICT and biotechnology – the two top fields which dominated R&D allocation in Malaysia over the past several years (Table 1-1) – we can see that the Malaysian network of collaboration lacks international exposure (international collaborators), a factor that may limit its potential. The lack of international collaboration is affirmed based on a study (Gazni, A. et al., 2012) that has been conducted by as summarized in Table 1-2.