2021: Hot research topics for the year


OVER the last decade, between 2009 and 2019, 13 highly cited Malaysian researchers published 3,422 papers.

And, the majority of these were funded by varsities, according to the recently released Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers (HCR) 2020 list.

Some of the top funding universities of these highly cited papers were Universiti Malaya (21% of papers), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) (12% of papers) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (7% of papers).

“We have been working closely with Malaysian institutions to support and drive research excellence.

“These researchers have a great impact on the research community as measured by the rate at which their work is being cited by others, ” said Clarivate Analytics vice-president and South and Southeast Asia head Arvind Pachhapur in a statement.

Close to 38% of the research output by Malaysian HCRs were funded by the Higher Education Ministry while another 7% said the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry funded their research output.

The list proves the strength of Malaysian higher education institutions and its academics in producing quality research time and again but areas that require more focus need to be identified to ensure that the studies are impactful and relevant to the community.

UKM pro vice-chancellor (Strategy and Corporate Development) Prof Dr Norman Mohd Salleh said more emphasis must be given toward fundamental research that can shift core knowledge, concepts and ideas.

“This can create a competitive advantage to Malaysian businesses as new technology is created and new products are introduced to the market.

“The challenge is for businesses to use knowledge from the studies and incorporate it into their products; companies must invest more in research and development, ” he told StarEdu.

Industry-focused research is another area that requires attention, he said, adding that it is also a way universities can help industries create products that can be commercialised.

“Industries can also work hand in hand with universities by shifting their research lab to university campuses, ” he suggested.

While Universiti Putra Malaysia deputy vice-chancellor (research and innovation) Prof Datuk Dr Zulkifli Idrus called on researchers to prioritise studies into food, water and environment security, healthy population, transforming human societies, artificial intelligence and data science, and sensor technology, Sunway University vice-chancellor Prof Graeme Wilkinson said varsities should focus their research on areas that relate to national and global priorities whilst supporting the development of the economy and society.

High priority areas, he said, include the digital economy, climate change and energy, healthcare such as infectious diseases and old-age illnesses, sustainable development, provision of food and water, and prevention of crime and extremism.

“These are important fields of research. New materials have much promise and can lead to improved green energy technologies.

“Biomedicine is also an important field as researchers from across the globe try to tackle some of the major diseases.

“Underpinning everything is also the need to have highly competitive knowledge-driven businesses which generate wealth to support a highly developed society, ” he pointed out.

The type and scope of research done at any university, Taylor’s University pro vice-chancellor (Research & Enterprise) Assoc Prof Dr Anthony Ho Siong Hock said, depends on its composition of staff expertise and the funding it obtains from funding agencies.

One cannot do everything. It is more realistic and important to identify niche areas of research, he opined.

“Understanding the current expertise and having a plan to develop the current or even new areas of expertise will dictate how universities allocate research investments.

“This will make them more competitive in winning research grants in the long run, ” he said, adding that the nature of today’s problems require research in a multitude of disciplines, working together in concert, with data being shared and interpreted collectively.

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