Academics weigh in...

Prof Datuk Dr Asma Ismail

As Malaysia aspires to be a high-tech nation by 2030, we need to double our allocation for experimental development or translational research efforts so that we can register outcomes similar to nations like South Korea, Japan and Denmark which will also increase our gross domestic product (GDP).

From The Science Outlook 2017 report, we concluded that there is inadequate investment in experimental development to translate our research and development (R&D) outputs to markets within Malaysia and beyond.

The report outlines Malaysia’s research allocation based on data from Unesco Institute of Statistics Database and the Malaysian Science and Technology Information Centre National R&D Survey 2019. For a robust science, technology and innovation ecosystem in the country, the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) has been strongly advocating the strengthening of science, technology and innovation (STI) governance, an effective resource allocation and enhancing STI talent in the industry which will enable a systemic change in our innovation landscape. For this to come to fruition, we have to reduce the innovation chasm between academia and industry by linking STI to the economy; narrow the time lapse between technology development in the PROs and adoption by the industries by institutionalising the role of driving economic-oriented research through a dedicated entity for value creation and socio-economic impact and internalise innovation as part of the education and higher education curriculum.

We need to be involved in more translational research initiatives to elevate the nation and allow our fellow countrymen to enjoy a better quality of life. To move the country towards an innovation-led economy, we are going for systemic change and creation of a collaborative STI ecosystem. We need to close the gap between academia and industry to create business and social enterprises using home-grown technologies. Through this integrated approach, we will be able to transform the R&D sector by design and raise a new generation of academics, who are not just thinkers, but also doers.

— ASM president Prof Datuk Dr Asma Ismail

Prof Dr Anthony Ho Siong HockProf Dr Anthony Ho Siong Hock

Juggling teaching duties and service to the community can limit the amount of time an academic has to focus on research. It’s a balancing act. Each individual needs to develop an ideal balance for all these aspects of academic life. An important workforce to support successful research are postgraduate students. The availability of Masters and PhD students of high calibre and who are capable of handling complex research topics are also in short supply. Funding to support attractive scholarship schemes are also limited; thus, it is challenging to convince candidates to pursue postgraduate studies by research. I hope the government is able to allocate more funding towards postgraduate capacity building.

Researchers also need to balance short- and long-term goals.Sometimes the most impactful research takes many years to materialise but humans are naturally impatient and universities are increasingly competitive. When short-term research goals are favoured, this can stifle the incubation of wonderful research that takes many years to show results and are considered risky. Allowing some long-term and risky research goals should form a part of universities’ plans.

To drive more impactful research, we should focus on issues. For example, how do we bridge the learning opportunity gap in underprivileged communities? Such a problem requires a multidisciplinary team to tease out specific issues in education, IT, language, living environment, finance, well-being and so on. By crafting mini-problems that are part of a bigger issue, we hope to capitalise on the discipline-specific skills to craft a more comprehensive solution.

To be fair, the perception that academics have been producing irrelevant research to society exists because academics are perhaps not very articulate about what their research is about and where its contribution lies in a way that is clear and understandable to the man on the street.Researchers have traditionally been happy just to publish in our academic journals and present at academic conferences. We need to do better in promoting our work.

— Taylor’s University pro vice-chancellor (research and enterprise) Prof Dr Anthony Ho Siong Hock

As far as the university is concerned, there is no real stumbling block. The biggest challenge usually comes when obtaining funding. Often, the funder will have specific terms to meet and expect output which researchers have to fulfill, sometimes immediately. But impact is never felt when the research is being conducted or immediately after completion —which is what funders expect.

Producing high-impact work is not a straightforward task. It needs sustainable funds and continuous effort to bring to fruition.

Research output is always useful. It may not seem so at first but the least it does is produce knowledge that others can further develop. For example, research done by Einstein to produce the Theory of Relativity may, at the time when it was done, not seem very useful but now, it is the foundation of many advanced technologies such as the world’s satellite global positioning system and the mobile phone.

One does not see this immediately or connect the dots between mobile technology and his theory, but if you were to extrapolate it, it goes down to one fundamental research done a very long time ago.

— Universiti Malaya deputy vice-chancellor (research and innovation) Prof Dr Noorsaadah Abd Rahman

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