A need to invest in science R&D jobs


  • Letters
  • Monday, 22 Aug 2016

WHEN first introduced, the Blue Ocean Strategy (BOS) was greeted with optimism by all. It was hailed as a potent formula for business success.

Over the years, it has proven to be the recipe that businesses were looking for. It is therefore no surprise that many companies are attracted to the BOS.

Many have benefited from it. Its use is not limited only to business enterprises.

Many governments, including our own, have resorted to BOS to improve service delivery. We are now familiar with our highly successful Urban as well as Rural Transformation Centres which have sprouted up in many parts of the country. They have all received much public praise.

How can the blue ocean approach work for science? Take the growing disinterest among students in science, despite various actions taken by the Government.

All kinds of science carnivals and exhibitions have been held. The education ministry has introduced new teaching approaches to make learning science more interesting.

But many students complain science is boring and difficult, and say science does not guarantee rewarding careers.

Unfortunately, the response to all such initiatives has been lukewarm. The interest in science among students has not shown much improvement. It may even be getting worse.

This concerns policy makers a lot. Many are worried the nation may not have enough science human capital to drive future growth.

And we need a more science-literate workforce in the coming years. Businesses which fail to capitalise on science may not withstand the competition.

They will instead be replaced by companies which excel in the new technological opportunities offered by the “internet of things”, big data and the bio-based business.

The prediction is that businesses will not be the same. Manufacturing and medicine will be different. Even services, especially retailing, will be completely transformed. So what kind of blue ocean approach do we need to boost the nation’s interest in science?

How do we increase the nation’s human capital in science to cater to the growing demand?

Admittedly, the one single factor which many believe can boost the nation’s interest in science is improved career prospects. Right now, there is not much problem getting students to opt for the two major science careers, namely medicine and engineering.

It is the other science careers that fail to attract sufficient interest. Take biotechnology for example. After the bad experience a few years back when many biotechnology graduates ended up selling credit cards, many shy away from biotechnology as a career.

But the forecast is quite bullish on the future demand for such disciplines. How then do we rectify this obvious anomaly?

This is where we need a blue ocean approach. We need to make a career in science research more lucrative.

Undeniably, the bedrock of success in science lies in a solid foundation in R&D. We need to invest in R&D jobs.

Both basic and applied R&D can stimulate a worthwhile career in science. Under the present arrangement, both basic and applied R&D can do with better coordination. This will optimise cost and make research more impactful.

The idea to improve the nation’s coordination of applied R&D through a Research Management Agency (RMA) should be implemented without any more delay.

This is a useful blue ocean approach. The other strategy concerns the basic R&D.

We need a strong network of institutes to champion the R&D on fundamental science. In many countries which enjoy comparative success in their science endeavours, the network is always placed under the jurisdiction of the nation’s Academy of Sciences.

We should do the same. Fellows of ASM are readily available to provide the needed mentoring almost for free.

With the basic R&D institutes under the auspices of the ASM and the applied R&D under the RMA, the career prospects for science should be better. This would certainly boost the nation’s interest in science.

PROF DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM, Fellow

Academy of Sciences Malaysia

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