IN November last year, the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (Mestecc) Minister announced that RM16mil would be allocated as grants for research and development (R&D) under the I-Connect initiative, a collaborative platform for researchers, industry, the government and NGOs.
This is not the first effort by the government to bridge these fundamental components for national development. About 20 years ago, at the open day of a premier government technology development agency, a huge banner bearing the slogan “Market Driven R&D” was hung outside its entrance while intensive discussions about the subject went on inside.
The predecessor of Mestecc, the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, also organised the “Year of Commercialisation” events for a number of years to market the R&D efforts of local public universities. The main activities undertaken then were exhibitions and publications showcasing Malaysian R&D. A number of our local chambers of commerce were invited to receive the research publications.
Another concerted effort to bridge the gap between academia and industry was the creation of the National Innovation Agency or Agensi Innovasi Malaysia (AIM) in 2012. It was set up with a specific expiry date, 2020, which meant that it had to achieve the tasks entrusted to it by that year.
Under AIM, a book titled Wealth of Malaysia, which listed local R&D with market potential was published. The agency also organised forums to connect GLCs (government-linked companies) and public-listed companies with academics from local public universities.
My observation on all these initiatives is there is no in-depth report on either their achievements or shortfalls. It is time we analyse the achievements and deficits of these past initiatives and learn from them.
For example, we can duplicate the often-mentioned success story of CREST (Collaborative Research in Engineering, Science and Technology), which was set up by the government to accelerate economic growth of the electrical and electronics industry (E&E) in Malaysia in 2012.
The Subang Jaya/Shah Alam/Klang industrial area where a considerable number of public and private leading universities and Sirim Berhad are located looks like a good potential for a similar collaboration.
Another useful academia-business linkage is between graduates and SMEs. The government has been calling for university graduates to be more entrepreneurial and self-reliant. A partnership between graduates and SMEs can be a win-win formula where the former learn about entrepreneurship and the intricacies of running a business and the latter could leverage on them to acquire the latest technology and modern management methods, thus enhancing their competitiveness and productivity.
Success of this partnership can be seen in the revitalisation and growth of traditional family businesses by their well-educated second generation owners.
A few years ago, SMECorp ran an internship programme at SMEs for university graduates.
This graduate-SME internship programme could also be extended across Asean, which has been touted as the fastest growing region in the world with about 34% of its population comprising youths aged between 15 and 34.
With the pervasive network of the digital era facilitating globalisation, it is time we nurture an international outlook and network among our youths in their career pursuit whether as employees or entrepreneurs.
This would contribute to reducing youth unemployment besides enhancing Asean connectivity and productivity.
A vital factor in the business-academia linkage for concrete outcome is drivers of collaboration.
As depicted in the phrase “market driven”, business/marketers and entrepreneurs generally serve as the drivers.
At the recent I-Connect event, there was weak representation from the entrepreneurs/business community. Interestingly, the president of Malaysian Direct Distribution Association, which represents direct sales companies, stood up and offered to work with academia. Sadly, her offer was not met with positive response from the distinguished panel of academia on stage.
This leads to a pertinent question. Would our professors go down to our backyard industries in Balakong or Kelantan to help enhance industrial productivity through the application of new technologies?
This brings us to the need for intermediaries for collaboration between academia and business. It is encouraging to note that there is a government programme doing just that – the Public-Private Research Network (PPRN) programme of the Education Ministry, which identifies experts/scientists from local universities to develop the technologies required by SMEs and also co-finance the development cost of the technologies with them.
Here, the ministry plays an intermediary role to bridge the gap. More intermediaries are needed to drive business-academia collaborations in our country.
Indeed, more studies and concerted efforts are needed to overcome the challenges in forging academia-business collaboration to ensure that I-Connect can achieve its aims and does not just fizzle out with the passage of time.
WEE HUI BIEH
Science Career Asia PLT
What do you think of this article?