10 things about Malaysia’s research & development landscape you need to know

I was speaking to some friends at the Ministry of Higher Education a few days ago and was pleasantly surprised to find out various interesting things about Malaysia’s research & development (R&D) landscape – many we can be proud of and probably didn’t know about. Inspired, I’ve up come with this list. 

1. Malaysia has five (5) research universities.

In 2007, the Malaysian government initiated the Research Universities (RU) project. Four (4) public universities were granted with RU status, namely Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) joining the fray in 2010.

The RU project, which was modelled after similar initiatives in South Korea and Singapore, aimed to enculture R&D in Malaysia, enhance commercialisation, increase post-graduate and post-doctoral student intake, and improve Malaysia’s global standing.

Nearly 10 years since initiation, it certainly has.

2. Malaysia surpassed Singapore and Thailand in publication output.

In 2010, Malaysia’s knowledge output in total number of publications surpassed Singapore and Thailand. By 2014, Malaysian researchers produced 47,000 articles curated by Elsevier, the world’s largest databased of intellectual material. This was nearly twice as many as Thailand, while Singapore has about 34,000 articles registered in Elsevier. Michiel Kolman, Elsevier Vice President, was quoted by Thai Newspaper ‘The Nation’ as saying this was a ‘surprise’, but goes on to credit the Malaysian government’s investment in R&D. However, Malaysia still has some way to go to match Singapore and Thailand  in terms of the number of RSEs (Researcher, Scientist, and Engineer) and to match Singapore in terms of GERD (Gross Expenditure on Research and Development).

3. Malaysian university researchers have been recognised as ‘World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds’.

Quantity comes with quality. The increase in publication numbers has led to impressive citation numbers. Between 2014 and 2015, six university professors from UM, USM and UKM were recognised by Thomson Reuters (now known as Clarivate Analytics) as World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds. The recognition comes for being the top 1% most cited researchers in their fields. Among the areas in which our researchers excelled in include fuel cell technology, hydrogen energy, membrane technology, micro fuel cells, and mathematics.

4. Collaborations with 179 nations, producing over 27,000 publications.

Between 2013 and 2015, Malaysian researchers collaborated with researchers from 179 countries and produced 27,891 co-authored publications in indexed journals. Researchers from the United Kingdom and Australia form the top 2 collaborators with Malaysia, accounting for more than 10,000 co-authored publications. Interestingly, co-authored publications with Swedish and Brazilian researchers have the highest citation impact scores (source: Scopus, May 2016).

5. It’s about Translational Research. Ensuring that research is translated into ways meaningful to the society.

Beyond the numbers, Malaysian universities have impacted local and international communities in various ways.

USM researchers have successfully assisted fisherman in setting up commercially viable oyster farming projects for the local market in Merbok, Kedah. The fishermen have been able to supplement their income by approximately RM1,600 a month with an estimated income of RM10,000 during oyster-selling season. 

Since 2009, UKM has been able to equip approximately 1,500 unemployed women and single mothers with IT and e-commerce skills through a research project which aims to empower women with ICT skills. UKM had also reached out to rural communities in Melaka, Johor, Terengganu, Sabah and the Klang Valley in hopes of bridging the digital divide in the community.

UM has embarked child leukaemia research, focusing on holistic and consistent care which involves not just curative but also harm reduction stemming from potential chemotherapy side effects.

UPM, ranked no.1 in Southeast Asia and 48 in the world in agricultural science, has contributed in many ways to the agricultural industry, including palm oil harvesting.

USM has pioneered membrane technology which helps keep rivers clean and this technology has been applied locally for Orang Asli communities and in other developing nations.

(For additional stories: http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/online-exclusive/whats-your-status/2015/02/05/many-higher-education-success-stories-are-overlooked/)

6. Malaysia is no.1 in Islamic Banking & Finance publications.

The International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) and the International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance (INCEIF) both contributed 11% of total publications in the field, according to international indexing organisations Elsevier and ISI. Also, many Malaysian academicians sit on international banks’ Shariah advisory boards.

7. RM 7.17bil in revenue has been generated by our 20 public universities.

Between 2007 and 2015, Malaysia’s 20 public universities have been able to generate RM 7.17 billion in revenue, representing a 28.5% Return of Research Investment (RoRI) from RM 5.58 billion invested by the Malaysian government into R&D. The revenue comes from various sources including international research grants, product commercialisation, industry funding, the providing of consultancy and professional services to industry, book publications and trainings, and endowments.

8. Industry and R&D go hand in hand.

Just last week, the ‘Ericsson-UTM Innovation Centre for 5G’ was launched. It was the outcome of an R&D partnership between Ericsson and UTM on 5th Generation (5G) mobile communication technology. The centre is expected to benefit some 2000 students yearly through exposure to the latest 5G technologies and innovation and is an example of the vital role industry plays in spurring R&D in Malaysia. Other examples include a Knowledge Transfer Centre (KTC) set up by Toray Industries, Japan (the textile technology company behind Uniqlo) with USM, and the CIMB-UUM Chair of Banking and Finance.

On the other hand, the Public-Private Research Network (PPRN) initiative launched by the Ministry of Higher Education in 2014 enables Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to leverage on university expertise to solve their industry problems. As of October 2016, PPRN has facilitated 582 project matchings.

9. R&D has contributed to university rankings.

Over the last few years, Malaysian universities have risen in various university rankings such as those published by QS and Times Higher Education. Our universities improvement in R&D has certainly contributed to this. According to the QS World University Rankings 2016, UM is 133rd in the world (2016 marked its 3rd consecutive annual rise) and UPM 270th (rising 61 spots). UM is also ranked 32nd in the world for development studies and 37th in electrical and electronic engineering, while chemical engineering in USM is ranked 46th according to the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016. UPM, UTM and Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP) were recently ranked top 100 in the world in the Times Higher Education BRICS and Emerging Economies University Rankings 2017.

(I had written a piece on rankings which can be accessed here: http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/online-exclusive/whats-your-status/2016/09/30/universities-and-honest-expectations-ultimately-a-ranking-number-is-merely-a-guide-not-an-absolute-w/ )

10. A long but continuous journey, the next phase is about ‘Translational Research’.

Malaysia’s R&D landscape has grown tremendously over the last decade. Moving forward, the focus will be on translational research, i.e. research that brings positive impact to local and international communities. Ghandi once said ‘Education can certainly change the world’. I believe R&D is a vital part of that education.

*Credit to Datin Paduka Ir. Dr. Siti Hamisah Tapsir, Deputy Director General of Higher Education and Prof. Dr Raha Abdul Rahim, Director of Higher Education Excellence, Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia for providing input and assistance for this article



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Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman has education close to his heart. He tweets at @danial_ari and welcomes feedback at danialrahman0330@gmail.com.


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