Malaysia Embraces Knowledge-Based Economy

Malaysia's Deputy Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation describes the steps that his nation has taken to spur science-based sustainable growth.

Angra dos Reis, 4 September. "Malaysia is firmly convinced that its efforts to become a successful competitive player in today's global economy can only be achieved through sound and rapid progress in science and technology," says Kong Cho Ha, the Deputy Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation in Malaysia.

Kong was speaking at the Third World Network of Scientific Organization's (TWNSO) Ministerial Forum on 'Financing Science, Technology and Innovation', held in conjunction with TWNSO's 9th General Meeting and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World's (TWAS) 10th General Conference, taking place in Angra dos Reis, Brazil from 2 to 6 September. More than 20 ministers of science and technology from the developing world participated in the forum, including ministers from Iran, North Korea, Panama and Rwanda.

"Malaysia continues to maintain its commodity-based economy, where such traditional factors as land, labour and capital propel economic growth,"says Kong. "Nevertheless, the government realizes that success in the global economy increasingly depends on knowledge creation and technical know-how."

To meet today's challenges, Kong states that the Malaysian government has fully integrated programmes designed to promote science, technology and innovation into its overall strategy for sustained economic growth.

As Kong notes, "the government has increased its investment in science- and technology-based education and training programmes as part of a larger goal to build human capital. It has reformed its financial and fiscal policies to build a stronger foundation in research and development (R&D) and to spur innovation. And it has transformed its industrial and trade policies to upgrade the capabilities of domestic industries to provide products and services that can compete in the global marketplace." Grants, loans and tax exemptions are some of the critical tools that government has relied on to attain its goals.

Specifically, Malaysia has more than doubled its expenditures on R&D from US$500 million in 2000 to US$1.2 billion in 2005. As a result, aggregate R&D expenditures now represent 0.7 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) — a percentage that is expected to rise to 1 percent this year and 1.5 percent by 2010. It has also established nationwide university scholarship and graduate and post-graduate fellowship programmes that are intended to increase the number of scientists and engineers from today's figure of 18 for each 10,000 workers to 50 for each 10,000 workers by 2010.

Seeking to strengthen the forces that many development experts now believe determine the pace of economic progress, the Malaysian government has recently established three new R&D funds: a ScienceFund to support fundamental research across key sectors of the economy; a TechnoFund to help transfer research results into marketable products and services; and an InnoFund that seeks to spur the creation of innovative ideas that hold great promise.

"The ultimate goal of Malaysia's science- and technology-based economic development strategy," Kong told his fellow ministers, "is to facilitate the commercialization of R&D. In Malaysia," he added, "there is an increasing national consensus that the usefulness of research is limited if the findings cannot be used to promote wealth creation and societal well-being."