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PRIORITY: The Budget should include incentives which will further motivate interest in science and technology
THE government will soon unveil the 2013 Budget. Many groups have submitted their wish lists to be included in the allocations planned for next year. We at the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM), a think-tank established under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (Mosti), strongly feel the budget should include elements which will further motivate national interest in science and technology (S&T). Declining interest in S&T is not good as the nation strives to deliver the New Economic Model (NEM). It has been widely reported that student enrolment in science has witnessed a drastic decline.
The good news is that the recently unveiled Malaysia Education Blueprint is proposing new measures to arrest the decline. But this would require adequate budget support. We believe it would be extremely challenging for the nation to achieve the high income target with inclusiveness and sustainability, unless there is sufficient investment in S&T and innovation.
We consider the budget as a timely intervention to boost the country's performance in S&T given the fact that Mosti is now finalising the new Science Act, which would hopefully come into effect next year. Indications are the Act will breathe new life in the S&T agenda of the country. The revamped National Science Research Council (NSRC) under Mosti will play a pivotal role to coordinate the nation's investment in scientific R&D as well as the strategic development of human capital in S&T. However, as often reiterated, NSRC would be helpless without the necessary back-up of resources. The Act will give it authority, but it needs legitimacy and capacity in order to effectively deliver. We hope the budget will provide the much needed financial support for NSRC.
The funding for R&D has always been raised as a major issue in the nation's pursuit of the S&T agenda. Lingering at below one per cent of GDP, we have yet to match the threshold level of two to three per cent allocated in developed nations. We hope the budget will address this shortfall. At the same time we recognise there is a need for the R&D allocations to be guided by a framework of priorities. We are happy to report that ASM has worked closely with NSRC to develop the areas of priority for the country's R&D. The areas identified include those which are of national concern as well as those which will provide new global opportunities the country can tap on. We need to invest in the science that will mitigate risks and capture opportunities as we move forward. As the country's foremost think-tank on S&T, ASM is constantly monitoring global trends and engaging key stakeholders of the country, including industry, in order to provide inputs to the government on the strategic intervention needed. Under ASM's Mega-Science study, projections are made on the future technology risks and opportunities of the country's major economic sectors. Based on such assessments, proposals are put forward on the pertinent areas for investment in S&T. In the first two years of the study, assessments have been completed for the five sectors of water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity. We are now undertaking similar assessments on other sectors. We believe the Mega-Science study undertaken at ASM is an important instrument to guide the country's S&T decision making. We hope to receive suitable annual allocations to help us deliver the study.
Arguably, investments in S&T require the necessary talents to drive them. Scientific talent is becoming rarer in the country as scientists are lured by lucrative offers elsewhere. This coupled with the declining enrolment in the science courses needs urgent address. We need to create better opportunities to attract the best minds to pursue science. At ASM we have created a platform to identify the country's top researchers. Our Top Research Scientists Malaysia (TRSM) network programme aims to inspire and motivate the country's scientists to strive for excellence. We would like to propose some incentives under the budget to attract more to join TRSM. One possible incentive is a more attractive tax regime.
Malaysia has made great strides in S&T. However, as the country moves to the next level of development, competition is getting tougher. We need to therefore inject new vigour in the country's S&T. Hopefully, the 2013 Budget will be the beginning of better things for the country's scientific fraternity.