Greater coordination and strategic planning needed for Malaysia to fully embrace an innovation-driven growth model
Strengthening support for Malaysia’s public research organizations (PROs) and universities is crucial to revive growth which is innovation-driven to weather the current global crisis and achieve Malaysia’s aspirations of becoming a high-income nation, a new World Bank report finds.
The report, “Assessing the Effectiveness of Public Research Institutions: Fostering Knowledge Linkages and Transferring Technology in Malaysia” draws its findings from a new survey, which analyzes the levels of knowledge and technology transfer in the country. While research and development (R&D) funding, and improvements to policy have expanded in Malaysia over the years, more can be done as the it transitions to the league of high-income countries like Singapore, Japan, South Korea in the region and others like Germany, France and the US.
Malaysia has seen rapid growth in the number of scientific publications, but without a corresponding increase in quality. According to data from Elsevier-Scopus, the world’s largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed scientific literature, scientific output from Malaysia increased 4.5 times between 2008 and 2018, however, the quality of research as reflected in the citation impact index of scientific publications remains low when compared to high-income countries. In terms of research spending, Malaysia’s research intensity is higher than its regional peers but lags behind richer countries. The country’s R&D intensity peaked at 1.44 percent of GDP in 2016, but it has since been declining, falling short of the levels seen in high-income economies.
“The key challenge today in Malaysia is, therefore, how to facilitate and accelerate the transition to this innovation-based growth model in Malaysia, and what policies and institutions could more effectively encourage innovation, technology adoption and commercialization of research,” said Khairy Jamaludin, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation. “This new World Bank report calls for deeper partnerships among the science and technology players in Malaysia in coordination with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) to elevate the quality and outcomes of the research ecosystem in Malaysia.”
“The transition to a more innovation-based growth model is even more urgent in the current uncertain global context. While the GDP growth rate has proven resilient in recent years, declining oil and gas output, coupled with economic shocks, including the recent COVID-19 pandemic, have dented the growth momentum,” said Firas Raad, World Bank Group Representative to Malaysia and Country Manager. “In this difficult context, a sustained increase in private investment, coupled with improvements in productivity will be necessary to maintain a sustainable economic growth trajectory that enables Malaysia to reach high-income and developed country status”.
Policy changes made in performance-based budgeting have seen improvements in publications and patents, as well as collaborations with industry. However, there has been little progress seen in the commercialization of research outputs and technology transfer activities from research organizations to industry. With multiple actors – ministries, agencies and research organizations, and the varying nature of research, the landscape of research institutions is highly complex. This situation has led to a lack of coordination to facilitate and encourage research commercialization and the transfer of new knowledge and technology. Other key challenges most cited in the field include funding inconsistencies, mismatched incentives and differing expectations between academia and industry.
Among the report’s recommendations is the urgent need for greater coordination and long-term strategic planning across the research and innovation ecosystem in Malaysia. Such efforts would include better implementation of academic incentives towards technology transfer and commercialization of research, and other reforms including the establishment of a centralized research management agency which has been mooted since the publication of the 11th Malaysia Plan.