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Report: Focus on quality, impactful solutions that benefit the country

UNIVERSITIES, besides being fountains of academic knowledge, are meant to produce research that benefits society and provides solutions to our daily problems.

Yet, there is a lack of policies and incentives for our nation’s academics to do such meaningful work.

Calling for greater focus on improving the effectiveness of public research to impact society and markets, the “Assessing the Effectiveness of Public Research Institutions: Fostering Knowledge Linkages and Transferring Technology in Malaysia” report noted that much emphasis is on increasing the quantity of research and development (R&D) and innovation, but not the quality and academia’s links with industry.

There was an increase in gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) for experimental development and research activities from 7.5% in 2014 to 14.6% in 2016, and basic research grew from 16.9% to 28.9% in the same period, the 2020 World Bank report read.

“While these are encouraging trends, high expenditure on applied research does not translate into high levels of commercialisation of research outputs or technology transfer to industry.

“This implies a loss in opportunity of making a greater impact on economic diversification, industrial development and growth, ” the report read.

To date, success stories of public research organisations and higher education institutes producing society-centric research are few and far between.

This has raised concerns regarding the efficacy of the government’s recent efforts to inculcate a strong culture of producing impactful research.

Source: Assessing the Effectiveness of Public Research Institutions: Fostering Knowledge Linkages and Transferring Technology in Malaysia, World Bank

Among other factors (see infographic above), complex funding mechanisms, coupled with budget constraints, give rise to an “inconsistency in the flow of funding” to these institutions.

This has limited research activities, and the transfer of knowledge and technology.

A cultural gap also exists between research institutions and industry due to a mismatch of expectations, creating a perceived lack of demand from industry.

“Combined with communication obstacles to align interests and collaborate, frictions between the two arise, inhibiting effective collaborative networks as well as industry-focused research outputs and innovations, ” the report added.

It also highlighted a lack of recognition and prioritisation for technology transfer and commercialisation of research career progressions or funding incentives.

A former consultant to the country’s public universities, Datuk Dr Hamzah Kassim said the report shows that Malaysia has performed well in applied research, with scientific data by local researchers increasing up to 4.5% between 2008 and 2018 in Elsevier-Scopus.

He, however, said the requirements to be a professor are too rigid and an obsession with rankings has skewed the priorities of some academics.

He said many professors are focused on achieving their KPI (key performance indicator) –which is based on how often they publish and are cited in academic literature – instead of the problems affecting society.

“(But) the role of universities is to transform the country.

“Universities must embrace this role, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The varsities’ management must give researchers their full support to enhance the experimental development or pre-commercialisation phase.”

Reference