EVERYONE accepts that science is important in nation building. Few would dispute that science is a driver of innovation. But many, including those from the scientific fraternity, feel that science is slowly losing its credibility. Over the years, much has been invested in science. Funding science has not been cheap. However, there are signs that policymakers are not pleased with the outputs.
Some have expressed disillusionment. At the same time, scientists are asking for more funding. The usual excuse for their dismal performances is the low spending.
They are asking the government to raise the country’s research and development (R&D) spending to be on a par with other developed economies. Now, the allocation is around one per cent of gross domestic product. They are asking for at least two per cent. Most developed nations spend more than three per cent.
The more discomforting part is that not many students want to take up science. It is no secret that the ratio of students opting to take up science has dipped below 30 per cent. The target enrolment of 60/40 in favour of science is no longer tenable. The talent in science is fast disappearing.
This is made worse by the fact that many scientific talents have abandoned the country for better opportunities elsewhere. Many are working Down Under, where they claim the ecosystem is much better.
How do we arrest this trend? How do we retain the scientific talent that the country has invested much treasure to develop? How do we get them to contribute to the country’s innovation dreams?
The sad part is that we know where the answers lie. We all know what has to change. Unfortunately, the forces resisting change are too strong. Apparently, turfism is still alive and well in the country’s administration of science. This does not augur well for the future. Change is the only option.
In the mean time, there continues to be the launching of all kinds of programmes for science but little to show for in the implementation. In fact, the recently launched science policy has not been properly publicised. A recent survey showed that many among the scientific community are in the dark about the policy.
It is unclear where the failing is. But we must recognise it would be difficult to implement the six pillars of the policy without the buy-in from the stakeholders, especially scientists and industry players. If science is to make real headway, the governance has to change.
The “Science to Action” programme launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is a good start, but there must be clear direction and all involved must support the initiative. It is a pity that the initiative to formalise the first Science Act has yet to see closure. This has been going on for a number of years.
Maybe, what we need is a national “Master Plan for Science”. Something like the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025. The master plan should provide clear directions on programmes and projects related to science education, R&D and enculturation of science, including science literacy and linkages with industry, especially the small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
At present, science is only mentioned as part of other big blueprints such as the MEB, the SME Master Plan and also the Economic Transformation Programme.
We believe science is too big to be only a small part of other master plans. It must have a master plan of its own a longer timeline; at least 20 years. This is because science itself is a long term agenda.
The development of the master plan must be managed by an independent party. It cannot be clouded by issues of turfism and the resistance to change.
But it is important that the crafting of the plan must involve all stakeholders. This is because science cuts across all ministries and agencies.
The development of the master plan must involve the analysis of the relevant data. In the event of any missing information critical to the development of the plan, efforts must be invested in getting the data.This is where the Academy of Sciences Malaysia is well positioned to undertake the job. DR AHMAD IBRAHIM - NST Columnist 3 SEPTEMBER 2014 @ 8:10 AM