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  • Malaysia seeks next generation of scientists


Malaysia is faced with an ageing population of scientists who are retiring before being replaced by young researchers. The problem is being seen in a number of fields of research including biotechnology, agriculture and ecology. 

Speaking about biotechnology in particular, Malaysia's minister for science, technology and innovation, Jamaludin Jarjis, said last week that retired scientists have the knowledge and experience to help develop the industry.

"They can still contribute to the creation of knowledge," said Jarjis. "If we don't bring them back, it will be a loss for the nation."

He said that in line with the recently announced plans to boost biotechnology in Malaysia (see Malaysia launches big push for biotechnology), the government would encourage biotechnologists to work until they are 65 years old instead of retiring at 55.

The secretary-general of the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry has also raised the problem of retiring scientists.

According to the New Straits Times newspaper, Abi Musa Asa'ari Mohamed Nor said this week that the Malaysian Agricultural Research Development Institute (MARDI) needs more than 500 researchers to replace those soon to retire.

He said there were not enough researchers because agricultural science was not popular among university students.

Conservation biology and forestry scientists are also in short supply, both in Peninsular Malaysia and the East Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Half of the Sarawak Forest Corporation's staff is due to retire in the next five years.

"We are in urgent need of 18 ecologists," said Wilfred Landong, the agency's general manager for protected areas and biodiversity conservation at a workshop in March.

Part of the problem is that Malaysian university courses in life sciences are not taught in a way that prepares graduates for careers in natural resource management, said Musa Nordin, director-general of the Malaysian Department of National Parks and Wildlife.

According to Sivananthan Elagupillay, head of the department's Institute for Biodiversity, the department needs more capacity in tropical forestry, biogeography, population genetics, and restoration ecology.

Also speaking at the workshop, environmental consultant Gopinath Nadaraj said the Malaysian government's focus on biotechnology meant it risked ignoring the need for taxonomists, molecular biologists, and other scientists to manage the country's biodiversity.
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