[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia must work on its "weak" implementation of science, technology and innovation (STI) strategies, according to a report on the country's science and innovation system.
The report, released late last month (28 March), is the first in the Atlas of Islamic-World Science and Innovation series, an international project to assess the state of STI in up to fifteen Muslim-majority nations over the next three years.
It found that, although Malaysia has the potential and a keen eye for developing science strategies, the country fails to implement them and as a result has only moderate success in the sector.
The report's authors, Natalie Day, a senior policy analyst at the UK-based Royal Society and Amran Muhammad, a senior researcher at University of Malaya (UM), interviewed more than 100 scientists, policymakers, economists and entrepreneurs, and assessed economic, social and cultural data.
Malaysia has launched several initiatives to promote science and innovation over the past few decades, ranging from the First National Science and Technology Policy in 1986 to the inclusion of STI elements in the 10th Malaysia Plan (2011–2015).
The report found that women are having an increasing role in the country's STI and that there were "grounds for optimism with regard to the future of gender balance in research careers".
The country is also rich in biodiversity; has longstanding historical and cultural ties with Commonwealth nations, China and the Islamic world; and is economically and politically stable — all strengths that it can leverage to improve STI, the authors say.
But Amran told SciDev.Net that the country's STI performance to date has been "moderate".
Poor implementation of STI strategies is a common theme, the authors reported. Malaysia is "excellent at developing strategies, yet weak in implementation".
To combat this, Amran said, Malaysia needs better integration of the national STI system. He recommended bringing all of the country's STI-related agencies and departments under one main coordinator "to streamline and consolidate our inherently weak links between STI players, both in the public and private sectors".
Another factor holding Malaysia back is the failure to convert heavy investment in education into more highly skilled graduates for the country's science sector.
Although international research collaboration is still generally low, recently introduced incentives have increased bilateral projects, though there are still several stumbling blocks, including bureaucracy and tight government control; lack of ample national funding; and lack of motivation to strive for international recognition.
Chan Chee Khoon, a consultant with the UM's Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, said that while the recommendations of the report are sensible, they fail to address one of the key issues — Malaysia's brain drain of science workers overseas.
"As long as we don't address the human resource problem, we won't head anywhere significant (in terms of STI)," he said.