Innovation as a national priority

Paris was transitioning from a bustling summer to a cooler autumn.In early September last year, just over a month after I took up the portfolio as Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), I found myself at a spectacular medieval Gothic architecture.

It was the headquarters of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in the city that hosts the Eiffel Tower. I was invited there by Andrew Wyckoff, who is the Director of the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI). His team had been working on the “OECD Reviews of Innovation Policies: Malaysia 2016” since June 2014 and had wanted to share their findings with me.

I was most impressed by the professionalism and competence of his staff in managing the Review.

I met Wyckoff again during the Global Science Innovation Advisory Council meeting in New York later that month.

Being a GSIAC Council member, he was there to present the findings of the review to GSIAC members, including our Prime Minister who chaired the council meeting. The findings were well-received by the attendees.

Since then Malaysia has been developing impactful collaborative efforts with the OECD, especially through their Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation.

The establishment of OECD dates back to 1948 after World War 2 and started out as Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC). European leaders agreed that long lasting peace would stem from co-operation and reconstruction among them.

Canada and the United States joined the OEEC members in establishing the OECD in 1961.

Originally an organisation for developed countries of North America and Europe, it further recruited other countries, beginning with Japan in 1964.

Together, the current 35 OECD member countries worldwide identify issues, discuss and analyse them, and recommend policies to resolve them. OECD’s impressive track record attracted emerging economies such as Brazil, India and the People’s Republic of China, Indonesia and South Africa to be its key partners.

The OECD thus play a significant role in addressing world economic challenges, as these countries from both the developed and the developing world that account for more than 80 per cent of world trade and investment convene regularly through the OECD.

The 250 committees, working groups and experts, and some 40 000 senior government officials from these countries meet each year to discuss areas tackled by the OECD Secretariat, such as economics, trade, science, employment, education and financial markets.

I had been invited to a couple of OECD Ministerial Conferences organized by its DSTI. The first was on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy hosted by Korea in Daejeon in October 2015; the second on the Digital Economy in Cancun, Mexico, in June this year.

These OECD Ministerial Conferences were great opportunities for me to interact with my fellow STI ministers from OECD countries and key partner countries. Under the broad framework of the priority issues of the OECD Ministerial Conferences in Korea and Mexico, I exchanged views and experiences with my counterparts and promoted possibilities of bilateral collaborations in STI between Malaysia and their countries.

These high-level conferences were also the perfect setting to get to know the top brass of OECD.

In Daejeon, I met OECD Secretary-General Mr. Ángel Gurría and learned that the OECD’s countries of interest to be recruited as members had been in Latin America, being Mexican himself. I congratulated him on his successful efforts, as Peru, Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica are in active negotiations to becoming OECD members.

The OECD Council now turns its attention to South East Asian countries as we are climbing the development ladder swiftly.

When we met again in Cancun, he reiterated that the OECD is interested to recruit Malaysia.

This is due to Malaysia having very close cooperation in several areas with the OECD.

First is through the Ministry of International Trade and Industry on trade and tax issues; with the Malaysian Productivity Council on enhancing human resources development in SMEs; with Ministry of Finance on economic assessment survey, and perhaps more commonly known, with Ministry of Education on Program of International Student Assessment (PISA).

More recently, on the request of our government represented by the Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, Prof. Tan Sri Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid, and the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), the OECD DSTI carried out a review on our innovation policy, which was launched in Putrajaya two weeks ago.

As the prime implementer of the “OECD Reviews of Innovation Policies: Malaysia 2016”, last week MOSTI invited the principal author Mr. Gernot Hutschenreiter, to present the findings and recommendations to our Parliamentarians and MOSTI’s decision makers.

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Mr. Gernot Hutchenreiter, who is the Head for Country Innovation Policy Reviews in the OECD, was in Malaysia to present the findings to MOSTI and parliamentarians.

 

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The audience at parliament.

The key findings are:

• Malaysia is a great success story in Asia, having one of the most dynamic economies in South East Asia and succeeded in nearly eradicating poverty, from over 50 per cent in the 1960s to less than one per cent today.

We are ever closer to our 2020 goal.

• However, Malaysia faces a number of challenges. Productivity growth has slowed in recent years despite maintaining a resilient economy. Our comparative advantage of low labour costs has diminished as the country becomes more developed.

• We could seize immense opportunities by strengthening innovation and skills. This would allow local firms that are facing new competition to upgrade our value chain in the segment that supports higher domestic value added and higher wages.

Moving forward, the Ministry would take the following recommendations of the Review seriously, by tacking the “innovation imperative”:

• Strengthening the overall governance of the STI system by fostering strong collaboration with the large number of players, including but not limited to, other ministries, government agencies, higher education institutes and science advisors to state leaders.

• Fostering innovation in the business sector by raising business firms innovation capabilities and implement support measures to meet their needs.

· Enhancing the contribution of Higher Learning Institutes to research and innovation by emphasising the provision of high quality education and essential business skills while continue to strive for excellence in research.

• Enhancing the contribution of public research institutes by reviewing their missions, competences and governance.

• Strengthening human resources for STI by focusing on the implementation of our various blueprints.

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Dato’ Seri Idris Jusoh, Minister of Higher Education, was also at the briefing for parliamentarians. 

We already have an excellent Malaysia Education Blueprint. To cope with industry demands MOSTI has also established the Malaysia Board of Technologists or MBOT, to recognise our technologists and technicians, as explained in my previous column.

In implementation of the recommendations, we hope that our good relationship with the OECD would enable MOSTI and Malaysia as a whole to leverage on their proven strengths as a House of Reforms and Best Practices, its adaptability to novel developments, its implementation guidelines and as one of the world’s largest and most trusted sources of statistical data and analysis.

With this review of our country’s innovation policy, it is my greatest hope that all the stakeholders would synchronise our efforts to embrace innovation as our national priority, for the country to achieve genuine transformation.

 

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Group photo with Gernot and the Ministry’s staff after the presentation.

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