Advancing cutting-edge research vital for region’s competitiveness

Advancing cutting-edge research vital for region’s competitiveness

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For many years, countries in the Middle East have been shifting their economies away from oil-based revenues toward knowledge-based economies fueled by technology, science, and innovation.

Current investment levels in research and development (R&D) within the region remain comparatively low and must receive more attention in order to successfully transition to advanced knowledge economies. Experts claim that an additional R&D investment of just 1 percent could boost economic growth in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries by 0.6 to 2.2 percent.

That said, a robust strategy would need to be formulated to propel R&D in the region. Spending levels would need to be increased to cater to the burgeoning local challenges that need viable innovations and solutions.

Investment in research centers, facilities, and infrastructure is also vital for bringing together skilled research teams to conduct their work. Research institutes and universities should partner with government agencies to pioneer solutions that address current and future public policy issues.

Thus, government funding is key to unlocking these solutions and attracting a high-caliber community of research companies and innovators to these facilities.

Another important player in R&D activity is the private sector.

Research collaborations would need to be fostered with enterprises to facilitate commercialization and provide commercially viable products and services to the market.

R&D strategies should also focus on grooming innovators who will be instrumental in inventing new innovations in diverse sectors through revamping education systems and introducing academic research programs, apprenticeships, and fellowships. Additionally, regulations protecting researchers’ intellectual property and patents should be enacted.

Many countries have reaped enormous benefits from investing in R&D activities.

Singapore has been designated as the top innovative country in the Asia Pacific region on the Global Innovation Index. In 2020, Singapore launched its Research, Innovation, and Enterprise 2025 plan with an investment of 25 billion Singapore dollars ($18.75 billion), or 1 percent of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP), over five years.

Funding will be channeled toward addressing national priorities and challenges – such as climate change, urban design, digital economy, and biomedical sciences – thereby capitalizing on innovations to maintain Singapore’s competitiveness in the future. The strategy is also focusing on priming future researchers by providing scholarships for 4,700 postgraduate students and sponsoring 1,000 new apprenticeships within research institutes, universities, and technology companies.

R&D activities within the private sector have grown over the years, with a strong presence of global companies. Eighty of the world’s top 100 tech firms have established a presence in Singapore, including Facebook, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Amazon, and Google. Its A*STAR Model Factory Initiative enabled more than 2,600 business productivity technologies to be deployed in at least 100 companies.

During the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the local research community has pioneered diagnostic test kits and treatments, and clinical trials for a vaccine are currently being carried out.

South Korea is one of the world’s most innovative countries with a highly skilled workforce. In 2018, it spent 4.81 percent of its GDP on R&D, according to data by the World Bank. South Korea has a booming tech industry and is considered the leading producer of many technology products, such as mobile phones, electronics, semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, and motor vehicles.

Countries in the Middle East have been shifting their economies away from oil-based revenues toward knowledge-based economies fueled by technology, science, and innovation, but current investment levels in research and development (R&D) within the region remain comparatively low.

Sara Al-Mulla

Over the years, the South Korean government has invested heavily in creating a world-class education system that places a high value on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects and innovation. Universities house many research institutes focused on diverse portfolios, such as oceanography, genetics, aerospace technology, and pharmaceutical sciences.

Thanks to government incentives, many of Korea’s conglomerates have in-house research centers that have spearheaded the country’s transition toward heavy industries, contributing to around 80 percent of Korea’s total R&D spending in 2019. Multinational companies – including Microsoft, Google, Siemens, IBM, and Kimberly-Clark – have also established dedicated research centers in South Korea thereby contributing many innovations and transferring valuable knowledge to the local workforce.

Switzerland has also been ranked as one of the top innovative countries in the world, spending 3.5 percent of its GDP on R&D.

Swiss universities are renowned for their world-class research, with many of them being ranked as some of the top universities in the world for research and innovation. In fact, 1.2 percent of total scientific papers is produced by Swiss researchers.

Scientific research supports key economic sectors, such as medical technology, biotech industry, and pharmaceuticals. Funding comes from the Swiss National Science Foundation, which awards up to 600 million euros ($725 million) to applications annually. However, the private sector funds two-thirds of total R&D expenditure in Switzerland.

Interestingly, the average Swiss company invests 6.6 percent of its revenues on R&D activities and many multinationals invest heavily too, such as Nestle, Roche, Novartis, and ABB. A number of companies – including Google, food technology firm Buhler, and microgravity researcher SpacePharma – have also established renowned R&D centers in the country.

Collaboration between Swiss universities and other international research centers is a key factor in its success, providing it with access to cutting-edge research and innovative minds.

Innovation parks are strategically located throughout the country, bringing together world-class Swiss universities and international companies to pioneer new marketable products, services, and processes.

Research institutions regularly award prize money and grants for winsome research projects, such as Innosuisse which supports entrepreneurs and startups, the Accentus Foundation which backs research projects with a philanthropic outcome, and Fondation Leenaards which offers study grants.

Prioritizing investment in R&D has the potential to bring about much positive change in the region.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view