Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the country needs to increase the national research and development (R&D) expenditure to 3.5 per cent of GDP by 2015 – a target which is comparable to other research-intensive countries. PM Lee spoke of the importance of R&D in creating growth and enhancing life, at the launch of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*STAR) 20th anniversary commemorative publication. Mr Lee said that more than before, knowledge is a key competitive advantage especially as the Singapore economy matures. He added that R&D has helped overcome Singapore’s limitations of size by out-thinking and out-smarting competitors, hence, the importance of continuing to invest in R&D.
Mr Lee said: “The investments have paid off for us or are starting to pay off for us. R&D has boosted our competitiveness amidst rising competition and the fundamental restructuring of entire industries. R&D has diversified our economy, made it more resilient to external shocks amidst more volatile global conditions. For example, because of our R&D initiatives, we now have biomedical sciences as our fourth pillar of our manufacturing industry alongside electronics, chemicals and engineering.” There is a need for promising projects to invest the money in, and Mr Lee said the private sector has a role to play. He said the private sector currently accounts for about 60 per cent of national R&D spending and he feels the industry can still do more. Mr Lee said: “The issue is not finding the money to spend… but making sure it is spent sensibly, intelligently, creatively on high quality promising projects. That means having the brainpower to come up with the ideas to pursue new avenues of research. We also need to harness private sector capital in doing this. With the private sector putting their money in, you have a greater assurance that this is something worth putting your money in, and it is not just a civil servant fulfilling his KPI.”
Mr Lee said the government has several schemes to encourage businesses to invest in R&D and it will continue to find innovative ways to share the risk especially in a more uncertain economic outlook. Mr Lee also said R&D has created good quality jobs for the people. From 1990 to 2009, the number of research, scientists and engineers has grown six-fold, from 4,300 in 1990 to 26,000 in 2009. Another challenge is to attract Singapore’s share of R&D talents so as to create a vibrant research environment to inspire the spirit of inquiry and innovation. The best way is through closer partnerships with the industry by combining the strengths of the universities and research institutes in basic research, and the commercial instinct of the private sector.