Singapore Seeks Faster Returns With Research Fund

Singapore strengthened its research and development focus on money-making outcomes and will set up a S$1.35 billion ($1 billion) fund to promote closer ties with the science and technology industries.

Out of the S$16.1 billion the government has budgeted to spend on research and development from 2011 to 2015, 70 percent will be for projects aimed at achieving economic success, rising from 65 percent in the past five years, Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang said in a speech in Singapore yesterday.

“We will place greater emphasis on competitive funding, to spur innovation and bring out the best ideas for further support and development,” Lim said. “This is timely as our R&D landscape has become increasingly mature, with a firm foundation in several areas of scientific knowledge.”

The changes are “a sign of impatience” as Singapore seeks to quicken returns on its investment in research and development, said Alex Matter, chief executive officer of the Experimental Therapeutics Centre, a division of the government’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

“So far biomedical R&D has not contributed in any significant way to the Singapore economy,” Matter said in an interview today. “It’s not a strategic shift, it’s just a refocusing on the original idea.”

‘Knowledge-Based Economy’

The S$1.35 billion Industry Alignment Fund is aimed at helping Singapore achieve its goal of being an “innovation-driven and knowledge-based economy.” It will be used for projects that connect public- and private-sector researchers and in turn facilitate R&D investment, Lim said.

The overall research budget for the period starting 2011 is 20 percent more than the previous level, he said.

“How much we invest is important,” Lim said. “But more important is what we invest it for and where we invest it.”

Lim said Singapore will still continue to back “foundational research” in different areas. The minister said 19 percent of the 2010 to 2015 R&D budget will be allocated to basic research.

For many researchers, the changes will come across as abrupt, “and nobody likes abrupt change,” Matter said. Singapore still compares “very well” to other nations as a place to do research even after the changes, he said.

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