Making Malaysia’s Third Science Policy Work

December 9th, 2011 | by MuslimScience
Making Malaysia’s Third Science Policy Work
Public Policy

By: Tan Sri Omar Abdul Rahman

The government’s science and technology (S&T) apparatus is now in active consultations to formulate the third national S&T policy (NSTP3) and I have been involved in some and benefitted from them.

In an earlier article (NST 9/7/11), I had briefly described the two previous policies and given some thoughts on what the essentials of the NSTP3 should be.  I am now offering further thoughts on the subject.

However, let us first briefly revisit the evolution of science policies in general.  Initially it was just a “science policy” emphasizing the need to do “good science”.  Then it was an “S&T policy”, linking knowledge (science) do its application (technology).  Much later there was a move for a policy for “science for technology for development” focusing on harnessing S&T for national development.  This gave rise to the concept of science for development (role of S&T in implementing development) and development for science (measures to strengthen S&T capacity).   Currently it is “science, technology and innovation (STI)” policy, implying that doing good science is not good enough.  Science must translate into innovative technologies at the marketplace.  In other words STI must be an instrument of economic transformation program (ETP), (STI for policy) and in turn STI must be strengthened so it can deliver (Policy for STI).

In this connection, it is important to recognize the two crucial parallel systems of research, development and commercialization (R,D&C) and STI.  Research gives knowledge (science), development results in technology which becomes innovation when applied or commercialized.

Policy formulation must therefore be inclusive and provide for the total ecosystem.   Decoupling innovation from overall STI policy, for example, is simply not innovative.  However, once the total ecosystem is recognized and provided for, a number of subsystems such as one for innovation, another for commercialization can be formulated.  Therefore, our new policy should be the third National Science, Technology and Innovation policy (NSTIP3).

There are five main components the NSTIP3 must address. 

First, STI for policy: The current national policy is of course based on the new economic model (NEM) and the ETP with the eight strategic reform initiatives (SRIs), 12 national key economic areas (NKEASs) and 131 entry points projects (EPPs).  The recurring key words from the SRIs relate to the weakness or inefficiency of both government and industry in creativity, entrepreneurship, knowledge base, technology, innovation and value add.  These are clear indication of the need for increasing capacity in STI to support the ETP and take Malaysia out of the middle income trap.  Hence, the necessary STI components to support the NKEAs and the EPPs must be identified.   In my view the EPPs at present deal largely with the business and financial dimensions.  STI components must now be factored in for viability, competitiveness and sustainability of the businesses in the long term.  The NSTIP3 must therefore identify the technologies and supporting sciences critical to each of the EPPs and the R&D priorities to meet the needs or to solve existing and anticipated problems.  In this respect we can take a leaf from the experience of our rubber and palm oil industries, which remain strong and competitive with the support of their R&D infrastructure.

Second, policy for STI:  In order to deliver the support mentioned above, our STI capacity and capability must be strengthened in terms of institutions, mandates, personnel, funding and linkages.  Measures to strengthen education and research for capacity building in the sciences relevant to the needs of policy and for public good (e.g. water, energy, biodiversity) must be part of the NSTIP3.

Third, private sector buy-in:  There are numerous reports and analyses, including the SRIs, themselves, highlighting the weakness of our companies in terms of technology and innovation.  Since our ETP is to be private sector driven, getting their involvement and commitment to the STI agenda is crucial.  But one cannot expect the SMEs to drive innovation.  It is like tasking a 1000cc engine to pull a 40 seater bus.  The big companies and especially the GLCs must be the drivers, and the role model.  A number of initiatives to secure private sector involvement in the government’s STI agenda including cooperative research centres, industry-specific research institutes and research syndication, has been made as far back as 1997 (Danabalan, 1997 ; Omar Abdul Rahman, 1997).  These are as well as others can be re-examined by the NSTIP3.   The strategy to get private sector buy-in must include presentation (of available innovation), persuasion, incentivisation, legislation and active cooperation and collaboration with government entities.   A designated agency should be assigned the task of engaging and motivating the private sector to be a partner in implementing the STI agenda for the ETP.

Fourth, STI governance:  Since STI cut across many government ministries and must be linked to industries, consultation, coordination, collaboration and harmonization become both important and difficult.  Hence, the overall governance for STI must be enhanced.  Existing STI institutions and agencies must be reviewed in terms of their legitimacy, authority and capacity including linkages.   The return of the Science Advisor and MIGHT to the Prime Minister is a laudable move.  Autonomy should be reinstated to ASM so that it can provide unbiased and timely advice to the government.  Parliament should be a platform for debate on STI issues affecting the government, industry and the public.  A parliamentary committee on STI can be established.   It is assuring that the government is now considering legislation to strengthen STI governance.

Fifth, STI and the community:  A supportive and science-literate community is part of the total STI ecosystem.  The NSTIP3 must deal with issues of science literacy and enculturization.   The “science for all” program is school, must be re-introduced.  It must also deal with an education system that promotes creativity, innovativeness and entrepreneurship.  Additionally, the NSTIP3 must deal with ethical issues as well as issues of public interest (safety, health, security and the environment).  In view of the above, I am recommending 15 policy responses for our NSTIP3 (see Appendix).

These 15 policy responses under the five major components described above will then provide the foundation for the total national capacity (TNC) in STI that is essential to achieve the national ETP.  The TNC comprises: a government committed to providing a comprehensive STI physical and soft infrastructure; a scientific fraternity able to contribute and draw from the global pool of scientific knowledge and technological  knowhow; a private sector capable of creating wealth through the application of technology and innovation in all sectors of the economy and a society which is science literate, imbued with a culture of creativity, innovativeness and entrepreneurship.

The work of the policy planners is cut out for them.  This time round our policy must be supported by the political will to achieve full implementation.


The author is the former Science Advisor to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia. He is also a Senior Fellow and Founding President of Academy of Sciences, Malaysia.



1) Danabalan V (1997).  The science and technology implications of the Seventh Plan, in “Harnessing Science and Technology for the Seventh Malaysia Plan”, Acad. Sci. Malay. Report, 1997.

2) Omar Abdul Rahman (1997).  Productivity-driven growth, a strategy for implementation, in “Harnessing Science and Technology for the Seventh Malaysia Plan”, Acad. Sci. Malay. Report, 1997.



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