Close industry-academia links key to R&D

Ferdaus Ara Begum | Published: April 08, 2016 17:17:04 | Updated: October 22, 2017 23:10:35

Successful developing countries, at the very beginning of their journey, recognised industry-academia collaboration in research and development as one of the main vehicles to transform their economies.  Science and  engineering contributed significantly to connect them with innovation and access to new technology.
Innovation has played a vital role in the US economy in job creation. University researchers there are making breakthroughs in various areas like renewable energy, material science, medical technologies etc. In order for these innovations to produce job-creating commercial products and services, government, industry, and academia collaborated throughout the whole innovation process.
In Bangladesh, some limited efforts were made but these could not go a long way in reaping benefits out of such tripartite collaboration. The government needs to come up with a strategy in this respect in order to create employment which is an important challenge in the country. The R&D budget is limited while large corporates do not depend on home-grown research and commercialisation of those for producing new products in the market. In the 7th Five Year Plan under the category of ICT development, there is a budgetary target which is only 1 per cent of the GDP of $ 277.19 billion. At the rate of 7.4 per cent GDP growth, as has been targeted in the plan, the R&D budget should be around $2.77 billion. But the R&D budget in Japan is about 3 per cent of GDP in Japan and 2 per cent in South Korea during 1975-90 period.
The comparison above also shows the amount  the countries spent in the early stage of 90s for scientists and professionals for getting best output from them and how industry-academia-government collaboration worked for bringing in innovation. The scenario of Bangladesh is different. Here industry-academia collaboration still has not got any institutional shape. 
In China, R&D support mainly came from the government in collaboration with enterprises. In special economic zones, the state leadership played a big role while the central bank supported.  Science policy reforms, technology acquired and domestic entrepreneurship also contributed a lot. At one stage, after government budget was cut, the Chinese Academy of Science encouraged cooperative ventures with domestic industries as well as industries in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. 
In South Korea, industry-academia collaboration in R&D was also similarly important. Half of the 1000 research institutes were in the private sector. Industrial conglomerates were concentrated mostly in electronics and chemicals. R&D investment improved from US$ 378 million in 1976 to $5 billion during 1975-90 period. 
In India, the government dominated the broad-based science infrastructure.  National laboratories and ICT-based growth were prominent. R&D investment grew from $1.7billion to $6  billion during 1975-90 period. Private industries entered into contracts to develop technologies. The Tata Institute for Fundamental Research in Bombay, the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta, the Department of Space and the Ministry of Biotechnology are some of the organisations that played a pioneering role in this respect.
R&D in Japan was mainly supported by industries. Investment in education and R&D and willingness to know hi-tech, discipline and management were some of the keys behind the success. A Japanese cabinet decision in 1992 for systemically renewing the obsolete facilities and equipments of universities and installing advanced research in universities were an excellent decision. Japanese R&D investment grew to $56 billion and further to $ 64 billion in 1992. Public-private partnership at the highest level successfully helped Malaysia. In Taiwan,  the government established the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) in 1980s. Under ITRI, 20 companies joined hands to make IBM compatible computers. Its Electronic Research and Service Centre has been joined by 47 companies to develop notebook computers. Taiwan's Silicon Valley is one of the successful industrial parks in the world.  Technology transfer and land reform are some of the important policies. Singapore utilised locational advantage, services, information and communication infrastructure, skilled manpower to support multinationals; increased technology absorption capacity also helped.  The Institute of Manufacturing Technologies with the help of multinational research facilities and joint R&D projects helped to go for innovation and job creation.
In case of Bangladesh, the 7th Five Year Plan targeted a manufacturing-based country seeking to achieve SDG goals.  The BGMEA University of Fashion & Technology (BUFT) was established in 1999 to create skilled human resources. The mission of BUFT is to establish an international standard state-of-art institution for education, training, research and development to produce highly qualified, dynamic, creative and skilled human resources for fashion and design, apparel and textile technology and allied industries of home and abroad. The institute needs to cater to the demand of the sector.
The BRAC is an international non-profit and   non-government development organisation established in 1972. It has various projects like BRAC Bank, ARONG, BRAC Nursery, Dairy and Food Projects etc. These with skilled personnel contribute to growth of the economy. On the other hand, BRAC University provides skilled human resources through its graduate and postgraduates programmes. But so far there is a limited  R&D collaboration of the university with private businesses.
The Pharmaceutical Department of the Dhaka University has some collaboration with industries to provide research support. Large corporate bodies utilise university expertise to resolve their cases on a very limited scale which needs to be improved a lot. Some projects should be initiated in this respect. 
It is apparent that large-scale research institutes are in the public sector and are suffering from resource constraints for conducting in-depth and time-bound researches. These are seriously in need of international collaboration for initiating  useful projects.  The National Research System (NARS) is composed of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) and 10 national research institutes. Two research organisations, namely Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI) and Bangladesh Sugarcane Research Institute (BSRI) are under the Ministry of Agriculture but the BJRI could be  under the supervision of the Ministry of Jute & Textiles and the BSRI should be under the supervision of the Ministry of Industries but each of them is individually operated by their concerned ministries.
With regard to international collaboration, Samsung opened its 18th Samsung Bangladesh R&D Centre (SBRC) in 2010 but its presence is not that much visible now.  The IBM opened its office in Dhaka. Bangladesh needs to encourage this type of collaboration for industrial transformation.
A recent survey found that among the nine industries, only seven industries run their own  research activities. These industries do not have any kind of publications and do not have any patent for their self-invented products.  Among 12 universities in their 127 departments and institutions, only 21.26 per cent (27) have collaboration with industries in research and 84.25 per cent have the capacity of building industrial-academic relationship. Among 2,563, only 7.14 per cent teachers have involvement in industry-academic research. 
The survey identified some shortcomings of industry-academia collaboration. Some of these are lack of communication among industries and universities, interest and awareness among industries, lack of innovations among industrialists, absence of knowledge about R&D,  infrastructure, fund constraints, willingness among industries and universities for radical improvement of their products
Recently, BUILD signed a MOU to work with the Dhaka University in R&D, which is just a beginning. Chambers and business associations in the country should also maintain close contacts with universities to get benefits out of their research. Commercialisation of benefits of scientific research needs strong policies and should be an integral part of investment and industrial policies.  
The writer is CEO, Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD).

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