Singapore to woo home top scientists to anchor research capabilities and grow core in R&D

PM Lee Hsien Loong greets (left) Prof Clayton M Christensen as Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (centre) looks on, after the 7th Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC) meeting at Create tower in UTown. PM Lee said The Returning Singaporean Sci
PM Lee Hsien Loong greets (left) Prof Clayton M Christensen as Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (centre) looks on, after the 7th Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC) meeting at Create tower in UTown. PM Lee said The Returning Singaporean Scientists Scheme is to "anchor research capabilities and grow the Singaporean core in R&D". -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Singapore wants to woo home its top scientists working overseas, with measures such as full funding support for research work and help to set up labs at universities here.

Announcing the initiative, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said The Returning Singaporean Scientists Scheme is to "anchor research capabilities and grow the Singaporean core in R&D".

PM Lee made the announcement after the high-level National Research Foundation's (NRF) Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council met yesterday afternoon.

Chaired by PM Lee, the council comprises Cabinet ministers, local and foreign business leaders and science experts.

It was formed in 2006 to guide national research and development strategy.

While Singapore has strong research capabilities and a pipeline of researchers, PM Lee said: "To make further progress, we'll need good people, good research programmes and then we'll be able to get good research outcomes."

PM Lee also unveiled $330 million worth of programmes to boost the nation's cybersecurity R&D and innovation capabilities in four emerging areas.

The Returning Singaporean Scientists Scheme will provide funding for research conducted here by Singaporean scientists coming back from overseas. These scientists, who are head-hunted by local research institutes and universities here, are likely to take on leadership positions such as heads of laboratories or institutes.

The NRF said it has not set aside a fixed budget nor a time limit for the scheme, which was quickly welcomed by the scientific community here.

Professor Ling San, dean of Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) College of Science, said: "This looks like a good scheme that can probably help to attract some Singaporeans to return and work here in Singapore.

"Perhaps a similar scheme for locally based Singaporean researchers, or inclusion of them in the grant part of the scheme, would be appreciated by those already back home."

NTU mathematician Chua Chek Beng, who had left a tenure-track post at the University of Waterloo in Canada in 2006, said the scheme could benefit scientists who want to have a say in new R&D programmes.

He returned to take up a position at NTU's then new School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

Yesterday, PM Lee also announced a $130-million, five-year National Cybersecurity R&D programme to enhance Singapore's capability to combat internal and external threats by bolstering its supporting systems and infrastructure.

And $200 million has been allocated to "innovation clusters": infrastructure- and skills-building to help shepherd new technologies to market.

To begin with, the funds will be used to build clusters in four areas that Singapore is already strong in: diagnostics, speech and language technologies, membranes, and additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing.

The $330 million worth of programmes will come from the Government's $16.1 billion of public R&D spending that it has committed between 2011 and 2015.

By 2015, Singapore aims to spend 3.5 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on R&D, with public R&D spending amounting to 1 per cent of GDP.

caiwj@sph.com.sg