Bigger allocation of $2.2b to train scientists, researchers

$300m increase from previous plan underlines efforts to remain competitive, boost innovation

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat (centre) with (from left) Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education Lawrence Wong and Minister for Communications and Informat
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat (centre) with (from left) Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education Lawrence Wong and Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran at a virtual press conference on the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 plan yesterday. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

A total of $2.2 billion will be spent on training future researchers and scientists over the next five years under Singapore's Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025 plan.

The plan maps out the country's research and development strategy over the next five years.

The allocation for training scientists and researchers accounts for about one-tenth of the RIE2025 funding pie and represents an increase of about $300 million from RIE2020.

Increased funding in the area underscores Singapore's efforts to remain competitive and boost innovation in the wake of Covid-19.

The money will go towards funding about 4,700 postgraduate scholarships, a 10 per cent increase from RIE2020, as well as 1,000 new traineeships and jobs.

These include more than 800 research assistant and research fellow positions in Singapore's universities and research institutes; 175 apprenticeship positions in AI Singapore, which is a national programme to catalyse, synergise and boost Singapore's artificial intelligence capabilities; and 30 traineeships in local deep-tech and software development start-ups under SGInnovate's Summation programme.

At a virtual press conference yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that technology and innovation have created tremendous opportunities for businesses which are able to master them, but exposed those that are not able to keep pace with sharper competition and disruption.

"Compared to MNCs, many local enterprises are in the early stages of their innovation journey," said Mr Heng, who is chairman of the National Research Foundation. "They have less experience in working with the research community and are less able to translate research innovations into new products, services and solutions for the market."

A common challenge among companies, he added, has been to identify new technologies relevant to their industries and the right people to apply these technologies.

To this end, a new Innovation and Enterprise Fellowship programme will also be launched under RIE2025 to expand the talent pool with skills in technology commercialisation.

The programme will provide individuals with mentorships and on-the-job training via attachments with public and private sector platforms, including corporate laboratories, private sector incubators and accelerators.

Government-owned venture firm and deep tech developer SGInnovate - which has launched its own programme to train talent in robotics engineering roles - is among 11 partners that have joined the programme so far.

Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran, who was also at the press conference, said talent development is crucial for Singapore to build a strong foundation of scientists and engineers who will "push the boundaries of technology" and help the country succeed as a trusted digital innovation hub.

"(Scientists and engineers) must also be complemented by product managers and strategists that can translate research findings into useful products and services, and bring these ideas to market quickly," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2020, with the headline 'Bigger allocation of $2.2b to train scientists, researchers'. Print Edition | Subscribe