Singapore commits record $19b to R&D

Budget over next five years an investment in talent, possibilities of science, says PM

Singapore's science and technology research budget will rise to a record $19 billion in the next five years. PHOTO: REUTERS

The nation's science and technology research budget will rise to a record $19 billion in the next five years, as the Government reaffirms its commitment to research here.

"It is an investment in our human talent, in the possibilities of science and what it can do to change our lives, and in our understanding of the world and human knowledge which can be applied in many areas over many, many years," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday. He was announcing the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Plan for up to 2020.

It aims to smash research silos by getting interdisciplinary groups to work together under broad groupings, increase competition for funding to get the best research, train people in the right areas and get the best out of them.

Resources will be prioritised in four key areas: advanced manufacturing and engineering, health and biomedical sciences, services and digital economy, and urban solutions and sustainability.

Competition will be revved up with researchers having to compete for about 40 per cent of their funding, double that of the previous five years. "You want to have predictability, because once you start a project you cannot just turn off the tap and say we changed our mind," said Mr Lee, who is also chairman of the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC) that is made up of Cabinet ministers and distinguished local and foreign businessmen and scientists.

"At the same time you also have to have accountability... So to make funding contestable forces that discipline, and makes sure that when we spend the money, we get good value out of it."

The near $4 billion given out each year is around 1 per cent of the nation's annual gross domestic product (GDP) and is comparable to what countries such as the United States spend.

Mr Lee was speaking at a press conference following the RIEC's ninth annual meeting.

There were areas that Singapore could do better in, PM Lee said, including how to commercialise discoveries and get value from R&D.

Also falling short was private sector investment, which had been predicted at 2.5 per cent of Singapore's GDP in the last five years, but reached only 1.5 per cent because of the global economic slowdown.

The Government hopes it will rise to 1.8 per cent in the next five years.

But overall, PM Lee noted: "Is it worth spending 1 per cent? Yes."

He added: "Overall, I would say we have got value, we will work harder at it, we will continue to maintain this level of investment."

RIEC members praised the plan, saying it was well thought out. One of them, Professor Richard Friend of the University of Cambridge, said: "In R&D, we have to take risks... And the best environment to take risks is one where there is great predictability about funding two, three, five years in the future."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline Singapore commits record $19b to R&D. Subscribe