In times of an economic slowdown, innovation is key to creating opportunities for growth. And, governments need to invest more in knowledge capital when companies may be looking at leaner budgets for R&D.
There are indications that developing countries have been spending more on science and technology. A new report—A World of Science in the Developing World—from TWAS, Trieste, the Italy-based academy of sciences, shows how countries such as Rwanda, Chile, Malaysia and Vietnam are building capacity in science, medicine, agriculture and engineering. Rwanda, emerging from a violent local conflict, has placed S&T (science and technology) at the heart of its economic development and invests 1.6% of its GDP on R&D—more than India’s 1%—and plans to raise the figure to 2-3%.
India, along with China, Brazil and Mexico, is no doubt leading the pack in terms of absolute state spending. But there’s ample scope for more—science, more than ever before, can solve the problems of the future. If it led to the industrial, green and IT revolutions earlier, today’s challenges are of climate change, energy security and ecologically sustainable growth.
The report also highlights how oil-rich West Asia, which had not bothered so far, has now become serious about using its wealth to build a local S&T base. Qatar has a science and technology park in Doha where not only Shell and ExxonMobil, but also the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. and Rolls-Royce are exploring research. The UAE plans to build the International Academic City as an educational centre in Dubai, and the Plaza of Intelligence and Innovation City as an S&T nucleus in Abu Dhabi.
The government is the largest source for R&D funding in the southern hemisphere—as against the rest of the world where the private sector has been driving R&D efforts—its share in global R&D funding rose to 70% from 30% some 20 years ago. Not only do we need continued commitment from governments, but, more important—better monitoring to ensure that spending is competitive and merit-based. The developed world is talking not of scaling down today, but of rebuilding public institutions. So should developing countries, with a laser-like focus.
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