‘Look East’ to ascend Global Innovation Value Chain, says Monash Professor

Local universities could help the country improve its economic performance if they adopted some of the best practices of certain universities in Asia.

Among countries that could serve as good role models for Malaysia include China, South Korea and Japan. These countries have universities with sound fundamentals with translational research and development endeavours.

Decades ago, the Chinese economy and Chinese universities were underdeveloped. Fast forward to the present day and the Chinese economy is the world’s second-largest and its universities ranked as some of the best globally.

“Over the last two decades, China developed a strategy to strengthen the research capabilities of its universities and to promote collaboration with industry and community organisations. This enabled China to leapfrog to a higher stage of development to become a forerunner in technological innovations,” said Professor Mahendhiran Nair, Vice President (R&D) at Monash University Malaysia and CEO of Monash Malaysia R&D (pic).

He explained that China has successfully created an ecosystem that served as an enabler for the development of key technologies to enhance the competitiveness of its local industries and for the world to buy the country’s products at affordable prices.

“Clearly, they had a strategy with their ‘Buy China 2025’ and the ‘One Belt One Road’ policies, and Chinese universities are playing a pivotal role in helping the country achieve these goals,” he said.

“The country is now making waves with their 5G technology which is challenging traditional innovation-driven developed nations,” added Professor Nair at the launch of Trailblazing Research, an exhibition highlighting Monash University Malaysia’s high impact research and innovation.

He believes that Malaysian universities already have strong foundations but need to integrate cutting-edge technology in the face of competition from neighbouring countries.

The research and development strategy of Malaysian universities can be better integrated with the national economic sectors and priority areas, he added.

Professor Nair states that Malaysia has regional and global strengths in the services sectors such as financial services, tourism, education, medical tourism and aerospace. These sectors are increasingly becoming more knowledge- and technology-driven.

“We are currently a major player in the region for the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) in the aerospace industry,” said Professor Nair, adding that the MRO sector has significant spill-over impact onto universities.

He added that universities should undertake research and innovation for local industries to improve their process improvement and product development.

Professor Nair explained that China identified priority technologies, strengthened their university research ecosystems to work on these technologies, built robust research infrastructure in the universities and recruited brilliant people to ensure that they are globally competitive.

“China sent its best students to leading American and European universities and then attracted them back to develop the local innovation ecosystem to enhance the competitiveness of local industries. They also collaborated with other top foreign universities and multinational companies that enable them to spur knowledge transfer to local firms and institutions.”

He added that the Chinese government transformed state-owned enterprises by linking them to new talent, technologies and universities.

“This made their enterprises more competitive. As a result, they became part of other countries’ supply network and moved up the global innovation value chain.

“We need our government, private sector and educational institutions to work together to build a resilient and agile innovation ecosystem that will enable all stakeholders to become more competitive.”

He said that, by aligning our goals, Malaysia could become more competitive to meet the challenges of the future and lead several innovative technology and economic sectors for the region.

“We need to realise that universities are not just ivory towers but are centres for knowledge development and knowledge exchange.”

The Trailblazing Research exhibition is currently being held at Building 9 (level 3) of Monash University Malaysia until 1 November 2019.

It showcases a collection of high impact research output (monographs, journal articles and innovation awards) by Monash University Malaysia researchers. These works have impacted local communities and contributed to nation-building in Malaysia, in the region and throughout the developing world.

Visitors are invited to explore the pioneering research led by the university, which has contributed to nation-building in the region.

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