Southeast Asian countries join forces for scientific strength

Southeast Asian countries join forces for scientific strength

Pimchai Chaiyen (left) teaches villagers in Nan how you can flip meals waste into cooking gasoline.Credit: Panitan Thakhiew

Thanks to Pimchai Chaiyen, members of the Mahaphot neighborhood, in Nan, northern Thailand, now get worth from their meals scraps. In 2019, the biochemist and her staff from the Vidyasirimedhi Institute of Science and Technology (VISTEC) in Rayong, put in massive plastic tubs containing an anaerobic digestion system at colleges, neighborhood centres and a monastery. They confirmed native individuals how microorganisms broke down the undesirable meals collected within the tubs to make biogas and fertilizers.

“We wanted to create a useful tool to support the circular economy,” says Chaiyen. “Because if you don’t process food waste properly, most of it will just go to landfill, where it generates methane and carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming.”

Chaiyen, who received the 2015 Outstanding Scientist of Thailand Award, the nation’s highest scientific honour, and her establishment exemplify progress in Thailand’s analysis. The nation’s Share stays in double digits solely, at 45.56 within the 12 months to August 2020, the most recent full 12 months obtainable. This is orders of magnitude lower than China’s, at 14,450.20 for the identical interval. But in 2020, Thailand was third, after China and Vietnam, on Nature Index’s listing of rising countries within the Asia-Pacific (APAC) area. And VISTEC, based in 2015, is 12th within the area among the many prime rising non-Chinese establishments for chemistry.

From an excellent decrease base, Indonesia and Vietnam rank fourth and fifth on the APAC rising countries listing. Malaysia, with greater than 2,200 researchers per million individuals — second solely to Singapore, which has 6,730 researchers per million — had the third-highest common output within the Web of Science in south and southeast Asia in 2014–18, based on a 2019 evaluation by Clarivate’s Institute for Scientific Information (ISI). The ISI report discovered that analysis output by Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam roughly doubled previously decade.

This could also be due partially to a pivot by many universities in southeast Asia from instructing to analysis, in a bid to enhance their worldwide rankings and entice extra funding and college students. Amid rising recognition that R&D might help a rustic progress, governments, too, have established new ministries or insurance policies particularly focused at boosting analysis. For instance, Vietnam launched its National Foundation for Science and Technology Development in 2008; Malaysia unveiled a 10-year National Higher Education Strategic Plan in 2015; and Thailand arrange a brand new Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation in 2019, consolidating features beforehand divided between a number of authorities entities.

Source: Nature Index, United Nations

Countries together with Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have additionally launched guidelines stipulating that graduate college students and researchers should publish papers earlier than they will attain their PhD or professorships. As a consequence, analysis output has elevated, however not all the time for the higher, says Numpon Mahayotsanun, an government member of the Thai Young Scientists Academy. “It seems to me that we are being pushed to produce quantity not quality, and that publishing is linked more to recognition instead of impact.”

And though new nationwide agendas and scientific roadmaps “look good on paper”, their execution is one other matter, he says.

Updating agendas

A mechanical engineer from Khon Kaen University in northeastern Thailand, Mahayotsanun works carefully with automotive, area and aerospace firms to assist design processes and merchandise. But he’s usually hampered by administrative pink tape. “If I have to leave the university to go see a company, I have to ask my boss. And my boss has to ask his boss to sign the document,” he says. “I’ve been a professor for 11 years and I still have to do the same thing.”

Government officers appear oblivious to the necessity for velocity in dealings with enterprise, he says. For an organization, “it’s already too late once you get the approval. The industry cannot wait for you.”

Chaiyen agrees. Currently, most of Thailand’s fundamental discoveries “do not go all the way” from the lab to commercialization, she says. “The government needs to be patient and persistent in supporting both basic science and technology development. They need to implement a long-term policy to focus on nurturing people and the education and research environment,” says Chaiyen. “We can definitely be supported better by the government. Sometimes we change policy too often.”

One purpose for the shortage of long-term R&D planning is the frequent change of ruling events. Nations equivalent to Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, the three largest southeast Asian countries, demographically talking, maintain robust R&D potential based mostly on the dimensions of their populations alone, however progress is hampered by political instability.

Thailand, for occasion, has had 9 modifications of energy previously 20 years. “Every time a new government comes in, they have their own agenda. We shuffle a lot, then there’s a long period of downtime for our science and technology production,” says Mahayotsanun. “If you want to make good science, you need continuous support.”

Source: Nature Index, OECD, United Nations, World Bank

Sometimes, a authorities introduces legal guidelines which can be opposite to fostering a very good science ecosystem. Indonesia, for instance, handed a legislation in 2019 that costs researchers for offences equivalent to violating visa permits and expressing ‘unfavourable views’. This can embody issuing earthquake or tsunami warnings which will create “chaos in society”, says Berry Juliandi, a biology professor at Bogor Agricultural University and former secretary-general of the Indonesian Young Academy of Sciences. As a consequence, “many scientists all over the world have lost interest in doing research here because they’re afraid they will be punished by criminal sanctions,” he says.

Limited funding in R&D is one other possible purpose why southeast Asia’s largest nation hasn’t lived as much as its scientific potential. “It’s got a very big population and huge resources, but looking at the data on its investment in expenditure and R&D as a percentage of GDP, it’s very low,” says Jonathan Adams, co-author of the 2019 ISI report. “Indonesia is difficult to explain in rational economic terms.”

International partnerships additionally play an important position in boosting a rustic’s analysis standing, he says. For occasion, the ISI’s evaluation discovered that Malaysia’s gross quotation influence — the variety of occasions an article is subsequently cited by later work — is 1.06, above the world common. But take away all publications with worldwide co-authorship from the information pool, and the determine falls to 0.76.

This implies that “it is international engagement that lifts them up to the global benchmark”, says Adams. According to the ISI, Malaysia has the second-highest publication output after Singapore, at near 12,000 papers between 2014 and 2018. But the figures recommend what’s being revealed isn’t essentially high-quality. “Overall, [they’re producing] lots of papers, but a large part of them are scoring poorly,” he says. Malaysia ranks 12th among the many APAC countries for Share within the Nature Index.

Countries search worldwide collaborations partly as a result of “world-class research is more expensive than many can afford”, says Adams. The 4 countries mentioned right here — Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand — all have a excessive proportion of internationally collaborative articles for their article Count within the Nature Index, starting from 90.1% for Vietnam as much as 98.5% for Malaysia. Yet none has establishments represented in Nature Index’s prime 100 total collaborative partnerships throughout the area, that are dominated by Chinese, Singaporean, Japanese and Australian establishments. This factors to comparatively low output of articles and undeveloped establishment to establishment ties for southeast Asian analysis.

Source: United Nations

“The most critical factor to increasing international publishing is cooperation with international scholars,” says Hiep-Hung Pham, who research training coverage at Phu Xuan University in central Vietnam. Because of its alliance with the Soviet Union, the nation’s researchers used to keep away from publishing in Western journals, he says. That modified in 2008, when the National Foundation for Science and Technology Development, Vietnam’s model of the US National Science Foundation, was established. Since then, Vietnam’s international-indexed publication quantity has grown greater than fivefold, based on Clarivate’s ISI data.

Pham’s analysis has proven that the opposite key components impacting a researchers’ capability to publish internationally are ample assist from analysis assistants and supervisors, in addition to cooperation between home students. “Science is not something that a single person studies in their private room. It’s about connecting with people vertically and horizontally,” he says. It can be essential to extend partnerships inside one’s personal nation, says Yvonne Lim, researcher of tropical ailments on the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. “We need to take a societal approach where universities work together and alongside industry partners and communities.”

Mahayotsanun agrees. Collaboration inside and between countries is essential to rising and progressing, he says. “I don’t think Thailand can become a [scientific] powerhouse without the support of neighbouring countries because we are attached to one another. I think the way to be powerful is to go together,” he says. “Every country has its own context, agenda and problems, but as long as we grow together, that is the key.”

Responsive Singapore science matures and diversifies

Photo of Long Yi with smart window made of a liquid derived from hydrogel.

Long Yi’s good home windows are fabricated from a liquid derived from hydrogel.Credit: Long Yi

An alarming statistic opened a analysis pursuit for supplies scientist Long Yi when she learn that buildings account for 40% of worldwide vitality utilization, and half of that’s due to home windows.

This set the course for Long’s analysis on good home windows. In 2020, together with her staff from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), she authored a paper describing the event of energy-saving home windows that may retailer warmth — a world first (Y. Zhou et al. Joule 4, 2458–2474; 2020).

The new home windows, fabricated from a hydrogel-derived liquid poured between two glass panes, are the fruits of greater than 10 years of labor, and a sequence of greater than 40 journal articles, funded by Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF). “Most of the time, funding is for one or two years, but in a lot of research areas, you need time to accumulate knowledge,” says Long, who has obtained two five-year grants. “The NRF has vision and is willing to spend money on long-term research.”

The NRF’s plan to remodel Singapore right into a “vibrant research and development hub” got here into sharper focus in December, with a authorities announcement of S$25 billion (US$18.86 billion), or roughly 1% of its GDP, to fund R&D over the subsequent 5 years. The Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 plan (RIE2025), the third such five-year initiative, displays the identical cautious planning and constant funding for R&D that has enabled Singapore’s fast transition right into a scientific powerhouse.

“There was a bit of worry over whether they were going to keep funding static, or even decrease it, because, like many economies, Singapore has taken a hit through COVID,” says Barry Halliwell, chairman of biomedical analysis at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research. “In fact, they increased allocation by S$6 billion.”

Today, Singapore is the sixth-most prolific nation within the Asia-Pacific area for analysis output, and 16th globally, within the 82 high-quality natural-sciences journals tracked by Nature Index. Chemistry is the nation’s strongest subject, adopted carefully by the bodily sciences.

“Our approach was always clear: to build up a research capability base to support our industries,” says Low Teck Seng, the NRF’s chief government. “That narrative has not changed and continues to be very important. But over the years, our ambitions have pivoted to meet existential needs.”

These embody the challenges of local weather change, meals safety and an ageing inhabitants, and are mirrored in RIE2025’s 4 goal domains of well being, sustainability, good expertise and manufacturing.

International collaborations are essential to Singapore’s scientific success. Its prime collaborator is China; the China–Singapore partnership is the second strongest within the area, after Australia–China.

For Long, NTU’s tie-up with researchers from Guangzhou’s South China University of Technology by way of the Sino–Singapore International Joint Research Institute, a collaboration established in 2015 with greater than S$100 million funding to this point, has been instrumental. It means she will be able to take a look at her good home windows in cooler climes, and on a a lot bigger and cheaper scale than is feasible in Singapore. Commercialization alternatives are additionally a lot higher.

“For the science that we want to do and the coverage that we want to have, it’s only possible through partnerships,” Low says.

Sandy Ong

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