Singapore’s strong leadership and top-down decision-making culture adapts as necessary to achieve national goals for science and technology (S&T) policy, planning, and execution. Singapore is expected to continue to achieve its S&T goals going forward. Singapore lacks natural resources and therefore relies on the highest-quality education, trade, and targeted innovation for security and prosperity. The stable government and absence of corruption attract foreign investment and workers. It aggressively recruits top international talent to leadership positions, builds universities and laboratories, and attracts multinational companies into its knowledge hub. Traditionally risk averse and product oriented, Singapore develops novel technologies to sell globally. It commercializes developments from small- to medium-sized businesses, using private and government incentives. Its efforts toward development of dual-use technologies target water purification, biotechnology, and renewable energy. Singapore is vulnerable to unfavorable swings in the global economy, and its internal capacity to handle internationalization, increasing individual independence, a culturally diverse international workforce, and a possible intrusion of terrorism could challenge the realization of national S&T objectives.
It is very instructive that government officials in Singapore often refer to Singapore as “a little red dot,” which is how it appears on any large-scale map. With neighbors who have been less than friendly at times, the country focuses on being as economically and militarily strong as possible and on forging cooperative links with other countries in Asia and in the West. Singapore has no natural resources other than its people. A multiracial country, it places a high premium on developing all of its citizens through education and rewards for merit. Since its independence from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore’s leaders have focused on attracting both industry and educated people to the island.
During the 1960s, Singapore established itself as a center for low-cost manufacturing as a strategy for strengthening its economy. As this strategy became less viable because of rising living standards and competition from other Asian countries, Singapore shifted its major focus to trade. Singapore leveraged its strategic location in the Malacca straits to become the second-largest shipping center in the world. The nation’s strong maritime focus is reflected in its naval strategy.
In order to further national development, political and military leadership has emphasized higher education and the development of an economic strategy that leverages national strengths to fill a global niche. Singapore’s
strong central leadership has proven to be effective, flexible, and insightful. Leaders are traditionally sent to the best educational institutions in the world to earn advanced degrees and to bring back knowledge to Singapore. As a disincentive for corruption, leaders are paid well and assessed strong penalties if found to be involved in corruption.
Singapore’s forward-looking government periodically assesses what areas should be the next to develop, and then attempts to address them. As a small country with a high level of governmental control, Singapore can successfully execute changes in its strategic direction. It is noteworthy that the government seeks international advice in the process of developing both strategy and tactics for economic development and corresponding S&T support.
NET ASSESSMENT OF S&T INVESTMENT STRATEGY
In 2006, Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry published an S&T strategy document that summarizes the nation’s broad plan for S&T advancement:
Singapore’s economic strategies must keep up with the changing global economic landscape. Singapore must continue its process of upgrading and renewal to ensure that it remains competitive in a global knowledge economy. It needs to develop its innovation capacity as a new, sustainable source of competitive advantage.
Given its strengths in science and mathematics, Singapore is naturally positioned to excel in S&T. To succeed, talent will be key. Singapore must become a global talent hub, attracting talent here by providing a vibrant environment and an open society that offer opportunities for communities of creative and talented people. (MTI, 2006)
Specifically, the areas that appear to be targeted for S&T support and technology transfer for economic development in the near future include water resources, control of infectious diseases, interactive and digital media, and biological engineering and science. Singapore has also declared that it aspires to be the education center of Asia, both to attract outstanding people who will stay in the country and also to bring income into the country. It has announced plans to open an elite university, which will have a much larger percentage of foreign students than the premier National University of Singapore. The new university will be focused around design for both engineering and architecture. Singapore has formed partnerships with universities from around the world to attract world-class academic scientists and engineers to work in its universities and research institutes.
In terms of military investment strategy, Singapore is dedicated to having a fifth-generation, highly networked force that is the best in the region. It aims to make it very costly for any country to attack it. Given how dependent Singapore is on the flow of goods via the maritime sea lanes, the country has invested in control of the sea lanes for some distance into the Straits of Singapore. All male residents of Singapore are required to serve in the military and then in the reserves.
The government of Singapore develops plans for S&T in five-year cycles, and the current plan (2006-2010) is nearing its conclusion. In comparison with its predecessor plan, the current plan almost tripled research and development (R&D) funding, raising it to S$13.9 billion (approximately U.S.$9.8 billion). At the onset of this plan, a high-level Research Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC), chaired by the prime minister, was formed to oversee national R&D policy. The RIEC has a three-part mission (Yeoh, 2010):
Catalyze new industries through strategic research programs
Expand research capacity to create new knowledge
Nurture innovation and entrepreneurship to exploit new knowledge
These goals are consistent with the point of view that innovation is crucial to Singapore’s ability to stay ahead of the lower-cost competition.
Singapore has established an impressive set of international panels for deciding on what research to fund. These panels have the attention of the government at the highest levels and ensure that the work is well supported and that the choices meet international standards. Indeed Singapore has embraced international input into its S&T development at all levels, and human capital has possibly made a greater impact than the financial support from global corporations. For example, in 2006 foreigners formed 30.9 percent of the total employment pool. Well-known scientists and engineers have been recruited to the research institutes, including Charles Zukoski, who
chairs the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC),1 Edison Liu, the executive director of Singapore’s Genome Institute,2 and Kerry Sieh, the director of Singapore’s Earth Observatory.3 Singapore currently is a world leader in per capita metrics of innovation, including U.S. patents.
More impressive is the concerted federal approach to transitioning the results of R&D to the private sector. The government shifted its focus from cost-effectiveness and efficiency toward knowledge as the driver (Vedem et al., 2009). Although the Singapore Economic Development Board executes strategies to make Singapore a global hub for business investment and talent, the Standards, Productivity, and Innovation Board (SPRING) supports the development of small- to medium-sized enterprises with funding to execute intellectual property (IP) strategy, hire external experts, and contract R&D from the research institutes. Grants of up to $10 million are among the support vehicles available for companies to commercialize Singapore-based technology. The 14 research institutes are increasingly tasked with developing a pipeline of research talent to meet industry needs; for example, education products have been produced for school children, and for undergraduate, master’s, and nascent doctoral-level programs—including a joint engineering and business doctorate (Vedem et al., 2009).
Many of these new initiatives are bearing fruit. Venture capital firms are working closely with the research institutes and technology incubators to develop spin-off companies. As of 2008, 72 percent of R&D funding was supplied by the private sector (Yeoh, 2010). As an example of knowledge-based economic growth, the number of nanotechnology-related companies has grown from 10 in 2004 to 58 in 2009 (Vedem et al., 2009). Other successful spin-off companies are developing medical devices, organic photonics, high-efficiency solar cells, water purification and waste treatment systems, and ultra-low power electronics. Many of these products are directly applicable to defense and homeland security systems. The close personal relationships among government leaders and between civilian and military leaders in Singapore facilitate the transfer of R&D products for military as well as civilian applications.
S&T INVESTMENTS OF INTEREST
Singapore has a well-defined vision for national security, based on establishing itself as a valuable partner in the information age and on making an attack on its territory prohibitively expensive for potential enemies. In order to realize these goals, Singapore has planned an S&T strategy around its unique national needs and its drive to create a highly educated and technologically developed society. The degree to which Singapore solicits international advice for planning and carrying out national initiatives is exemplary, and works very well in its highly centralized, stable, supportive federal system.
Singapore has identified a number of driving forces for R&D on the global stage. These are aging, renewable energy, climate change and sustainability, urbanization, infectious diseases, food security, and water supplies. In particular, the country wants to become a major economic powerhouse by finding innovative solutions to its identified challenges and selling the knowledge it has developed.
For example, Singapore is conducting considerable research on how to develop and process its water supply. As access to water becomes more important in countries like India and China, Singapore intends to sell its knowledge to cities in these areas. This is often referenced in Singapore as the “Singapore water story.”
Another area of focus is infectious diseases, and more generally biotechnology. Singapore has invested heavily in the development of basic understanding of biotechnology as well as the technology to detect and control the spread of infection. This type of knowledge enables it to respond quickly to emerging threats, as it did for the SARS epidemic, and provides technology for export to address global health problems.
In light of the continuing issues surrounding climate change in the world, Singapore is looking both at compact energy sources, especially renewable ones, and at geo-engineering. The need for compact energy sources is driven by the fact that Singapore is a small country. Given the lack of countries in the world that agree on climate
For more information, see http://www.a-star.edu.sg/AboutASTAR/CorporateProfile/ASTARBoard/ProfessorCharlesZukoski/tabid/905/Default.aspx. Last accessed May 27, 2010.
For more information, see http://www.gis.a-star.edu.sg/internet/site/investigators.php?f=cv&user_id=14. Last accessed May 27, 2010.
For more information, see http://www.earthobservatory.sg/index.php?option=com_eos_people&view=people&layout=details&task=details&filtertype=MANAGEMENT_TEAM&Itemid=4&id=9. Last accessed May 27, 2010.
mitigation techniques, the development of geo-engineering technology will position Singapore well to be able to sell this type of technology.
Another high-impact technology focus is development of digital media and content. The already substantial investment in digital gaming will be parlayed into industrial domination of the expanding education and training market in Asia. The investment in new virtual reality environments will allow for substantially enhanced training in defense-related areas. This is important for a small country like Singapore, where land area is at a premium.
The areas that have been targeted for military development are the following: networked command and control, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and system architecting. Singapore has developed system architecture to a world-class level. One example is the use of congestion control, a system where drivers purchase access to busy roads during peak times, for traffic management. Singapore led major world cities in implementing this economically driven means of controlling traffic (Gopinath Menon, 2002). Singapore’s work on water supply control is also among the best in the world. All sewers in Singapore are connected to its wastewater reclamation system, which produces ultrapure water that can be used for a variety of industrial manufacturing applications in addition to standard domestic use (Tortajada, 2006). In the area of UAVs, Singapore lags behind both the United States and Israel, whose programs are driven by current security needs. Nevertheless, the combination of expertise in UAVs, systems architecting, and simulation software could lead to unique products of great military value.
PROJECTED ADVANCES IN S&T PROFICIENCY
Singapore has done very well in realizing its five-year goals, and—given the stability of its administration—there is no reason to doubt that it will continue to do so. Decisionmakers have focused on S&T that will make a difference both nationally and internationally and have built incentives for companies to commercialize the S&T, so that S&T products will support economic development and create new markets for Singaporean products. The threats to realizing the goals of the five-year plans are international in origin: for example, the current global recession may temporarily reduce R&D investment by global corporations that Singapore had projected to increase as a percentage of gross expenditure on research and development.
Singapore is likely to achieve its stated S&T aspirations. United, effective leadership and continued global and national commercial investment support the realistic national goals set forth in the five-year plans. In the longer term, Singaporean leadership has demonstrated the willingness to make major changes in the national goals in order to change the culture and lifestyle of its citizens: for example, from agrarian to low-cost manufacturing, to a focus on maritime trade and electronics, high-tech materials, education, healthcare, and clean technology. Part of the success is breaking down long-term goals into aggressive but realistic five-year chunks.
NATION-SPECIFIC INDICATORS OF S&T ADVANCEMENT
As with all of the countries studied in this report, a diverse set of indicators are needed to form a complete picture of Singapore’s S&T environment. Because the nation’s strategy for continued growth depends on attracting international talent and funding, the quantity and focus of foreign investment is an important indicator of success. In addition, indicators related to improvements in higher education (e.g., number of foreign students, faculty members, interdisciplinary degrees, Ph.D.s per year, and international collaborations) will measure Singapore’s ability to achieve its goals for producing talent. Corporate and government expenditures on R&D, formation of new companies and products from university and industry collaboration, and enactment of laws promoting entrepreneurship can also be monitored to assess the growth of the national S&T environment.
Although the numbers of papers, patents, and citations attributed to Singapore can be useful metrics of R&D productivity, they can be misleading because of the level of international collaboration and corporate activity in this small country. The numbers of papers or patents that can be attributed to discovery or innovation by Singaporean establishments may be hard to determine. Also, indicators expressed on a per capita basis may imply higher impact than is realistic. Singapore has a lot of intellectual endeavor and has formed an excellent environment for innovation, but the country’s size renders the total effort relatively small compared to that of much larger countries.
Singapore has taken advantage of its small size and highly centralized government to begin ambitious initiatives and instigate changes rapidly. With the fifth-highest per capita GDP in the world (2007 purchasing power parity was $50,936,059), Singapore rates very highly in terms of the many indicators relevant to S&T support and innovation (IMF, 2008). These metrics include education, international recruitment of Ph.D. scientists and engineers, GERD, and innovation. The political focus on S&T as a means to advance the standard of living and to achieve military security guides the selection of key areas in S&T and drives social evolution that supports a well-educated consumer base, global outreach, and strategic alliances.
Education in Singapore is highly centralized and highly valued. Over the past decade, state initiatives have established standards for education at the pre-college level that require proficiency in English, inclusion of the religious schools, and centralized training for teachers and school principals. Singapore has expanded its university system and established relationships with international universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Washington, Southampton University in Britain, ETH in Switzerland, and the Technion in Israel. A total of 97,000 students from 120 countries went to Singapore to study in 2008, a 50 percent increase from 2003. Foreign students are mainly from China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, South Korea, and Vietnam (Yeo, 2009). About 200 students receive the generous Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) fellowships to cover both undergraduate and graduate education, with a six-year commitment to work in Singapore thereafter. Another example of Singapore’s recruitment efforts can be found in the National Research Foundation Research Fellowship Scheme,4 a program that offers postdoctoral students generous funding for “projects that exhibit high likelihood of a research breakthrough.”
The Defense S&T Agency (DTSA), established in 2000 to support the Singapore Armed Forces, also invests in the education of Singaporeans through the DTSA College, with a focus on systems engineering and business skills. DTSA sends promising members to overseas universities on postgraduate scholarships in defense science and engineering, information technology (IT) and communications engineering, and building and infrastructure. The people who receive these fellowships must return to Singapore to use their skills in support of the country. DTSA has a relationship with the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and offers a joint degree.
Recruitment of international scientists and engineers has been initiated at an impressive level (Arnaud, 2006). Unique facilities at Biopolis and Fusionopolis, coupled with an extended funding commitment that liberates top R&D talent from the obligations of proposal preparation, have attracted world-renowned talent. Singapore is actively leveraging this activity to educate local students and R&D staff, to create spin-off technologies in local incubators, and to increase its international IP position. From 2001 to 2005, Singapore’s international ranking in IP rights improved from 17th to 4th in the number of patents in force per 100,000 inhabitants (IMD, 2005). Although a significant number of those patents may be held by multinational companies, the know-how can be transferred to local companies, and a strong IP regime supports the promotion of Singapore as an R&D center.
Singapore is increasing its commitment to transferring the technology developed in the R&D establishments to industry, although the culture in general remains risk-averse and public policies toward entrepreneurship can be conflicting (Carney and Zheng, 2009). Despite the impact of investment by multinational corporations in Singapore, 42 percent of the GDP, 23 percent of manufacturing exports, and 62 percent of employment are generated by small- to medium-sized enterprises (MTI, 2006). The culture of collectivism in Singapore leads to expectations that superiors will provide the initiatives for growth and improvements; this expectation may slow the integration of S&T results into manufacturing (Zhou et al., 2009). The Growing Enterprises with Technology Upgrade (GETUP) program has been started to aid small- to medium-sized enterprises with technical assistance and manpower support, financial assistance, and overseas marketing.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Singapore is a highly centralized, stable, agile country that has become a regional hub for education and innovation. Its policies promote integration of multinational high-tech endeavors to address national problems for continued economic development. It relies on foreign investment, but it has created a legal system and qual-
For more information, see http://www.nrf.gov.sg/nrf/otherProgrammes.aspx?id=142.
ity of life that attract foreign experts and funding. The United States has strong ties with Singapore in defense, education, and research, but Singapore has also developed alliances and cooperative agreements in these areas with most of its Asian neighbors and many European partners. Singapore faces future challenges to balancing its current, tightly controlled culture with the influx of foreigners, new ideas, more highly educated citizenry, and potential for terrorist attack.
Singapore is taking full advantage of its highly centralized government to push advanced innovation-based development as a means to improve the standard of living of its citizens and to ensure military and economic security. Government strategies for advancing education and encouraging foreign investment have resulted in (1) importation of international scientists and engineers capable of cutting-edge discovery, (2) creation of an innovation ecosystem in which Singaporeans are learning the tools required to commercialize scientific breakthroughs, (3) slow change from a risk-averse culture toward one that encourages small- to medium-sized enterprises, and (4) a stable, well-educated community for continued attraction of global business investment.
The specific tactics outlined in each of the past three five-year plans have been efficiently executed, with Singapore achieving world leadership in water technology, data storage, and systems architecting. Small- to medium-sized enterprises are a major economic force and are increasingly utilizing technology produced by the S&T community. The S&T infrastructure is exceptional and should support increasing levels of technology transfer and production of high-technology products. The S&T infrastructure and the creation of laws and culture friendly to global business assure that the innovation ecosystem will remain strong in Singapore. Native Singaporeans are already learning not only how to do S&T, but also how to take financial risks and to innovate and leverage S&T for commercialization. Eventually they will lead global corporations.
The current R&D plan establishes the goal of increasing the GERD to 3 percent of GDP by 2010, an objective that will likely be achieved. The target for 2015 is for the GERD to reach 3.5 percent, primarily by increasing the private-sector share (MTI, 2006; Yeoh, 2010). Singapore has incentives in place to attract multinational R&D and high-tech manufacturing, but the state of the global economy must change before a further influx can be encouraged. Singapore will continue to offer political stability, lack of corruption, an English-speaking population (with Mandarin second), 10-year tax holidays, and training subsidies for new employees. Land will remain expensive and labor costs high. The lack of corruption combined with relatively high salaries makes Singapore a particularly attractive place to undertake research.
From a political standpoint, Singapore is best served by maintaining peace with all its neighbors. Its ties to both the United States and China must remain strong. The interaction with the United States is through military as well as economic and educational exchanges. Although the export of U.S. military technology overseas is always a concern, the advantages of strong linkages with Singapore and the potential for two-way exchange of defense-related technology should be appreciated.
Finding 8-1. Singapore is currently importing discovery capability, fostering innovation successfully, and developing international markets for its S&T products (including education). Although the innovation ecosystem includes national IP protection and fosters development of products from S&T endeavors, it is also a center for global information exchange. Singapore is also specifically a leader in solving problems unique to maritime trade and urban environments, and these solutions will become increasingly useful in China, the United States, and other countries.
Recommendation 8-1. The United States should be very involved in the S&T initiatives in Singapore in order to ensure two-way information exchange and to maintain critical military and economic alliances.
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