Transcript of opening remarks by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the RIEC Press Conference on 27 Mar 2019.
Good afternoon everybody.
We have just held our RIEC Meeting this afternoon. So I have got a few of the ministers with me including the Chairman of the NRF Heng Swee Keat, Chan Chun Sing and Lawrence Wong to brief you on a bit of what we discussed and also on the broader background.
RIE - research, innovation and enterprise - are critical to Singapore’s development. We started on this journey in 2006 to set up the RIEC in order to deepen our science and technology capabilities along the whole value chain, from basic research to product development to commercialisation. It was an idea which Dr Tony Tan came up with and he suggested that I create the RIEC and that chair it myself, which I have done since.
Since then, we have made significant progress. Our scientists are gaining international recognition and they are starting to make breakthroughs and to have an impact. Many of our research labs have international collaborations with universities and companies elsewhere. Tech companies such as Rolls Royce, Dyson and HP have set up advanced product development facilities here. Rolls Royce doing electrification of engines. Dyson looking at electric cars. HP looking at 3D printing.
Our tech startup scene is beginning to take off, with companies like Razer, SEA (which used to be called Garena) and Visenze basing here because they see our efforts in AI, cybersecurity, robotics and fintech.
And the R&D has yielded practical and useful output and products. For example, autonomous vehicles, the manufacture of specialist living cells to treat different medical conditions. So instead of a molecule, you have a cell which is tailored and infused into the patient’s body and treat his condition, maybe cancer, maybe some other illness, and hopefully cure him.
We launched RIE2020 – the plan for the next five years of research efforts - three years ago, and we set aside S$19 billion over five years for research. This is the midterm review for RIE 2020. After the review we affirmed that we are on the right track, but we are sharpening our focus and making fine tuning adjustments to the plans.
Factors of Success
What does our success depend on? First, we have got to continue to emphasise science and technology throughout our society. We have to ignite the passion of young to pursue careers in science and technology, and inculcate a mindset which embraces scientific, objective and evidence-based decision making.
It means our schools and universities, our government institutions and in fact the general population at large, all must share this scientific, rational ethos. Because you need this conducive social environment in order to do good scientific and R&D work, in order for the population to benefit from the progress of science and technology.
We cannot afford to have people who are fearful and are distrustful of science. Who are held captive by totally groundless anti-scientific beliefs. For example, you see in other countries, you read about anti-vaxxers, people who distrust vaccines, refused to allow their children to be inoculated. Vaccines which protect people and which save lives. And they believe for example that the MMR vaccine causes autism. There is no evidence, but you cannot get rid of this misapprehension and this distrust and fear. And we must not ever get into that position.
Secondly, we have to develop a strong core of talented researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs. We have been growing our local talent pool of research scientists and engineers. Now we have about 35,300, that is in 2017 so maybe it has gone up a bit since then. 70% of these are Singaporeans and Permanent Residents.
Our schools and our post-secondary institutions have an important role in developing this talent pool. For those with a passion for science and technology, we also have specialised schools like NUS High School and the School of Science and Technology. But all our schools, the whole education system, have a role to play, to inculcate knowledge of science and maths and also a scientific rational mindset in our people.
At the same time, we are attracting talent from abroad to supplement our own. Because talent is the key factor in science and technology, and the countries which do well in this global competition for talent are those which are best able to attract talent from around the world, and that is even true of big countries like the United States. So Singapore, small as we are, all the more we have to be open and welcoming to researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs.
Thirdly, we have to must build international partnerships with other foreign countries and institutions, to pool expertise and to undertake more ambitious projects. For example, last year was the France-Singapore Year of Innovation, and after that we set up the France-Singapore Joint Committee on Science and Innovation. And we have also got in Singapore, in NUS, the CREATE campus - Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise - which has attracted highly-regarded institutions from all over the world to partner with our institutions here. Swee Keat will share more details on this later on.
Our public investments in RIE – research, innovation and enterprise – is about 1% of GDP. It is about the same percentage as other countries, like the US or UK. It is not a small sum for us because it is not one-off, but it is sustained over many years. This 1% from the Government is stimulating more than matching investments in RIE by the private sector. The RIE efforts we do must be balanced across a range – from basic research in focus areas, to promoting development in the application of new ideas, to promoting entrepreneurship and companies which can exploit these ideas, in order to ultimately reap economic dividends from our investments.
We must and we will continue to invest in science, technology and innovation in the long term. To do so in a balanced, sustained and sustainable manner in order to keep Singapore competitive, globally relevant and in order to seed exciting new opportunities in the future economy for Singaporeans.
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