[originally published in this blog 3 August 2007]
Excerpts of Reuters report, 13th Nov:
Malaysia is counting on bright, ambitious people like Tan Chye Ling for its future, to lead it away from manufacturing and into the knowledge age. But the 32-year-old scientist, a post-graduate in molecular biology, is not counting on Malaysia to look after her future.
“I felt very suppressed in Malaysia,” said Tan, who moved to neighbouring Singapore, the region’s pace-setter for biotech investment, after a decade of study and research in Malaysia.
“I have benefited from the better research environment and salary scheme here. Things are much smoother,” she said by phone from the National University of Singapore where she is studying dust mites and allergies.
Tan estimates that 60 percent of the research teams she works with in Singapore are from Malaysia, despite her country’s efforts over several years to develop a biotech industry.
The Malaysian government unveiled plans last March to spend $553.3 million over five years to boost research, attract foreign investment and build new facilities. But its efforts are wasted unless it can retain more talented people like Tan.
Malaysia has thrived since the 1970s on cheap labour, serving as a global manufacturing base for electronics. But cheaper rivals like China, India and Vietnam are forcing it to look to higher-tech industries to secure its economic future.
The biotech campaign is not new — Malaysia has tried various schemes over the past five years with little success — but its efforts have taken on a new urgency after U.N. data showed an 11 percent fall in direct foreign investment between 2004 and 2005.
“By the time we have the research environment in place, every other country would have taken a slice of the biotech investment pie,” said Iskandar Mizal, head of the state-run Malaysian Biotech Corporation which oversees the government’s strategy.
Researcher Tan adds one more request: raise salaries. A post-doctoral fellow in Singapore earns up to $3,210 a month, nearly five times the salary paid in Malaysia, she said. “With the increasing cost of living, it is not fair to expect post-doctoral fellows to teach and do research on 2,500 ringgit ($685),” said Tan, who moved to Singapore more than a year ago.
Malaysia recently increased funds for postgraduate research schemes five-fold to $180 million under its five-year plan. But this is a tiny fraction of the $8 billion Singapore is investing in biotech R&D and biomedical firms over the next five years, including $3.4 billion in life-sciences research alone.”We need people, not infrastructure to bring in the investors,” said molecular biologist, Ruslan.
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