Singapore’s S$25 billion R&D Budget for the Next Five Years
Being Asia’s most innovative economy for more than half a decade running, it can be difficult to grasp Singapore’s research and development (R&D) journey began just a little over thirty years ago. The National Science and Technology Board was established in 1991, marking the beginning of Singapore’s R&D journey. The objective of said establishment was to develop high-technology activities that would move Singapore up the economic value chain and build a strong base of scientists, engineers, and technologists who would help to drive economic and enterprise transformation. These plans were to be refreshed every five years to ensure Singapore’s position as an innovation-driven, knowledge-based economy.
2010 marked the year Singapore’s R&D strategy expanded to span Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE), whereby the RIE2015 and the RIE2020 plans included translation, commercialisation, and innovation strategies to tap on the growing pipeline of promising research outputs and support our enterprises.
Due to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Singapore government has allocated a staggering S$25 billion fund to advance the country’s R&D landscape for five years from 2020 up until 2025. This five-year plan came to be known as the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025 plan, with the record-breaking sum laying the groundwork for the country’s science and technology efforts for the next five years.
Focus Areas in RIE2025
Among the plans is a national effort that will help Singapore respond nimbly to future infectious diseases. The pandemic has accelerated technological trends and structural changes that will reshape the global economy, and throw up new challenges for societies, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at a press conference to lay out the RIE2025 plan. This time around, the RIE2025 will be organized across four domains, particularly: manufacturing, trade and connectivity (MTC); human health and potential (HHP): urban solutions and sustainability (USS); and Smart Nation and digital economy (SNDE).
With the country having solidified its place as a global manufacturing hub, the MTC domain aims to strengthen the nation’s trade and connectivity sectors, particularly in industries such as aviation, sea transport and logistics among others. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) may be used to enhance air traffic management, and even fully automate port operations, just to name a few.
Besides that, studies have shown that Singaporeans live an average of 84 years. As such, the HHP domain may focus on cultivating healthy and meaningful experiences from early development all the way to advanced age. To this end, a new Science of Learning in Education Centre (SoLEC) will be established within this five-year plan to develop interventions that enhance lifelong learning.
In the USS domain, efforts will be centred around ensuring sustainability and resource resilience to reduce the country’s vulnerabilities to global supply chain shocks as well as improve liveability. These efforts may include achieving 30 by 30 food security goal, improving decarbonization technologies and working towards becoming a zero-waste, circular economy.
Scaling Up Innovation and Enterprise (I&E) Platforms
I&E platforms have been substantially effective in supporting industries to translate R&D into new products, services and solutions for the market. Such an example includes the Diagnostics Development Hub at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research accelerated the development and regulatory approval of novel diagnostics solutions for global market adoption, such as the Resolute series test-kits for COVID-19. Additionally, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster has also engaged over 1,800 organisations, and has catalysed over 230 projects, to accelerate additive manufacturing applications across many industry sectors, including maritime, aerospace, and logistics.
I&E platforms will be scaled up in RIE2025, and existing platforms will be supported to move into adjacent areas with high growth potential, such as supporting diagnostics development, medical technology and the likes. New platforms will also be established under RIE2025, with said new platforms being enabled to tap into Singapore’s deep R&D strengths and bridge ecosystem gaps.
In order to build up the pool of local inventors and entrepreneurs with both technology and business development expertise, the I&E Fellowship Programme (IFP) was launched. As many as 11 partners have been engaged for the IFP pilot, including SGInnovate, which has launched the Power X (Robotics) programme to train individuals for in-demand robotics engineering and technology translation roles. In the RIE2025, the full-fledged IFP will provide individuals with mentorship and on-the-job training in tech commercialisation via attachments with more public and private sector I&E platforms, including corporate laboratories, private sector incubators, and accelerators.
The sustained investment in RIE will be the springboard for enterprises, people and community to emerge stronger together in a COVID world and a changing global economy. By harnessing science and technology, competitiveness and resilience of the vast industries may be strengthened, countless jobs created, and new opportunities present for Singaporeans, further enhancing Singapore’s liveability and sustainability to improve the lives of its people.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the scientific mindset is critical. Pointing out that astronomers had discovered mysterious circles in the cosmos using a new massive radio telescope in Western Australia, he said: “Whether it’s discovering mysterious radio emissions or developing vaccines against COVID-19, science is exciting and important. The scientific mindset – exploring the world and understanding it rationally and empirically – is crucial to Singapore. This is true not just in R&D work, but more fundamentally to the ethos of our whole society.”
Mr Lee, who chaired the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council meeting, added: “Our continued investments in R&D will sustain our competitiveness and bolster our status as a tech and innovation hub… With the profound uncertainties ahead, RIE2025 will be a crucial differentiator in refreshing our economic strategy, and securing our future for a post-COVID world.”