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S'pore to ramp up R&D spending by almost a third to S$25b over next 5 years

SINGAPORE — Singapore will spend S$25 billion in the next five years on research and development (R&D), with a focus on areas such as mitigating climate change and improving prenatal development, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced on Friday (Dec 11).

S'pore to ramp up R&D spending by almost a third to S$25b over next 5 years

Desalination modules at a PUB plant. One area of research that Singapore will focus on in the next five years is developing industrial water solutions to meet non-domestic water demand.

  • The S$25 billion budget amounts to about 1 per cent of Singapore’s GDP
  • Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat says research into science and technology will help Singapore emerge stronger from the crisis
  • New areas of interest include developing decarbonisation technologies and finding out how to influence mental health factors affecting function and performance

 

SINGAPORE — Singapore will spend S$25 billion in the next five years on research and development (R&D), with a focus on areas such as mitigating climate change and improving prenatal development, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced on Friday (Dec 11).

This is about 32 per cent more than the S$19 billion allotted for the previous five years.

The investment in R&D has been maintained at about 1 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) so as to avoid a “boom and bust” cycle in capability building, the National Research Foundation (NRF) said.

WHY IT MATTERS 

During a media briefing, Mr Heng said the S$25 billion underscores Singapore’s commitment to invest in research, innovation and enterprise, and will help Singapore emerge stronger from the Covid-19 crisis and create more and better opportunities for businesses and workers.

NRF chief executive officer Low Teck Seng added: “It's very important to realise that to address a crisis like this, it's not confined to advancements in the biomedical science community. It's actually advancements in all aspects of technology.”

Singapore’s push to be a technology centre began with a S$2 billion five-year investment in 1991. Since then, S$60.5 billion has been invested across six five-year plans, catapulting Singapore’s institutions and researchers onto the world stage.

The nation is now home to 78 scientists at the top 1 per cent of their field by citation and year, according to a list compiled by analytics services firm Clarivate this year.

These capabilities have played a critical role in the nation’s response to Covid-19, allowing 3D-printed and injection-moulded swabs to be devised, for instance, to meet immediate testing needs. 

Covid-19 treatments and vaccines are also being developed here.

RESEARCH AREAS 

In the next five years, NRF said that it will expand the mission of its four research, innovation and enterprise (RIE) domains in what is known as the RIE 2025 plan:

1. Manufacturing, trade and connectivity 

Within this domain, the focus used to be on developing technological capabilities in the manufacturing and engineering sectors. The NRF will now also look at aviation, sea transport, logistics and wholesale trade. 

There will be efforts to:

  • Develop even more advanced air traffic management capabilities by tapping artificial intelligence (AI)-based tools to improve air traffic controllers’ situational awareness and decision-making 

  • Drive the automation and digitalisation of airport and seaport operations by using AI, integrated Internet of Things sensors and vision systems

  • Develop decarbonisation technologies for the aviation and maritime sectors

2. Human health and potential

Researchers in this domain typically focused more on developing innovative healthcare services, drugs or devices. The NRF will now also look at maximising economic value and advancing human potential.

There are plans to:

  • Study women and children in the preconception, pregnancy and early childhood phases to see how to reduce the risk of metabolic diseases such as diabetes, enhance people’s ability to control their emotions later in life and increase their learning capacity

  • Extend the existing Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes (Gusto) study — Singapore’s largest birth cohort study involving more than 1,200 Singaporean women — to study the factors influencing adolescent growth and maturity. This could allow the authorities to identify areas of intervention to positively influence mental health factors affecting function and performance

  • Set up a new "science of learning" centre at the National Institute of Education to pull together research across fields such as neuroscience, psychology and education, with an eye on formulating interventions that could enhance lifelong learning

3. Urban solutions and sustainability

NRF said it will double down on ongoing works in this domain, which focus on improving Singapore’s water security and lowering the energy consumption of used water treatment, among other areas, while addressing new challenges in sustainability and resilience.

There will be efforts to:

  • Explore solutions in decarbonisation by developing cost-effective solutions in low-carbon hydrogen and carbon capture utilisation and storage 

  • Reduce Singapore’s vulnerability to risks in the global supply chains of critical resources. This will be done by broadening R&D efforts to cover new priorities such as shelf-life extension technologies

  • Develop industrial water solutions to meet non-domestic water demand

4. Smart nation and digital economy

Within this domain, the NRF has previously studied how to strengthen Singapore’s capabilities in technologies such as AI, cybersecurity, trust technologies and quantum technologies. It will now look at ways to drive Singapore’s Smart Nation ambition and strengthen its position as a trusted digital and innovation hub.

This will include efforts to:

  • Form a tech consortia to co-create new intellectual property with the industry, and develop products and solutions in areas such as 5G technology

  • Invest in areas of intersection across digital technologies such as 5G cybersecurity and the deployment of AI in cybersecurity

  • Attract and nurture top researchers and technologists in digital technologies through a Smart Nation fellowship programme

DOMAINS ‘MEANT TO BE DYNAMIC’

Mr Heng said the domains are meant to be dynamic, with 15 per cent of the S$25 billion budget, or S$3.75 billion, parked under a category called “white space”.

This will “provide us with greater agility and nimbleness to respond to changes in the global and technological landscape”, he added.

“New needs will come up. At this point we will not know (what they are). Over the past five-year period, you would notice how rapidly things have changed... We must not underestimate the speed of technological changes,” he said. 

“We are keeping this broad so that we can respond to a wide range of changes which we must expect in the coming years.”

Related topics

budget research science mental health

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