Event Report: [email protected] 2014

University of Oxford | United Kingdom | 22 Nov 2014

Report by Azilleo Kristo Mozihim

science at malaysia 1

Without a doubt, science has been pivotal in engendering numerous positive changes in society. It has assisted humans to land on the moon, eradicate diseases, communicate with each other across the globe literally within a blink of an eye and achieve countless other magnificent feats. Even so, these scientific advancements along with economic growth could have never been achieved if it were not for the emphasis placed on science by nations. This holds true for any nation, including our beloved Malaysia. As Malaysia is striving to become a high-income nation, technological and economic advancement through science is undoubtedly required. Thus, as part of the effort to promote scientific advancement in Malaysia, the inaugural [email protected] conference was recently organised by Scientific Malaysian and Oxford University Malaysia Club (OUMC) at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

OPENING AND KEYNOTE ADDRESSES

Conference attendees were greeted with the opening speech by Professor Andrew Hamilton,ViceChancellor of the University of Oxford. In his lively speech, he mentioned several collaborations that have been made between Malaysia and the University; for example, the collaboration with UiTM (Malaysia Technology University) in the field of Mathematics, particularly in industrial applications. He also expressed his hopes in extending the collaboration to other academic institutions in Malaysia.

Prof. Andrew Hamilton, VC of the University of Oxford (left) gave his opening speech. Prof. Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia (centre) and Prof. Robin Grimes, the UK & Foreign Commonwealth Office Chief Scientific Advisor (right) were the conference keynote speakers.

Prof. Andrew Hamilton, VC of the University of Oxford (left) gave his opening speech. Prof. Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia (centre) and Prof. Robin Grimes, the UK & Foreign Commonwealth Office Chief Scientific Advisor (right) were the conference keynote speakers.

Subsequently, the main issues surrounding the advancement of scientific research in Malaysia were highlighted in the Keynote Address by Professor Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, the Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia. One of the issues raised was the emigration of local talent to other nations such as Singapore, which reduces the scientific talent pool of the nation leading to decreased economic productivity. He also suggested that the existence of insufficient local scientific expertise was a primary factor for the lack of scientific progress in the country. Additionally, he stated that this factor has led to the inability of local companies to adapt to technological advances, resulting in Malaysia’s reduced global competitiveness.

Academic collaboration was the main theme of the second keynote address presented by Professor Robin Grime, the UK & Foreign Commonwealth Office Chief Scientific Advisor. He informed the attendees about the various international collaborations between Malaysia and the UK such as the establishment of Malaysian-based campuses by several UK universities (e.g. Newcastle University and Nottingham University). He urged for the formation of a bilateral relationship in which ideas are exchanged between Malaysia and UK, along with innovation based on the ideas gained from the partner country.

The conference hall where the plenary sessions were held.

The conference hall where the plenary sessions were held.

PANEL SESSION 1: ‘THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT IN ADVANCING SCIENCE IN MALAYSIA

The first speaker of this opening plenary panel session was Tan Sri Dr. Ahmad Tajuddin Ali who is the current President of the Academy of Science, Malaysia. He stressed the importance of the government in scientific education by striving to encourage more students to enter scientific careers. Additionally, he mentioned the role of the government in providing a proper infrastructure for scientific research. The importance of international partnerships was emphasised by the second speaker of the session, Professor Nordin Hassan, the Director for the International Council of Science (ICSU). He used the example of ocean acidification as an example of a phenomenon that requires collaboration from various national governments to study. The third speaker, Datuk Dr. Mohd Yusoff Sulaiman, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), presented the notion of innovation to address the main challenges facing our society such as those related to palm oil production. He also mentioned the need for multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary research to achieve sustainable goals. The final speaker of the session was Ms. Sherene Azura Ali, who leads the Malaysian Diaspora Outreach team at TalentCorp. She introduced TalentCorp in relation to meeting the nation’s need for talent. She stated that there are plenty of opportunities within Malaysia for overseas Malaysian graduates, particularly in the field of Biotechnology.

…insufficient local scientific expertise was a primary factor for the lack of scientific progress in the country

– Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid

PANEL SESSION 2: ‘RAISING THE STANDARDS OF ACADEMIC RESEARCH IN MALAYSIA’

The second plenary session was opened by Professor Peter Mitchell, Professor in Psychology and Dean of Science at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. He commented that the postdoctoral culture in Malaysia is underdeveloped and requires further improvement. Furthermore, he stated that the current visa laws make it difficult for foreign students and staff to enter Malaysian academic institutions. The second speaker was Dr. Charis Quay Huei Li, a junior faculty member with tenure in Physics at the Universite ParisSud. She emphasised that the political interference in academia impedes free thought and academic freedom. Additionally, she mentioned that there are administrative obstacles that prevent non-Malaysian scientists from getting long-term contracts to conduct research in the country, reducing the available pool of scientific talent. The Head of the Department of Materials at Oxford University, Professor Chris Governor, was the third speaker. He emphasised the need for UK and Malaysian academics to interact in scientific research. He stressed on the importance of hiring people based solely on merit and allowing them to work without external interference. Dr. Chan Kok Gan, a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Biological Science at Universiti Malaya (UM) and Research Coordinator at UM High Impact Research (HIR), was the final speaker. He described his experience of returning to Malaysia after studying in the UK and the differences in working conditions between the two countries. He vividly presented the difficulties he faced when working in UM, such as long delays in the delivery of materials and inadequate facilities. Additionally, he stressed the need for collaboration and networking in expanding scientific research.

 Conference participants at one of the poster sessions.

Conference participants at one of the poster sessions.

PANEL SESSION 3: ‘ACCELERATING TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER IN MALAYSIA’

The last plenary panel session star ted at approximately 3.20 pm. The first speaker, C h i e f E x e c u t i v e Officer of Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC), Dato’ Norhalim Yunus, presented the idea of a triple helix involving collaboration among three main parties: government, industry and academia. He used oil palm and rubber as examples of commodities that have successfully been commercialised due to this collaboration. He further suggested the need to apply technology transfer to allow scientific research to be more effectively translated into business. Dr. Stuart Kewley, Chairman and co-founder of the Eurasia Consortium, was the second speaker and he mainly narrated his experience in operating the Eurasia Consortium along with its associated problems. The third speaker was Dr. Rezal Ahmad who is the Chief Executive Officer of NanoMalaysia Bhd. He spoke about the strategies, objectives and applications of nanotechnology in Malaysia along with its prospects of generating income for the country. The final speaker was Professor Jose Furtado, a Professor of Zoology and the Coordinator of the Ecology Programme at University Malaya in the 1970s. In his speech, he emphasised the need for communication and collaboration between industry and universities. Additionally, he mentioned the untapped potential of biomass as biofuel and the feasibility of tapping into it for economic growth.

CONCLUSION OF THE EVENT

The conference ended with a speech given by the founder of Scientific Malaysian, Dr. Andrew Chan, who expressed his sincerest gratitude to those involved in organising the conference and to the generous conference sponsors. He also urged the attendees to be proactive to enable positive changes in the scientific culture to be engendered. Finally, the prizes for the best poster presentations were handed out and the conference concluded with a networking session and dinner at Oriel College, Oxford.

Panelists and moderators of the three plenary discusssion sessions.

Panelists and moderators of the three plenary discusssion sessions.

The conference represents an effort to address and discuss the problems currently being faced by Malaysia in its goal to advance scientifically. However, the discussion is all for naught if it is not followed by action. It is only through action that the problems addressed can be fixed, or at least alleviated. Not only must action be taken, it has to be taken effectively. For this to occur, there is a need for a radical change in the mindset of every segment of Malaysian society. The scientific advancement of a country does not rest solely on the shoulders of a few people but on everyone; everyone – parents, students, educators, scientists, government officials, investors – has the responsibility to improve the scientific situation of Malaysia. It is only when the society as a whole shoulders the responsibility of scientific advancement and takes action can our country truly achieve long-lasting economic growth.

Presentation slides from the speakers and the video recordings of the conference are available at http://conference2014.scientificmalaysian.com/

This article first appeared in the Scientific Malaysian Magazine Issue 10. Check out other articles in Issue 10 by downloading the PDF version for free here: Scientific Malaysian Magazine Issue 10 (PDF version)