International trends of research reform

img_1287We all know that in the global knowledge economy, research is critical since no country, even the smallest one, as Castells (2009) suggested, could benefit much without it. The creation of knowledge through research and development provides a direct economic way for achieving added value, helps to improve the competitiveness of existing industries and leads to the creation of new industries, an increase in employment rates, and an increase in gross domestic product (Castells, 2009; Lebrun & Rebelo, 2006; Proenza, 2003). A strong research system, however, depends critically on the ability of universities and university systems to adjust to the role of knowledge creators and incubators for entrepreneurial activities and research training centres (Sanyal & Varghese, 2007).

In this post, I will look at what governments and higher education institutions, especially those in the developing countries, have done with regard to research.

Many countries in both the developed and developing world have taken various actions to set up some level of a national research system or improve research activities both inside and outside higher education institutions. The development of research capacity has particularly been a national policy agenda item for many developing countries. Governments in the Confucian heritage zone (Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong China, Taiwan, Singapore and Vietnam), for example, have invested a huge amount of their national budget in research (Marginson, 2011). In fact, public investment in research and world-class universities is among four key elements in their higher education model. These countries (except Vietnam) have invested a relatively higher share of their national income in research and development than have other developing countries (Sanyal & Varghese, 2007). Countries such as China (with expenditure on R&D of 1.49% of its GDP), South Korea, Taiwan (2.63%), and Singapore (2.61%) have even spent more than other OECD countries (Sanyal & Varghese, 2007).

In many other developing countries, research activity and capacity and the contribution of higher education to R&D has been little, slow, and marginalized due to a lack of financial and human resources and the absence of a research culture and a supportive research environment. In the Philippines, only 2 out of 223 higher education institutions meet the criteria for doctoral/research university categories (Salazar-Clemeña & Almonte-Acosta, 2007). In South Asian countries, the higher education sector has the smallest role in research. The contribution of higher education to R&D activities in India, for example, is a mere 2.4% of all research (Sanyal & Varghese, 2007).

Research capacity in terms of human resources is also limited. Compared with North America and Oceania, which took the first and second spot with 4,280 and 2,397 researchers per million inhabitants, respectively, Asia has only 555 researchers per million and Africa has only 73 researchers per million inhabitants (Sanyal & Varghese, 2007).

What steps have those developing countries taken to strengthen the research capacities of universities so they can better contribute to the R&D activities?

According to Sanyal and Varghese (2007), one common approach countries have undertaken is to strengthen the role of universities by encouraging and supporting them to provide initial research training through their graduate and other advanced level programs. Thailand is a good example. It has selected nine flagship public universities to upgrade as national research universities to produce research positions in advanced fields of study that could serve the community and meet national demands (Suwanwela, 2013). To support those research universities in fulfilling their duties, the Thai government has provided them with additional funding. In the meantime, the government has also focused on research capability and performance for academic promotion, career tenure, and remuneration (Suwanwela, 2013). Individual staff members have also received a large proportion of any financial returns from the exploitation of their intellectual property and from patents. Staff members are recognized and rewarded for quality research outputs such as publications and citations (Suwanwela, 2013).

Also, in the area of human resource development, Malaysia has launched programs to expand its pool of scientists and researchers through postgraduate awards and scholarships. It also enhanced its institutions, mechanisms, and programs to ensure the continual development of a talent pool engaged in R&D and innovation activities (Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation, 2012).

Another trend is the establishment of centres of excellence within universities to focus attention on specific critical areas where research is needed for the country. The Philippines has established 12 such centres across the country (Salazar-Clemeña & Almonte-Acosta, 2007). Thailand has also established Centres of Excellence as a means to build a strong foundation for research and development in nine priority science and technology areas. The Malaysian government, too, has designated the National Science and Research Council to co-ordinate publicly funded research schemes so that research efforts are aligned with national priorities (Lee, Sirat, Chang Da, & Karpudewan, 2013).

Ireland and India’s reliance on their diaspora is also considered a reliable strategy to create research facilities, establish academic links, and mobilize funds to strengthen institutional research capacities in developing countries (Sanyal & Varghese, 2007). Some countries in the East Asian region (China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong) have also had some success. For example, the Chinese government has set up a program to encourage Chinese migrants and students settled abroad to return for short visits and to involve them in their country’s development through ongoing teaching or research activities even while they are abroad (Zweig, Fung, & Han, 2008). To enable universities to play an active role in knowledge mobility and transfer, the Chinese government has also created platforms or mechanisms to allow most Chinese universities to be engaged in a unique industry-university articulation arrangement (Hayhoe et al., 2012).

To develop and improve research in its higher education institutions, developing countries such as Cambodia can learn from their own strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, they also can learn from policy and practice reforms mentioned above. photo_2017-10-22_06-29-34


Castells, M. (2009). Lecture on higher education. Unpublished manuscript, University of Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa.

Hayhoe, R., Li, J., Lin, J., & Zha, Q. (2012). Portraits of 21st Century Chinese universities: In the move to mass higher education. Dordrecht, Netherland: Springer.

Lebrun, D., & Rebelo, S. (2006). The role of universities in the economic development of Atlantic Canada: A focus on immigration. Paper presented at the 6th Atlantic Conference on the Future of Public Administration in Canada.

Lee, M. N.N., Sirat, M.,
Chang Da, W., & Karpudewan, M. (2013). Case study: The effectiveness of research and innovation management at policy and institutional levels in Malaysia. In A. Olsson, & L. Meek (Eds.), Effectiveness of research and innovation management at policy and institutional levels, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam (pp. 90-120). OECD.

Marginson, S. (2011). Higher education in East Asia and Singapore: Rise of the Confucian model. Higher Education 61(5), 587-611.

Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation. (2012), National science, technology, and policy (2013-2020). Putrajaya, Malaysia: MOSTI.

Proenza, L. M. (2003). The role of higher education in economic development. Executive Speeches, 17(3), 25-32.

Sanyal, B. C., & Varghese, N. V. (2007). Research capacity in higher education sector in developing Countries. Paris, France: UNESCO.

Salazar-Clemeña, R. M., & Almonte-Acosta, S. A (2007). Developing research culture in Philippine higher education institutions: Perspectives of university faculty. Paper presented at the Regional Seminar “Competition, Cooperation and Change in the Academic Profession: Shaping Higher Education’s Contribution to Knowledge and Research” 18-19 September 2007 Hangzhou, China.

Suwanwela, C. (2013). Case study: The effectiveness of research and innovation management at policy and institutional levels in Thailand. In A. Olsson & L. Meek (Eds.), Effectiveness of research and innovation management at policy and institutional levels, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam (pp. 121-139). OECD.

Zweig, D., Fung, C. S., & Han, D. (2008). Redefining the brain drain: China’s Diaspora option. Science, Technology & Society, 12(1), 1-33.


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