To respond to industry shifts and national needs, and for scientists to have greater clarity on funding and expected research outcomes, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) will be changing the way it organises its research and development (R&D) activities.
At a press conference yesterday, A*STAR chairman Lim Chuan Poh gave the hypothetical example of two projects - a "knowledge creation" or upstream scientific research project, and an industry-oriented one - currently assessed with similar metrics.
The changes, to take effect from April 1, are set to affect 18 research institutes managed by the public sector research body.
At a press conference on Tuesday (March 27), A*STAR chairman Lim Chuan Poh said that the new arrangement will move away from the present system where “all types of research activities are funded the same way” and the “tendency is to expect the same outcome”.
For instance, activities such as a scientific research project and a more industry-oriented project may be evaluated similarly now for funding.
However, under the new system, two different R&D activities will be assessed differently, depending on factors such as how many publications are put up or the extent of industry collaboration.
While organisation structures will remain unchanged, the 18 research institutes will fall under five groupings or “constructs”, namely technology centres, research institutes, programmes, knowledge creation activities and national platforms. They are grouped according to the nature, purpose and objective of their R&D activities.
Bodies such as the Institute of High Performance Computing and the Singapore Bioimaging Consortium, for instance, will be considered “technology centres”. They will get core funds and support R&D efforts within and outside of A*STAR.
The Singapore Bioimaging Consortium, for example, supports the growth of research in the bioimaging field across Singapore institutes, universities and hospitals. In turn, this can speed up the development of biomedical research discoveries.
For research entities which are more industry-focused, such as the Skin Research Institute of Singapore and the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology, they will be grouped under “research institutes”. They get core funds, and their focus is to meet industry needs and create new industries.
Those under “programmes” include multidisciplinary groupings of researchers who deal with specific scientific or technological problems, and they will be supported by “competitive, merit-based funds”, meaning they will have to compete for funding.
Those with “knowledge creation” activities also have to bid for research funds. Their focus is on attracting and hosting top research talent, which can drive more scientific growth.
Lastly, coming under “national platforms” are bodies such as the National Supercomputing Centre and the Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine Singapore. While their facilities and expertise is hosted and managed by A*STAR, they are funded nationally or by multiple stakeholders and serve specific national needs.
This latest move by A*STAR is in line with the national priorities outlined in the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Plan 2020 (RIE 2020) that was unveiled in 2016. Under this record S$19 billion plan, there is a shift towards more competitive funding. In RIE 2015, 20 per cent of available funds were open to competition, with researchers having to bid for the money. In RIE 2020, 40 per cent of available funds would be open to competition.