THE government has set aside a record budget of S$19 billion over the next five years until 2020 to fund research, innovation and enterprise (RIE) activities in Singapore.
This amount is about 18 per cent higher than the S$16.1 billion committed under the last five-year plan, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday, after chairing the annual meeting of the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council.
What's new this time is that the proportion of the budget meant for competitive and open funding will double to 40 per cent. This is so that high standards are maintained and to ensure that the money goes to the best bids.
Mr Lee added that the government was sustaining its spending in research and development at about one per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). This proportion is more than what the UK spends and about the same as the US; it is also comparable to the level of public spending in other small research-intensive economies.
"It's what developed countries do. It's not a small sum, but it's an investment in our human talent, in the possibilities of science and what it can do to change our lives, and in our understanding of the world and human knowledge, which can be applied in many areas over many years," he said.
Speaking to reporters at the National Research Foundation's (NRF) headquarters in University Town, he was flanked by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Permanent Secretary for National Research and Development Yong Ying-I.
The NRF, a department under the Prime Minister's Office, sets the national direction for R&D by developing policies, plans and strategies for research, innovation and enterprise.
On whether it was worth spending one per cent of the country's GDP on science and technology research, Mr Lee replied that Singapore was already reaping the value of its investments over the years.
"I think, so far as we can tell, after talking to many critical observers who have experience in managing science and R&D systems, we have done well in building up an eco-system and community here," he said.
Singapore's sixth science and technology plan, RIE2020, will support and translate research, leverage science and technology to address national challenges, and build up the innovation and technology-adaption capacity of companies here.
NRF chief executive officer Low Teck Seng disclosed that a sum of S$2.5 billion would be carved out from the new budget for "white space" research - to fund promising new areas of enquiry. This is up from S$1.6 billion under RIE2015.
The NRF is also building in a renewal mechanism for funding to ensure that resources are re-prioritised to "deserving" areas such as national need, economic opportunity and competitive capabilities.
The NRF said the RIE2020 budget would be prioritised in domains where Singapore has a competitive advantage or important national needs. The four domains it has identified are advanced manufacturing and engineering, health and biomedical services, services and digital economy, and urban solutions and sustainability.
On a related note, Mr Lee said he hoped that the private sector would step up with more investment in research, which now stands at 1.5 per cent of GDP.
"For (RIE2020), our target is to go from 1.5 to 1.8 per cent. We hope to do better than the target, but it's not just the amount they spend but whether they spend it intelligently and productively. That depends on the existing companies having the right needs for research, but also depends on new companies coming in who also want to do research," he added.
DPM Teo, who is also NRF chairman, stressed that R&D is an investment in the country's future.
"It's an expression of belief in Singapore and Singapore's future. If we want to be a knowledge-based economy, which thrives on innovation and enterprise, and to build this knowledge base on which we can build the future of Singapore, then R&D is where we have to invest," he said.