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Singapore spending S$25b in next five-year R&D plan

THE government is pumping S$25 billion into its next five-year plan for research, innovation and enterprise in a continuing effort to tap science and technology to build a more resilient, sustainable and digital Singapore, create more opportunities for Singaporeans and emerge stronger in a Covid world.

The new plan (RIE 2025) and sustained investment budget, at about 1 per cent of the gross domestic product, were endorsed on Thursday night at the 12th meeting of the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The launch of RIE 2025, which will build on the progress of investments made in research and development in the past 30 years, was announced in a press statement on Friday by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also chairman of the National Research Foundation which provides support to the RIE.

Given a bigger budget - against the S$19 billion for the previous five-year plan - RIE 2025 will kick off in 2021, guiding Singapore where to put its research and development (R&D) money to meet a broader spectrum of national needs in the next five years - and to build a knowledge-based and innovation-driven economy and society.

The biggest chunk - 29 per cent or S$7.38 billion - of the budget for the latest RIE plan will be given to boost core capabilities in universities and A*Star Research Institutes. About a quarter - 26 per cent or S$6.5 billion - will go to support the expanded missions of RIE domains.

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One fifth - 21 per cent or S$5.2 billion - of the money is allocated to set up new innovation and enterprise platforms, beef up enterprise innovation capabilities and develop entrepreneurial talent. The remaining money is earmarked for talent development (9 per cent or S$2.2 billion), and to be set aside to support new programmes to respond to future needs and emerging opportunities (15 per cent or S$3.75 billion).

RIE 2025 aims to enrich Singapore's scientific base and expand its innovation and enterprise platform to translate and commercialise technology as well as increase the number of innovative firms to lead the charge into strategically key and emerging sectors to sharpen the country's competitive edge.

Broadly, it will cover four areas. In the manufacturing, trade and connectivity domain, the plan will expand its scope beyond the manufacturing sectors to raise capabilities in the trade and connectivity sectors - in aviation, sea transport, logistics and wholesale trade.

Under human health and potential, RIE 2025 will broaden its coverage to focus investments on improving human development during pregnancy and early childhood, supporting better learning outcomes and encouraging not only a longer life but also a healthy and meaningful one.

New challenges in sustainability and resilience, including climate change, smaller carbon footprints, healthy cities and the transformation of Singapore's built environment, will be tackled in investments in the urban solutions and sustainability domain.

RIE 2025 will also continue the push for a smart nation and digital economy, investing to build capabilities to prepare Singaporeans to seize opportunities in the digital space and transform local enterprises. It will further strengthen Singapore's strategic technologies to enhance its resilience and anchor Singapore's position as a trusted digital innovation hub.

The previous RIE 2020 plan has, among other things, beefed up Singapore's strengths in advanced manufacturing and engineering. Thanks to the A*Star Model Factory Initiative, real-time manufacturing environments are provided to allow companies to learn from and test new Industry 4.0 technologies.

More than 100 companies have also found backing and nearly 2,600 technologies are deployed to improve productivity and efficiency under the initiative.

What's more, RIE 2020 saw the launch of the National Robotics Programme which is pushing for the adoption, innovation and commercialisation of robotics in Singapore. Lionsbot International, a spin-off of the Singapore University of Technology and Design, became the first company to mass produce cleaning robots here.

RIE 2025 has ambition to make the manufacturing sector more capable and competitive by anchoring leading manufacturers in Singapore. An example is Swiss-based STMicroelectronics' partnership with A*star and Japan's ULVAC in opening a cutting-edge R&D line in its Singapore factory.

Singapore firms will also get more help to expand into growth markets overseas. Local research and investment firm Regentech, for instance, has tied up with A*Star to develop platform technologies in barrier films and O2 scavenging materials - and these technologies are licensed to Regentech's spin-off Aegis Packaging to manufacture. Regentech is looking to export the product with Thailand, the Philippines and Denmark as initial markets.

To beef up Singapore's connectivity and capabilities in the aviation and maritime sectors, RIE 2025 will target investments to develop even more advanced air traffic management know-how and drive the automation and digitalisation of airport and sea port operations.

It will also push to introduce decarbonisation technologies in the two sectors.

RIE 2025 will build technology leadership to drive Singapore's smart nation ambition, anchoring the city as a trusted digital hub, boosting its capabilities in strategic areas for economic growth and resilient.

It will promote technologies like additive manufacturing to be adopted to build up enterprise resilience, responsiveness and sustainability.

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