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A*Star to take new approach to managing R&D activities

THE Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) is changing how it manages its research activities to meet shifting needs and increasing competition.

This transformation covers aspects such as funding allocation and talent development, with different types of research and development activities to be managed and evaluated differently, said the agency.

At a press conference on Tuesday, A*Star chairman Lim Chuan Poh cited a hypothetical example of two different projects - an upstream scientific research project, and a more industry-oriented project - which are assessed with similar metrics.

Under the new system, evaluation of the upstream research or "knowledge creation", would instead be based mainly on measures such as publication, while the industry-oriented project would be evaluated in terms of industry collaboration.

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In addition, upstream research activities and multidisciplinary programmes will be funded entirely through competitive, merit-based funding. Previously, this funding approach was applied to some of these programmes.

The changes will apply from April 1, the start of A*Star's new financial year, and will not affect existing, already-funded programmes.

A*Star has 18 research units, which vary from those focused on "knowledge creation" to more industry-oriented institutes.

Organisational structures of these research units will not change, but different research bodies or activities will now fall under one of five "constructs": technology centres, research institutes, knowledge creation activities, programmes and national platforms.

Some of these research units, such as the Institute of High Performance Computing and the Singapore Bioimaging Consortium, will be considered "technology centres". Funded primarily through core funds, these research units focus on developing capabilities, for instance computer modelling, needed by collaborators and other users.

Other research units will be considered "research institutes". These are more industry-focused and will be evaluated using measures such as engagement with industry and technology transfer.

Both "technology centres" and "research institutes" may host "knowledge creation activities" and "programmes", another two constructs. Programmes are multidisciplinary, term-limited groupings of researchers dealing with specific questions. An example is the BioTransformation Innovation Programme which began in 2016.

"National platforms" - the fifth construct - refer to facilities which serve specific national needs, that are hosted and managed by A*Star, but funded nationally or by multiple public stakeholders. These include the existing National Super Computing Centre and the upcoming Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine Singapore.