Editorial

Government's focus on R&D a game-changer

Friday, February 08, 2019

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Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke's announcement that the Government will make funds available in the national budget for the pursuit of research and development (R&D) as of financial year 2019/20 has warmed our hearts.

Indeed, we are equally encouraged by Minister Clarke's pronouncement that, effective September 2020, the Government will take R&D spending into account in the calculation of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

We feel a sense of satisfaction, having advocated this focus for years, with our most recent appeal made in this space last November when we argued that Jamaica can develop a vibrant science and technology industry if the Government substantially increased expenditure on R&D to State research institutions and to The University of the West Indies (UWI).

We had also suggested that the University of Technology, Jamaica should focus more keenly on technology; that more scholarships in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects should be awarded at institutions of higher learning; more attention should be placed on STEM subjects at all levels of the education system; and that there needs to be increased tax incentives for private companies to fund R&D.

Most appropriately, Dr Clarke disclosed the Government's thinking at the opening of UWI Research Days on Wednesday. Our report on his address stated that, while Minister Clarke did not disclose the amount to be set aside in the budget, he offered only that it was a “modest allocation”, and that details will be shared when the Estimates of Expenditure are tabled in Parliament next week.

We, of course, look forward to that information as we hold firm to the view that it is intuitively appealing but fallacious to argue that developing countries, especially small ones like Jamaica, are too poor to afford R&D and should therefore concentrate on acquiring the latest technology.

That view, as we have argued before, is also the antithesis of economic development, because small is a problem in some fields but not in most areas of scientific research. We also believe that adopting the latest existing technology is an attempt at catching up that can never happen because the adopting country doesn't gain a comparative advantage over other countries; and adaptation of technology cannot be a perfect match for local conditions.

Pointing to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Minister Clarke said that global spending on R&D has reached a record high of almost US$1.7 trillion, with about 10 countries accounting for 80 per cent of spending. That, he noted, was due to the fact that, as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, countries have pledged to substantially increase public and private R&D spending as well as the number of researchers by 2030.

The upshot of that commitment has been that the European Union recorded a 3.5 per cent increase in GDP, while that in the USA was 3.6 per cent.

Minister Clarke has pointed out that here in Jamaica the decision to increase spending on R&D is geared at the development of home-grown policy and innovation.

“We want to get to a place where policy is driven by research into our own unique situations,” he said.

That, we hold, is a commendable goal.


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