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Singapore, UK share similarities in economic strategies

Singapore and the UK are both focusing on science and technology for growth and prosperity

The translation of science and technology in all its diverse forms has been and will remain pivotal to the development of our businesses and government bodies.

This translation of thoughts and ideas enhances our experiences in daily life and health, as well as supports our work activities. In short, it is fundamental to how we shape and change our societies and environments.

Recent announcements and developments in the UK and Singapore has focused on the importance of science and innovation in the drive towards growth and prosperity.

I was in Singapore recently, and I was impressed with the energy and focus the Singapore authorities have invested in research and innovation.

There is much commonality in our approaches, demonstrating again that Singapore-UK is a key partnership.

In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May's "Plan for Britain" speech at Lancaster House in January set out 12 points for the future direction of the UK.

Her desire to focus on Britain as one of the best places in the world for science and innovation was one of the points.

She also spoke about the development of an industrial strategy for the UK.

There was also an announcement of an additional £229 million (S$412.6 million) for UK research and development.

This includes £126 million for a research centre at the University of Manchester for the development of materials and £103 million towards the Rosalind Franklin Institute to create a national centre of excellence for life and physical sciences.

We are also pushing forward change at an organisational level to better integrate the UK's strengths in research with the innovation process.

Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Jo Johnson has brought forward the Higher Education and Research Bill to drive innovation in the higher education sector and to put in place incentives to drive up the quality of teaching.

The Bill will also bring about the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to oversee distribution of £6 billion of research funding annually.

UKRI will bring together seven Research Councils, our innovation body Innovate UK, and parts of the Higher Education Funding Council for England to drive the coordination of research and innovation more closely.

These initiatives demonstrate clearly the UK's intention to stay competitive internationally and also the strategy to strengthen and develop our international science and innovation collaborations.

Similarly in Singapore, there has been a strong message of intent from the Government on research and innovation.

In January last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 plan, which will see $19 billion invested over five years to 2020.

This will support research and innovation activities in priority areas under four pillars: advanced manufacturing and engineering; health and biomedical sciences; urban solutions and sustainability and services and digital economy.

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In February, the Committee on the Future Economy published its recommendations of strategies that emphasised the importance of international connection; partnerships and growth; self-development and upgrading; innovation and enterprise; and the adoption of digital technologies.

It proposed the establishment of a Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) to build deep connections to global innovation and technology networks.

The GIA is envisioned to serve as "welcome centres" for Singapore-based enterprises and institutions to collaborate with partners on innovation and technology projects.

In the Singapore Budget, one of the key measures announced to help Singapore workers prepare for the changing economic landscape was the GIA programme, in which a total of $100 million will be committed to the GIA and the SkillsFuture Leadership Development Initiative.

To adapt to future changes in the economy, the Singapore Government has tailored its economic strategy towards innovation to stay ahead of the global competition.

I think it is exciting to point out how similar the second pillar of the UK's industrial strategy, Developing Skills, is to the SkillsFuture initiative, especially with its focus on life-long learning.

Perhaps this is not such a surprise - the UK's strategy states that it "draws lessons from other countries", and this certainly includes Singapore.

As shown by the policies and strategies adopted by the UK and Singapore governments, science and innovation are the keys by which the businesses of today will unlock future success.


The writer is chief scientific adviser at the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office. This article was published in The Business Times yesterday.

Economyunited kingdomSingapore