EDITORIAL: R&D cuts leave the nation behind


The numbers may not lie, but they don’t necessarily tell the whole truth. This is the case of the Ministry of Science and Technology’s national science and technology survey for 2020, published on December 30. She boasted that overall technology research and development (R&D) spending was NT$718.8 billion ($25.95 billion), up 8.8%. in 2019 and surpassing NT$700 billion for the first time, while the ratio of R&D expenditure to GDP hit a record high of 3.63%.

R&D is essential to maintaining a country’s industrial competitiveness, which is why R&D expenditure in Taiwan has increased every year, from NT$307 billion in 2006. Most of it came from the business sector, which increased its share of total R&D expenditure by 67.2%. in 2006 to 82.5% in 2020, when it spent NT$593.36 billion. Public spending on R&D fell from 31.4% in 2006 to 16.8% in 2020, according to the survey.

Of the 2020 R&D expenditure, NT$512.2 billion, or 71.3%, was spent on technical development, up 10.2% from the previous year, followed by NT$156.1 billion NT$50.5 billion (21.7%) in applied research, up 4.7% year-on-year, and NT$50.5 billion (7%) in basic research, up 8.1%, according to the survey.

The ministry attributed the growing contribution of business R&D spending to the country’s success in curbing the spread of COVID-19, which has allowed economic activities to remain at normal levels, while increasing demand for health-related products. 5G, artificial intelligence of objects and remote working. and learning have boosted business R&D in the manufacture of computers, semiconductors, electronics and optical components.

The ministry did not say that the ratio of basic research to overall spending fell below 10% again for the eighth straight year, and the 7% in 2020 was a record high. The ministry has in the past acknowledged that the ratio of basic research to overall spending is lower than most countries due to government and university spending cuts, but not in its statement last month. Maybe if a problem persists long enough, the ministry sees it as unsolvable or gets used to it.

Basic research is that which requires 10 years or more to produce an innovation, and usually without any immediate specific commercial objective. While Taiwan has seen a persistent increase in spending on technical development and applied research, the country’s long-term competitiveness could be undermined by a weak commitment to basic research, which helps lay the foundation for technological innovation and industrial processing. Funding for basic research in other major economies typically amounts to 10% or more of their national R&D budget to ensure sustained science and technology research. The ratio in Taiwan has been below 10% since 2013.

After many academics complained in 2016 about cuts in public funds for basic research and criticized the government’s growing reliance on industrial technology R&D, the ministry pledged to increase spending on fundamental research by 10% per year, but the overall budget has still not rebounded to this level. . As Taiwan’s basic research lags far behind other advanced countries, the nation must rely on foreign research for innovative products and cannot become a science and technology innovation powerhouse like Israel, Japan or South Korea. South.

Taiwan’s R&D has focused on the manufacture of computers, electronics and optical components – accounting for over 70% of total R&D expenditure – with less devotion to other areas such as machinery, chemistry materials and biotechnology. This could lead to unbalanced industrial development in the economy, which would threaten the nation’s long-term competitiveness.

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