Stop flogging a dead horse, urges MTDC chief

  • Blaming universities for low industry collaboration a pointless exercise
  • Must move to be a generator of innovation to escape the middle-income trap


Stop flogging a dead horse, urges MTDC chief


A QUESTION about the progress of the entrepreneurial ecosystem over the past 11 months sparked an intense reply from Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC) CEO Norhalim Yunus, that culminated in his urging SMEs to work with universities as the best option to help drive them up the productivity and quality value chain.

Citing a recently published OECD economic and innovation report in November that highlights Malaysia as still being an adopter and not a generator of technology or innovation with its SMEs in particular still showing low technology adoption in their operations, Halim, as he prefers to be called, says there are three paths that can be taken here. “They either buy, generate or collaborate.”

Buying technology is always an expensive proposition, he noted, while generating technology or innovation inhouse is not feasible as SMEs often don’t have the capacity. This then leads to collaboration with universities as the most logical step to take. 

Offering a helicopter overview of why a question about the progress of the ecosystem is very tough to answer, Halim, who has been leading MTDC since 2008, zooms in to university-industry collaboration – an often highlighted weakness in Malaysia.

But rather than pointing the finger at universities as being at fault, which Halim says is akin to flogging a dead horse, “We need a holistic view of the ecosystem and must recognise the roles of the various players in creating innovation, generating technology.”

He reminds us that innovation is not solely generated from university research but also with industry contributing ideas and feedback in a two-way relationship. “If we are only slamming universities then we have nothing useful to add,” he says. “So what are your ideas for collaboration? Have you made any joint research efforts? Those collaborations help bring universities up to speed with market requirements,” he says, posing questions to the industry.

Having spent his early career with the Malaysian Palm Oil Board also afforded Halim a close look at what the most successful collaborative efforts between industry and research in Malaysia. This was primarily through the Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia (Porim).

“If you look at oil palm, the sector has a long history of not just research and development (R&D) but more importantly, R&D done in close collaboration with industry. This is why our palm oil industry is where it is now, leading the world in research and innovation.”

Sadly this successful relationship has proven a one off with other industries unable to replicate the success of the palm oil sector, notes Halim. Unable to explain this failure, Halim does note that the leading oil palm plantations all had strong inhouse R&D units themselves.

Next page: The measure of success


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