What are "innovation hotspots"?
Dr Shahid, who is also World Bank economic adviser, defined innovation hotspots as urban areas that are a rich source of technological findings and has the entrepreneurship to convert some of these findings into commercial innovations. This is important to note.
Artificial innovation hotspots won't work
He made the disturbing and devastating observation that despite huge investments over the years to create such centres like Cyberjaya and Iskandar Malaysia, Malaysia has yet to produce these innovation hotspots. This is a clear indictment of the wrongheaded strategy pursued all along. The Malaysian government has been building, building and building hardware. There has been an utter disregard for the "software". Our education standards has declined appallingly.
So, can such an innovation hotspot be created? The short answer is “yes”, Dr Shahid said, but - and, please note this Najib and Idris Jala - it would probably take five to 10 years to achieve.
It would also require 3 things:
- strong political commitment from the Government,
- raising the quality of education and
- a generous research funding policy.
FDIs don't engender innovation
“Foreign direct investment can help, but thus far spillovers have been weak,’’ the good Doctor said. This is an indictment of MITI and MIDA. I've read their charter about technology transfers for years. Yet, there's nothing to show in the form of budgrafting any technological prowess to Malaysians.
What it takes to create innovation hotspots
A key ingredient to develop hotspots is to have centres of basic and applied research that generate surplus ideas and entrepreneurial talents to commercialise them.
Above and, absolutely beyond everything else is the quality of Malaysian education.
There's really nothing more important than education. Without education there is no thinking mind, no inquisitive mind.
But, education must encourage a culture of questioning, a spirit of inquisitiveness.
My concern is that our nervous Malaysian government is not confident enough and intelligent enough to open the Pandora's Box of academic freedom in local universities that will push young Malaysian minds towards an innovative mindset.
Without local unversities being permitted to push the envelope in all respects, not just in science, and technology but equally so in sociology, economics, socio-economics and political science - for, all these fields are interconnected - there will be no light at the end of the tunnel.
That is why I place some hope with what Idris Jala and his team are trying to do. And, I fervently hope that I'm not wrong to place some faith in them.
They have to review the University and University Colleges Act 1971 which has probably snuffed out 2 generations of potential. Is there a political will for this?