Business Times

Aligning Sri Lanka’s scientific research to achieve national objectives

By Bandula Sirimanna

Sri Lanka’s Science and Technology Research and Development (R&D) activities are now being directed towards facilitating the country’s development process. Adequate funding will be found to upgrade infrastructure facilities necessary to implement an ambitious R&D programme that will be aligned with national development goals. In an interview with the Business Times, Secretary to the Ministry of Technology and Research Dhara Wijayatilake referred to the expectation articulated in the Budget speech for 2011 which stated that all research institutions in the country must work together to contribute towards the country’s development.

She emphasized that there is a need to, firstly, identify national priorities and objectives contained in the policy documents, and thereafter to prepare plans of action that will focus on delivering results that will contribute to achieving those objectives. It is futile to expect the Treasury to fund activities that will produce outputs that will not yield the desired outcomes, she said.

“It is wrong to criticize the lack of funding if we cannot demonstrate that the programmes that we are seeking funds for, can actually produce desired results. We have limited financial resources and therefore these resources should be used to achieve identified objectives. At this point in time, funding for research that has no relevance to the achievement of national objectives cannot be expected,” she added.

Under the directions of Technology and Research Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi all the institutions under the Ministry of Technology and Research - The National Science and Technology Commission (NASTEC), National Science Foundation (NSF), Industrial Technology Institute (ITI), Arthur C. Clarke Centre for Modern Technologies (Clarke Centre), National Engineering Research and Development Centre (NERD), Institute of Fundamental Studies (IFS), National research Council (NRC), Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI) and the Sri Lanka Accreditation Board for Conformity Assessment (SLAB) and the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission, have been directed to formulate new plans of action after studying the national policy documents which are the Budget speech for 2011, the Science and Technology Policy, the 5-year Science, Technology and Innovation strategy, and the 10-year policy framework contained in the Mahinda Chinthana Vision for the future.

This will ensure that all these institutions will focus on identifying activities that will contribute to national development objectives and thereby to economic development. Requests for funding such activities can then be justified and the Secretary to the Treasury Dr. P.B. Jayasundera has assured that funding for such activities will be favourably considered.

A modern Science and Technology Park is to be established on a 56-acre block at Pitipana, Homagama which the government has made available. The Park will be modeled on the lines of similar institutions in other countries and will include an advanced technology state of the art laboratory and incubators. The laboratory will be available for use by all our researchers including those in universities and in industry.

Ms. Wijayatilake explained that the new Minister expects the institutions under the Ministry to focus on scientific research that will contribute to improving the quality of the people particularly those in the villages. The Minister has noted that research findings do not reach the people and that this gap needs to be bridged so that they can reap the benefits of research. She has also directed that there should be a focus on commercializing research. If this is not done effectively, the utility value of research is lost to the nation. The Minister has directed that urgent steps be taken to assist institutions such as the ITI, NERD Centre and the Clarke Centre to commercialize their research. A tie up with industry is needed to ensure that this is achieved.

There is already a unique public-private partnership in research and commercialization of research through the Nanotechnology initiative. NANCO which is a company owned 50% by Government and 50% by five industry partners is already engaged in research through its research arm SLINTEC, in collaboration with the five industry partners that are all blue chip companies engaged in the fields of telecommunication, agriculture, rubber and apparel. She expressed the belief that the new initiative will create a competitive environment for Sri Lankan export products in the world market. The ultimate objective is to ensure value addition to Sri Lankan export products resulting in economic benefits.

She also disclosed that a Gamma Irradiation facility is being set up at the Biyagama Export Promotion Zone at a cost of approximately Rs. 600 million. It is expected that the facility will be completed by 2012. The facility will provide sterilization and disinfestation facilities as appropriate for food, agricultural commodities and other industrial products.

The Ministry has taken measures to increase the research scientists and technologists in Sri Lanka to 7200 personnel by 2016. Currently there are about 4600 research scientists and it is not sufficient to win the economic war. The Ministry hopes to establish a full time research cadre in the universities and absorb 500 personnel per year.

According to statistics available with the Ministry of Technology and Research, Sri Lanka has 31 research institutes under nine ministries and 48 university faculties. More than 50 % of the research and development institutes are in the Western Province while the second highest number is in the Central Province. Out of those in the Central Province, more than 90 % are dedicated to agriculture research and development work.

The statistics indicate that nearly 50 % of the State research institutes are dedicated to agricultural research and development while only five are dedicated to industrial research and development and two for health research. Accordingly, the Sri Lankan university system consists of 78 hard science-related faculties with 425 departments with science laboratories in 16 state universities..

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