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University Contributions to Research and Development

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2.0 Introduction

In this chapter we will discuss the general contribution of the university to R&D, especially in a developing country such as Malaysia. A brief historical background of university development and obstacles which cause the university to undergo various changes in order to meet the needs of the time is provided for the national development. Research concepts of established universities in the developed countries are different with the developing countries in term of the mechanics of research funding and the research fields in local universities. The various categories of research projects are carried out by universities and are based on academic and national development needs of the country. In addition, the process of transfer of new research findings by the universities to the industry is very significant for the developing countries. Nowadays, the modern university will maintain its traditional role as a learning centre and at the same time become an organization for national development through its R&D programmes.

2.1 University R&D

Research and Development (R&D) is defined as discovering new knowledge or idea about products, processes and services and then applying that knowledge or idea to create new and improved products, processes and services to fill the market needs. Research is important in advancing the human activities, and it is a vital for national development. Traditional universities emphasize mostly on education and limited to basic disciplines, whereas in research universities concentrate on innovation in addition to education. University research has been most productive when it is driven by curiosity or the search of knowledge rather than by need. The value of fundamental research is difficult to demonstrate or discover until the development of the ideas has progressed or until its application is shown. Furthermore, development investigations are much more expensive than the original fundamental research. This is because laboratory equipment is not large enough to demonstrate, as in the case of the engineering sciences, the feasibility to the industry. The applied research must be worked out to the extent where it can demonstrate its commercial value. This scaling up operation is dependent on availability of resources because of the quantity of material and space required. In spite of this, the university is now expected to be actively involved in applied research as well as basic research.

2.1.1 University Development

The word of university is a derivative from the Latin term “universitas” meaning a community or corporation which in a modern sense is associated with learning and education. In the beginning, learning was limited to theological subjects because of the strong religion influence which was in fact the cause for the creation of learning centres. Over the centuries, various transformations took place in the university purely to meet the desire of religious bodies, royalties, and revolutionaries to serve a particular purpose.

From the end of the 18th century the rise of academics and new knowledge had expanded the traditional concept of the university as a place for mainly humanistic studies. The university is no longer considered as a social factor but rather more as a development instrument. According to Professor Juma, universities and other higher learning centres are the key players in domesticating knowledge and diffusing it into the economy. But they can only accomplish this through close linkages with the private sector. Universities need to change from being conventional sources of graduates to become engines of community development. In other words, they will need to become “developmental universities”, working directly within the communities in which they are located.

In the developing countries, the main emphasis of a university has been towards teaching, particularly at the undergraduate level. The university is often viewed as a training institution for the country's manpower needs. But, fortunately such a scenario is rapidly changing as the universities in the developing countries take a more positive attitude towards research. However, one must realize that universities in the developing countries are still young and are in the early stages of development as compared to universities in the developed countries. In the developed country, research in universities has become well established and has reached a stage where it can be critically evaluated. On the other hand, new universities require priority in building their research strengths as no university can hope to become truly a learning centre of excellence without the necessary research inputs. This is because teaching and research are not independent but correspond to one another.

2.1.2 Research Capability

The level of university R&D in the developing countries in a majority of cases is not very high, basically due to the lack of properly trained manpower. Moreover, universities in developing countries are not properly equipped. The necessary research centres were established to cater the needs of certain sectors considered important for national development. The productivity growth of a country can be associated with bringing in the right technology from abroad. As an example, Japan is a world leader in licensing patents from other countries as well as patenting its own inventions. A sophisticated research base is necessary so that continuing expertise in evaluating foreign technology is available to ensure that the right technology is actually obtained. Research cannot be carried out plainly, there must be a lengthy time required to recognize and define a problem, to evaluate and implement the findings. This can minimize the unwanted or unintended research outcome and also can reduce the research cost.

In this aspect the universities in Malaysia have a major responsibility to provide quality post-graduate education to those who seek research careers. With few expectations, it is now possible to pursue post-graduate studies in all the Malaysian universities. The number of post-graduate students, both local and overseas is steadily increasing year by year. We would like to see a greater number of local candidates, but the major constraint is the lack of sponsorship. If more funds for post-graduate training are made available, either in the form of research awards or fellowships, their intake can be immediately increased. The effects will be an expansion in university research activities benefitting the national development.

As a centre of higher learning, a university should be considered as part of the overall national research network. At present, universities are left on their own to conduct research and to determine the research priority in terms of knowledge gained and the relevance to support national development. A university cannot afford to isolate itself if it is to become an agent of development for the community. It is now aware of these are the problems confronting the nation that require solution. Whether the university succeeds in fulfilling the new roles that it has to assume will also depend to a large extent on how the community at large views the present day university or reacts to the idea that a university is also a national research organization.

2.1.3 Research Budget

The funding mechanism is a major determinant of the kinds of research carried out by the research institutions. At present, nearly all the research in the universities was funded internally from annual grants provided by the Ministry of Higher Education. Two categories of funds are available to the university: (1) short term research and (2) long term research. The short term grants are provided in the form of seed money to support individual researchers doing specific research and the long term grants support broad coherent programmes and cover facilities as well as scientific personnel. With both funding mechanisms, the university while engaging in research for development can continue to pursue research in basic disciplines so that its role as a learning centre remain intact. Furthermore, the university research cannot be restricted to high technology disciplines alone. There is a real need to inject new technology into basic industry so that the existing business maintains its competitiveness.

2.1.4 Training

The process of transferring the knowledge or concepts generated at universities and elsewhere into technology has been carried out largely by the industrial users. Universities have little or no natural advantage in that process. But undergraduate and post-graduate training can be utilized as a vehicle by which new research findings can be conveyed to the outside world. To do this, curriculum development must keep pace with scientific and technological advancement. The curriculum are to be generally flexible, enabling students to plan courses which suit their interests, needs, and most of all learning ability and capacity. Graduates should be sufficiently trained to fit in with most job markets including R&D institutions. Therefore, the manpower trained by the university can be considered as a further contribution towards R&D.

2.2 The Role of Universities in R&D

The role of university in R&D plays a very great significance in national development, especially in the context of a developing country such as Malaysia. The changing role of universities can be influenced by academic strategy, industrial development and implementation.

2.2.1 Academic Strategy

In the R&D for national development, universities must act as reference centres where government agencies and the private sector can refer in times of need. For the smooth functioning of the process, collaboration between universities and external agencies must be strengthened. Universities must have good research facilities that can cater to the needs of the industries and collaboration units such as the Research and Consultancy Unit at universities where linkages can be made directly and easily whenever the need arise.

Universities must prepare themselves with the following:

A pool of expertise in every field;

Well equipped and maintained laboratories with capable technical staff to support the researchers;

Information and data banks.

In order to develop the expertise necessary for national development and growth, full support and understanding are required from government agencies and private sector. Extension courses must be encouraged, for advanced degrees or short courses, seminars, and conferences. Special short course packages jointly organized between the industry and the university can be conducted by the university. These courses can be modifying made according to the requirements of the participants and their needs.

Post-graduate research programmes are the key factor in developing centres for reference and consultation and should be given a high priority. New techniques and new developments are often directly attributable to such post-graduate programmes. Industries can provide further support in the form of research grants and also close involvement in research activities. Well equipped laboratories with good supporting facilities are very essential tools.

The jointly linkage activities between universities with government agencies and private organization are shown in a ‘pyramid' structure. A ‘pyramid' of mechanisms linkages was developed by the Organization for Economy Co-operation and Development (OCED) is shown in below:

Joint labs

Spin offs


Research Contracts

Mobility of Researchers


Conferences and expositions

Informal contacts within professional networks

Source: Organization for Economy Co-operation and Development (OCED)

Cooperation between university and private industry not only gives financial benefits but also an insight into today's international technology market to the universities and institutions (J. Lee and H.N. Win, 2004). In addition, direct relationships between university and industry can bring important competitive benefits to firms or industry sector (Chen, 1994).

Besides that, information and data stored in universities can act as resources for researchers and other interested parties such as government agencies and private sector. The universities are required to fulfill several major functions to help ensure the success of research and development in the country. Universities should act as centres for:

Imparting and expanding knowledge;

Manpower training;

Technology transfer;

Innovation and design;

Technological and scientific advancement.

The manpower needs of the country must be well understood by the universities. In the planning of manpower development, policy makers from the government agencies, private sector, and universities should work together and periodically plan their strategies and directions.

Universities are ideal centres for technology transfer. There are five reasons why universities engage in technology transfer:

To facilitate the commercialization of research for the public good

To promote economic growth

To forge closer ties to industry

To reward, retain and recruit faculty and students and

To generate income

A cost effective approach requires that training of manpower for industries be based upon local resources. Interaction between industries and universities is important. This is because the students may have industrial training to gain more knowledge when returning to the university. Another approach would be joint projects tackling problems faced by industry. As an example, the researchers from universities are able to provide suitable advice and comment to solve the problems.

2.2.2 Industrial Development

The universities should play the following major role towards the development of industries, and particularly the creation of new industries.

Research and Consultancy

With the abundance of lecturers in various specialized fields, the universities should be able to provide advisory and consultancy services. The university staff with their constant contacts with the latest technical developments should be able to provide suitable advice on problems and comment on the new ideas. They can help towards the development of certain products, market strategies, and related issues.

When an industry has a specific technical problem, the university can have a joint programme with the industry to investigate the problem. The industry can provide the necessary hardware/software and financial support while the university can use its expertise and facilities to carry out the investigation. Post-graduate students also can contribute manpower resources to industry sector.

Testing Services

There are many cases products developed or produced by industries need to be tested. The universities normally have modern and advanced laboratory facilities and should be able to provide the testing facilities. The universities can undertake calibration, confirmation of specifications, and determination of specialized parameters.

Testing services provide valuable support to the industrial sector, especially small scale industries which cannot afford testing facilities of their own. The company may even have to employ full time engineer to carry out the testing. It will not be economical to do so if the company's turnover is not high enough. If after testing products at a university deficiencies are found, the university should be in a position to provide useful suggestions towards the improvement of the products.

Product Development

The universities can also consider development of products to be manufactured by industries. The research carried out by researchers provides a mechanism to help develop new products or improve existing products for industry. Research findings of new techniques, new materials, or substitutes can also enhance product development.

Creation of New Industries

While universities should concentrate on basic research and advancement of knowledge, a technical university in a developing country should at the same time stress development and applied research. New R&D findings that are feasible can be easily adapted towards economic development. In this way; the universities can give rise to formation of new industries or give a boost to small scale industries. The industrial parks of universities, more popularly known as science parks, can be a key factor in the creation of new industries.


While the role of universities has been discussed, factors influencing the successful implementation of R&D and applications in industry should be considered.


Need for the research and development activities in universities are very important for developing countries. Such needs sustain continuing interest, effort, financing, and dedication of resources. As an examples, included the need for Malaysian agriculture to adopt cost-effective mechanization, development of local food processing machinery, and new indigenous low-cost building materials and systems, and reduction in production and maintenance costs in the manufacturing sector.


An infrastructure must be in place to sustain serious efforts in R&D activities. Infrastructure weakness in fact represents one of the major reasons why R&D, especially in technology has not been very successful in the developing country. Generally, a post-graduate program should be a major source of research activities in a university. The government should fully support and encourage universities to employ more research assistants, associates, and fellows in university.

According to the Ninth Malaysia Plan (2006-2010), the government had increased the allocation funding; RM153 million for R&D in the research universities, and hopefully such allocation funding will improve the research facilities since external funding from the private sector is very limited. This is consistent with the low priority given to R&D efforts by the private sector. The need for private sector participation in R&D is very significant. Part of this sector's contribution could be in the form of grant funding, fellowship, and possibly contract research. Joint cooperative research is also encouraged, especially in technological universities.


A well-defined national policy on R&D would greatly assist efforts in universities. There is a pool of talent in Malaysian universities but unfortunately, the resources are limited. The recent Ninth Malaysia Plan and the Industrial Master Plan have certainly put R&D efforts into focus with national needs. Research efforts should now be aligned towards national and industrial development. Formation of formal or informal Research Groups and Research Centres would greatly increase efforts in specific fields.

While research should be within national guidelines, autonomy in specific direction must be allowed. Research administration and management are best left to researchers, with minimal interference from bureaucrats. Administrative red tape must be kept to a minimum and not stand in the way of genuine R&D efforts by individuals, research groups, and research organizations, the government and its agencies must be sympathetic to the needs of such researchers and organizations.


As in any proper management scheme, there must be continuous feedback and assessment of current R&D efforts. The assessment must be based on previously identified needs.

Evaluation must be made on the progress and success of the work undertaken. Various yardsticks may be used: new scientific results, industrial discoveries, and economic impact. Let us not forget that upon conclusion of the Ninth Malaysian Plan, research allocations are to be fully evaluated against results. As in any responsibility in life, accountability for allocated research funds should be exacting. No university would shy away from this challenge, and the need to deliver would spur greater R&D efforts.

2.3 Conclusion

In conclusion, each university will need to set its own research management strategy, shaped by the currently available research talent, its areas of specialization, its networks and its role in regional economic development. In times of recession when national productivity must be competitive, the urgency of new product development and value added to local company primary commodities helps define the role of universities. R&D efforts must be aligned towards industrial development. More effort in this direction has been called for. Our opinion is that local universities should rise to this challenge and contribute positively towards realization of the national aspirations of industrialization.

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