Gov’t to push research and development

Gov’t to push research and development

Associate editor – features

Thursday, February 07, 2019

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GOVERNMENT yesterday indicated that it will make funds available in the national budget for the pursuit of research and development (R&D) as of financial year 2019/20, and that, effective September 2020, it will take research and development spending into account in the calculation of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The announcement came from Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke in the keynote address at the opening of UWI Research Days on The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona campus. He did not disclose the amount to be set aside in the budget, saying only that it was a “modest allocation”, and that details will be shared when the Estimates of Expenditure are tabled in Parliament next week.

With respect to computing R&D as a share of GDP, the minister said the move will stimulate greater investment in the sector, which will in turn drive innovation.

Referencing data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Clarke said that global spending on research and development has reached a record high of almost US$1.7 trillion, with about 10 countries accounting for 80 per cent of spending. That’s because, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, countries have pledged to substantially increase public and private R&D spending as well as the number of researchers by 2030.

The reclassification has had a positive effect on GDP where it has been applied. In the first year of its application, the European Union increased its GDP by 3.5 per cent by virtue of the inclusion of research, while the US recorded 3.6 per cent.

For Jamaica, the move represents more than the checking of the SDG box and increased economic activity. As Dr Clarke articulates it, it is seminal to the development of home-grown policy and innovation.

“We want to get to a place where policy is driven by research into our own unique situations,” said Clarke.

Pointing to inventions such as the Internet, GPS, the Google search engine, and many vaccines, all of which were financed by Government sources, Dr Clarke said, “…There’s no doubt that the spending on research by government has delivered some of the greatest innovations that we have become accustomed to in the world.

“Where fiscal space exists, the spending of government in directed ways is the source of a lot of breakthroughs,” he continued, adding that The UWI should therefore support the Government’s economic reform programme — the overarching goal of which is to limit spending on compensation and interest — to create space for investing in research.

“One of the things we need to promote and entrench in Jamaica is a culture that promotes the acquisition of human knowledge as a goal and as an end in itself; a culture built on the recognition that all knowledge, regardless of where it originated, is the inheritance of the entire human race,” Clarke argued yesterday.

Using the recent renovation of Holy Trinity Cathedral — where some 3,000 sq ft of frescoes and murals lay buried under multiple layers of paint for decades — to illustrate his point, Dr Clarke stressed that “there is no knowledge that is a threat. The days of seeing any part of knowledge as threatening must be over. All knowledge belongs to us; every piece of it. And we can appreciate all knowledge, all understanding. What we do with it is another thing, but we want to be experts in every area”.

“… The University of the West Indies has a crucial role to play in the liberation of knowledge and intellectual pursuit,” Dr Clarke said, while signalling his interest in the development by the university of a graduate course in public financial management.

UWI Research Days, which is in its 20th year, runs for three days, February 6-8.

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