Singapore lavishes big money on its scientists

JeCCo/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

Singapore lavishes big money on its scientists

SINGAPORE—Even as China’s economic woes cast a shadow on Asia, Singapore’s scientists are hoping for smooth sailing over the next 5 years. On 8 January, the government announced that it will spend 19 billion Singapore dollars ($13.2 billion) on R&D from 2016 to 2020. The Research Innovation Enterprise 2020 Plan, or RIE2020, is an 18% increase over the previous 5-year cycle.   

“The impact of RIE2020 overall will be very positive,” says Chorh Chuan Tan, president of the National University of Singapore and deputy chairman of the government-backed Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). “This is an assurance of sustained support for research in Singapore.”

The biggest share of spending—21% of the budget—will go to health and biomedical sciences. That will help address one of Singapore’s pressing issues: meeting the needs of a rapidly aging population. Singaporeans live an average of 82.8 years, and the fertility rate is a mere 1.25, well below the 2.1 required for population replacement. The budget is also a boost for what may be one of Singapore’s best-known science assets: A*STAR’s Biopolis research complex, a cluster of research institutes and industry labs. A*STAR’s greatest hits include a diagnostic kit for the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus in 2003 and sequencing the elephant shark genome in 2014, which provided insight into why sharks lack bones.

Another big budget priority is advanced manufacturing technologies as Singapore seeks to hone a competitive edge against China and India. Emphasis will be on boosting the aerospace, electronics, chemical, pharmaceutical, and marine sectors, as well as developing cross-disciplinary technologies in robotics and additive manufacturing. And Singapore will continue its longstanding efforts to lure foreign researchers and expatriate Singaporean scientists to relocate to the island state. 

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