Universities are urged to work more closely with industries to spawn research and development (R&D) that can lead to the creation of innovative products to benefit small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The government should also offer more support through grants and financial incentives to promote innovation for a newer generation of technology and products.
These were highlighted by the speakers of the roundtable on “Technological Challenges and Future Opportunities for SMEs in Southeast Asian Region” jointly organised by WOU and Chulalongkorn University (CU) at the WOU main campus today.
The panel speakers were Chief Transformation Officer Dr Supot Tiarawut and Director of Innovation Dr Ronnakorn Vaiyavuth of CU, along with Assoc Prof Dr Shankar Chelliah, School of Management, Universiti Sains Malaysia, and Kalai Selvan Subramaniam, co-Founder and CEO of Infinecs Systems Sdn Bhd.
Dr Supot said, “There is no significant technology transfer from themultinational companies to the local companies, neither is there R&D between industries and university, with most R&D confined within the corporate entity.”
He stated that the obstacles to innovation by SMEs in Thailand include a lack of incentives, obsolete regulations to accommodate start-ups, lack of resources, and not much R&D support from the government. “Even the big corporates do little R&D and rather shop around the world for technology instead of supporting the University to build home-grown technology.The Government should put more incentives to promote R&D.”
Dr Ronnakorn remarked that the governments of each country should allow SMEs easy access to new technology from open source and for close industry-university partnership to create innovative products for commercialisation.
Meanwhile Dr Shankar said that SMEs in Malaysia emerged as suppliers when the multinational corporations set up operations around the 1970s and due to the abundance of local natural resources. He said the Malaysian SMEs lack capital unlike Korea where there is funding support from conglomerates, government and crowdfunding. “So that’s why Samsung, Hyundai, which were SMEs in the past, have now become global players.”
He said Korea is now a leading innovator because of the revamp of their education curriculum 20 years ago, stressing on science and mathematics which are fundamentals to technology. He also declared that Malaysian university students should undertake applied research to help solve the problems faced by the community and industry, especially SMEs.
He added, “In developed countries, industries have incubators in the laboratories of universities and work together with students on applied problems, and from there they are able to commercialise the innovation.” He called on universities in Penang to build good working relationships with industry to produce and commercialise innovative products for SMEs.
Kalai Selvan informed that industries like electronics and telecommunications are dominated by MNCs and GLCs, citing barriers for SMEs in Malaysia as the lack of capital and government support, and outdated government policies that support capital expenditure rather than promote knowledge workers.
He said Malaysian universities must change their KPIs from the focus of creating employees to creating R&D which can lead to value start-ups, adding that in US, Finland, Sweden, Korea and Taiwan, most start-ups come up from the Universities. “One thing glaring in Malaysia is there is no strong connection between universities and industries. In US, most of the lecturers are scientists or engineers working in MNCs. They know what is needed in industry and so lead the research in the universities.”
He also called on the government think tanks, Ministries, and GLCs to open up procurement to help develop the local SMEs.
The roundtable was attended by about 50 people, including WOU School of Business & Administration Acting Dean Prakash Arumugam.