Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 10 News List

More UK-Taiwan projects urged

COOPERATION Science research projects conducted between universities in Britain and Taiwan are limited, but the UK's chief science advisor was upbeat about future alliances

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER

The top science adviser to the British government yesterday lauded cooperation between the UK and Taiwan, saying he hoped the two nations could co-operate more closely on research projects in the future.

"The two countries have similar strengths," David King told the Taipei Times during his visit to Taiwan yesterday. "The UK has enormous strength in science and technology and we have some great strengths in our industry such as pharmaceuticals and aerospace.

"Taiwan has developed in areas related to IT [information technology] and extremely efficient production processes. We obviously can learn from each other," he said.

Since 1999, UK research institutes have signed nine agreements with counterparts in Taiwan, and a further two are pending, senior National Science Council officials said yesterday.

The agreements include 19 research projects between the two nations, in areas as diverse as nanotechnology -- the science of creating molecule-sized machines -- biotechnology, environmental science, political science, social sciences and linguistics.

"We welcome this co-operation as it helps us to keep our research at a world level," said Wei Che-ho (魏哲和), chairman of the Cabinet-level National Science Council. "Agreements like these help our researchers to exchange ideas and advance. Our industry can also gain from technology transfers."

King's visit comes as fewer Taiwanese students hone their research skills overseas, according to statistics from the National Science Council.

In 1999, the council funded 252 research students on short-term projects overseas, of which only 21 went to the UK. This year the council funded just 199 students overseas, 18 in Britain.

Full-time post-doctorate research overseas funded by the council fell from 12 in 2001 to 10 last year, according to the council's most recent figures. None of the post-doctorate researchers chose to do their work in the UK, a fact King lamented yesterday afternoon.

"I would like to see more top-level PhD students from Taiwan going to research institutes in the UK," he said.

An added benefit of exchanges with the UK is that Taiwan can share the experiences of a more advanced economy's development in science, Wei said.

"When we talked with Sir David today, we shared experiences on science and technology policy-making," Wei said yesterday. "We got some good ideas."

One area in which the UK has seen rapid progress recently is turning research discoveries into viable businesses, according to King.

In the region around Cambridge, Oxford and London where the UK's most advanced scientific research takes place, there are 150,000 people employed in small and medium-sized high-technology enterprises, King said.

In 1997, there were only 27 spin-off companies in the three cities. That figure rose to 234 by 2001, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

The UK government has also assigned huge funds for science research. In 1997, the British budgeted ?1.45 billion (NT$89.61 billion) for research projects. This year, King and his department have ?2.4 billion to play with, and can expect a further half billion pounds by 2006.

"The message is the British government is paying for what it believes in," King said.

Taiwan has set aside NT$2 billion over the next 10 years to fund research in the two key areas of nanotechnology and biotechnology.

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