Thu, Jul 22, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Personnel woes highlighted at biotech forum

GROWTH IMPEDIMENT A shortage of top-quality manpower in high-level technology such as drug development and related sectors has the authorities looking for ways to help

By Amber Chung  /  STAFF REPORTER

A visitor looks at a DNA model at Bio Taiwan 2004, which opened yesterday at the Taipei World Trade Center. There are more than 700 booths at the exhibition, with a variety of products ranging from agriculture and medical cosmetics to health food.

PHOTO: CNA

The lack of quality, not quantity, of the nation's biotech professionals has become the bottleneck keeping the fledgling sector from moving forward, government officials said yesterday.

"The quantity [of domestic talent] is not a problem to the nation's developing biotech industry, but the quality is," Minister without Portfolio Lin Ferng-ching (林逢慶) said at a forum on the nation's biotech policy yesterday.

The forum was one of the programs held to coincide with the the four-day BioTaiwan 2004 Exhibition organized by the Taiwan Bio Industry Organization (生物產業發展協會).

The show, a significant event to the nation's biotech sector, kicked off yesterday at the first exhibition hall of the Taipei World Trade Center. It runs through Saturday.

National Science Council Deputy Chairman Liao Chun-chen (廖俊臣) agreed, adding that the sector has seen a shortage of quality manpower in high-level tech-nology, such as new drug development, and in expertise of biotech-related management or finance and legal affairs.

How to nurture local talent and attract overseas specialists are the issues the government and the industry have to address, Liao said.

Taiwan produces around 2,000 university graduates, more than 1,000 postgraduates and about 150 doctorates in the biotechnology field a year, according to figures by Ministry of Education.

In a bid to elevate the quality of these graduates, the ministry subsidizes universities that invite foreign professors and offer more courses on biotechnology-related management or legal affairs, said Liu Wen-huei (劉文惠), the ministry's higher education senior specialist

The ministry would also urge universities and graduate schools to monitor trends in the industry in order to provide students with the skills needed by the industry, she said.

Critics say education is fundamental, but may be a slow remedy for the problem at the moment.

Tight regulations on the import of foreign professionals have made it difficult for local biotech companies, Li Wen-sen (李文森), vice president with Taipei-based PharmaEssentia Corp (藥華醫藥), a bio-tech start-up specializing in pharmaceuticals, said in another biotech forum in May.

Li complained at the time about Ministry of Finance's efforts to tax experts who receive stock in lieu of payment -- a form particularly popular in the biotech sector -- saying that this has also made it difficult to lure overseas specialists.

Bowing to the pressure, the finance ministry decided in late May to conditionally delay such taxation for five years. The decision, however, only applies to the firms that are in the emerging and strategic industries approved by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and whose shares paid to experts exceeds 20 percent of their total, the finance ministry said.

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