When a problem persists long enough, people either consider it unsolvable or become accustomed to it and emotionally numb. Many such problems exist in science and technology development in Taiwan.
The Ministry of Science and Technology on Aug. 2 held a roundtable conference attended by business leaders and academics to discuss the challenges facing the nation’s science and technology development. The conference, hosted by Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), was also the start of a series of meetings among government officials, industry representatives and academics in preparation for the 11th National Science and Technology Conference at the end of this year.
Although the participants were important figures, their suggestions for and criticisms of the nation’s scientific research development have failed to impress.
For instance, Minister of Science and Technology Chen Liang-gee (陳良基) said that an industry heavyweight at the conference recommended that industrial development and academic research must implement division of labor. They also suggested that government resources be invested in basic research that the private sector cannot take on and that competent people be put in charge of the work. Other suggestions included government-backed non-profit industrial organizations integrating scientific research and higher education in response to the development of an innovative economy; the government improving its assignment of agencies to oversee non-profit government organizations; and subsidies and funding for technology and personnel.
Unfortunately, not only have these and other suggestions been made at previous conferences, they have also been discussed at many academic seminars. Even though they have been acknowledged for 20 to 30 years, the issues remain unresolved, despite several changes of leadership at the ministry and its predecessor, the National Science Council.
Are they really that difficult? Take the government’s arrangement for jurisdiction over the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) and the Science Park Administration as examples: It is strange that the ministry has jurisdiction over academic research programs and national laboratories, but not over the ITRI, which focuses on forward-looking industrial technology research and development. At the same time, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which is in charge of the nation’s industrial development, has no jurisdiction over the Science Park Administration, which deals more with production than research, let alone the major science parks in Hsinchu, Taichung and Tainan.
Sectionalism and resource competition among government agencies have been major barriers to the development of science and technology in Taiwan. As nobody wants to make concessions, the problem drags on and has once again been brought up for discussion.
Over the past 30 years, the nation’s high-tech industry has developed well and made itself a major global hub for electronics, information technology and communications.
However, with increasingly fierce competition from China and other emerging nations, coupled with the rapid development of new technologies, the pressure on the local high-tech industry is rising fast.
As technology innovation and knowledge accumulation are the foundation of the nation’s sustainable development, and the conference is critical to technology investment and policy planning over the next four years, the government should make it a top priority to solve these old problems.
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