The Malta Independent 15 December 2017, Friday

Forfeiting our future

Thursday, 7 December 2017, 10:02 Last update: about 8 days ago

The news we carry today, taken from a Eurostat release only two days old, is very worrying.

The statistics say that spending on Research and Development has decreased on the part of business and on the part of government. It is only in the higher studies sector that it has increased.

Even so, however, we are still light years away from the R&D spend not just of our European counterparts but also of the other world blocs. Malta with an R&D intensity of 0.61 compared to Sweden at 3.25. And South Korea at 4.23 and Japan at 3.29.

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This means that our manufacturing outlets are progressively floating away from high tech and that our students may have the best built schools but will find great difficulties in coping and competing with their counterparts abroad.

It means too that many in the business sector seem to find greater motivation in real estate development and less in harnessing today's huge developments in industry. It also means that the government is more intent in giving supporters jobs and sinecures than in providing a cost-effective bureaucracy.

In short this all means that this generation, leaders and followers together, is forfeiting our children's future. Just as the parents who give their children all sorts of toys at Christmas and sweets whenever they demand it will not be really preparing their children for the future.

And meanwhile the sweet Korean children, the industrious children of India who have to walk for miles to get to a school, have enough motivation to get them to study hard and to excel at exams.

We cuddle our children but we are not giving them what they will need in the future.

Besides, such a low R&D spend also implies a low level, if anything at all, of R&D infrastructure, not just in the government sector but more importantly in the business sector.

We must qualify this. There are sectors, such as telephony, where Malta registered huge improvements over the past years. But that growth spurt must not remain on its own, isolated. It must be consolidated and improved.

And it must be linked to related sectors for one thing about the modern world is that it is getting ever more integrated. So it's no use focusing on one sector and letting the linkages go.

It is also important to note that the higher education institutes, mainly the university, have been increasing their spend and quite substantially too. They get little help from the government and less from the industry. We urge them to do more and to increase their contribution. After all, they may have increased their spend from 29% to 35% in ten years but their 2016 spend at 35% is far lower than Lithuania's and Portugal's 45% and even Cyprus' 42%.

What is also important is the number of students and post-graduates who choose to further their studies at more qualified and higher levels abroad. We may be concerned about a brain drain but those who go and study abroad and then return bring with them far more than they set out in the first place. 
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