Home / FT View Editorial/ Innovation for growth

Innovation for growth


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 14 February 2019 01:32


Sri Lanka is a country hungry for innovation. This need is twofold. On one hand innovation related industries are at the core of growth and on the other Sri Lanka’s demographic transition demands that the country progress to higher value addition faster than others in the same economic paradigm.  

As Sri Lanka’s first Social Innovation Lab, Citra, launched on Wednesday, works to strengthen institutions, build capacities of the public sector, and re-engineer public service delivery through specialised foresight and innovation tools, such as design-thinking, user-journey mapping exercises and human-centered design approaches, among others. But this is barely scratching the surface.

For starters, Sri Lanka’s expenditure on R&D is the lowest in the region. In 2010, Sri Lanka’s R&D to GDP ratio was a meagre 0.16%, and it has not risen much since then. Out of this 0.16%, only 11% was spent by universities while the rest was spread equally between Government research institutions and businesses. Unfortunately, most of this research is targeted at academic goals, rather than driven to achieve economically viable goals. Universities in Sri Lanka are also not empowered to own patents from public-funded R&D, thereby reducing the incentive to engage in this field.

In fact, academics have become so disinterested in research that most of them do pretty much anything but R&D. According to a recent survey conducted by the World Bank, academics cited the heavy academic workload, inadequate lab facilities, and a lack of facilitation with companies as significant factors for low collaboration with the industry on R&D.

In response, industry leaders believe the lack of entrepreneurial spirit among academics and the low commercialisation potential of university research are key deterrents to invest in R&D in universities. Nonetheless, companies in Sri Lanka have also not historically performed well in terms of R&D expenditure, technology absorption, and innovation, in respect to the number of patents issued. 

World Bank senior education specialist Kurt Larsen, who was one of the researchers of the study, said that unlike industrial countries like South Korea or even India, Sri Lankan companies do not have the critical mass to invest in research. According to his estimates, less than 100 local companies have the required capability. Without this commercially-driven interest, most companies prefer not to work with universities.

This has led to stagnation in relations between universities and companies, where the main type of industry-university collaboration in universities is providing company placements for students, whilst the main services offered to the industry are consultancy work. Such a rift has also reduced standards in universities, where Sri Lankan universities have primarily calcified into teaching universities. Even dynamic academics who chose to return to Sri Lanka after studying abroad would find their scope limited to teaching, with little encouragement to do industry-viable research.

Another factor that continues to ail R&D efforts in campuses is the lack of PhD holders in the university system. The World Bank report estimates less than 50% of local university academics have doctorates. PhD holders from humanities account for 33%, while those in management sciences account for only 20%, which is a telling disparity in R&D.

Establishing an ecosystem for R&D is tricky, because even with resources and a well-oiled university system, entrepreneurship can come from the unlikeliest of sources, but if a national platform is established, then more startups have a better chance of becoming viable businesses.


Share This Article

Facebook Twitter


DISCLAIMER:

1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.

COMMENTS

Today's Columnists

Withering of expectations and prospects of new ones

Friday, 21 February 2020

The election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President at the last Presidential Election can be said to have been the ultimate wish of the majority of Sinhala Buddhist people. Yet, the people were not aware that the President they were electing does not hav


Upsurge of populism

Friday, 21 February 2020

“Populism: denies the pluralism of contemporary societies. It promotes hostility to “enemies” and flirts with violence. It is generally gripped by a territorial mentality that prioritises borders and nation states against ‘foreigners’ and


Diplomatic drone strike, Indo-Lanka equation and constitutional change

Thursday, 20 February 2020

The ‘diplomatic drone strike’, the dramatic US strictures against the Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, tells us that Big Brother IS watching. This isn’t the usual suspects, its way out of their league. This is the Big League, the big b


Solar and wind power can resolve electricity crisis, early and cheaper, if allowed

Thursday, 20 February 2020

The country is facing the worst power situation in the history, with electricity generation being unable to meet the demand, with generation costs among the most expensive in the world. With the current scenario, the country cannot be expected to com


Columnists More