Role of Postgraduate Research in an Efficiency-Driven Economy

26 October 2015 08:32 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The following are excerpts from the keynote address delivered by Minister of Justice and Minister of Buddha Sasana Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, President’s Counsel, at the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ Annual Research Symposium held at the Auditorium of the University of Colombo on October 25.


ccording to the Global Competitiveness Index, Sri Lanka is ranked at 73 out of 144 countries in 2014/15 and positioned at “efficiency driven stage”, where efficiency becomes the main contributory factor that drives the economy towards the next stage of development. In the Knowledge Economy Index, Sri Lanka ranked at 101 out of 145 countries in 2012, while in the Creative Productivity Index of 2014, Sri Lanka ranked at 19th out of 24 economies. In the same index, Sri Lanka’s human capital score is averaged with a ranking of 12th out of 24. According to all these indices, the country performs averagely in the provision of the knowledge-skill base and appropriate institutions. At the efficiency-driven stage of development, competitiveness is increasingly driven by higher education and postgraduate, research, efficient goods markets, well-functioning labour markets, developed financial markets, ability to harness benefits of existing technologies, and a large foreign market. As a country becomes more competitive, productivity will increase and wages will rise with advancing development. Today’s globalized economy requires countries to nurture pools of well educated workers who are able to perform complex tasks, adapt rapidly to their changing environment and to understand the evolving needs of the production system, service delivery mechanism, and institutional support system.



Efficiency at national level is a function of several factors viz: application of modem technology, human capital development, application of modem management techniques, environment management, profit sharing, good governance, maintenance of law and order, political and economic stability, protection of human rights, conflict resolution, and ethnic harmony. These conditions could only be met with a strong body of knowledge on a range of issues relating to Sri Lankan society, its culture, religion, gender, education, legal system, household income and expenditure, system of production, international relations, equity, poverty, system of public administration and local government, democratic practices, governance, etc.
Efficiency is a pre-condition in addressing Sri Lanka’s goals for rapid economic development within an overall 60-month time frame in the overall National Plan. The government’s development strategy to develop Sri Lanka as a “Knowledge-based Competitive Social Market Economy” requires applied research and knowledge generation in a wide range of disciplines. In this context, the universities have a key role to play particularly at postgraduate level. Building the economy is one of the key elements of the Five-Point Plan of the present Government. In building the economy, while several separate initiatives have been outlined, ‘accessing global markets’ has been given due prominence. This requires a high level of productive efficiency relative to our counterparts in the global economy.

 

"Today’s globalized economy requires countries to nurture pools of well educated workers who are able to perform complex tasks, adapt rapidly to their changing environment and to understand the evolving needs of the production system, service delivery mechanism, and institutional support system"



Research studies on efficient use of manpower, sustainable development, governance, human rights, conflict resolution, equity and ethnic harmony, are priority areas for long-term development. High growth and high per capita income alone do not guarantee stability, efficiency, equitable distribution of wealth and better quality of life for the entire nation. Policy makers’ and administrators’ ability to formulate policies to ensure efficient use of resources and equitable distribution of economic and welfare facilities would depend to a great extent on the availability of research findings covering wide range of socio-politico-economic and technology related issues. The government expects both public and private sector participation in realizing these expectations. From the Government sector, R&D is expected to focus on optimum use of resources, and enhancing productivity.
Postgraduate research, particularly work of an inter-disciplinary nature, is vital in developing an up-to-date body of knowledge easily accessible to policy makers, administrators and others interested in improving the socio- economic well-being of the society at large. Correct policies aimed at issues relating to efficient use of both human and physical capital, development of technology, an efficient system of administration, and participation of all stakeholder groups in long-term development could be facilitated with the support of postgraduate research studies.




An efficiency-driven economy requires economic incentives and institutional support. Such an economy comprises incentives that promote the efficient use of existing and new knowledge and the flourishing of entrepreneurship. An efficient economic system made up of firms, research centres, universities, think tanks, researchers, policy makers,  administrators, politicians, government and non-government organizations and donor communities can tap the growing stock of knowledge, adapt it to local needs, and create innovative solutions. An educated and well-trained population is capable of creating, sharing and using communication, dissemination, processing and application of information for enhancing efficiency and uplifting economic and social well-being of a wider cross section of the society.
The research and development intensity of a country is measured using different proxy measures. In terms of human resources, the number of scientists and researchers in Sri Lanka is around 190 per million of population.This is higher than that of India’s (157) and Pakistan’s (69). However, this is in stark contrast to the ratios for Singapore’s (7,000), Malaysia’s (430), and Thailand’s (330). Sri Lanka’s gross expenditure on R&D is around 0.15% and private sector participation is a mere 18%. Sri Lanka’s high-technology exports are a mere 1% of its manufactured exports while it is 24% in Thailand and 45% in Malaysia. It has very few US patents granted each year, while the royalty and licence fees received are nil.




At present, there are several public sector institutions engaged in R&D work and postgraduate research, but the quality and services of these institutions need to be improved by providing adequate resources. The science and technology sector at present is faced with several constraints:
(i)  lack of funds,
(ii) lack of well-trained professionals in R&D and postgraduate institutions,
(iii) inadequate R&D orientation of university education and
(iv) inadequate university-industry linkage.

The higher education system in Sri Lanka has not been able to realize its potential as a key contributor to the ongoing development programme for the national economy. It suffers from significant weaknesses in the areas of organizational and management effectiveness, financing, internal and external efficiency and high quality graduate output both at graduate and postgraduate level. Thus, significant attention needs to be paid to addressing issues of economic relevance, quality of graduate output, access and equity surrounding the higher education sector.


 

"The higher education system in Sri Lanka has not been able to realize its potential as a key contributor to the ongoing development programme for the national economy"



In this context, universities are expected to play a major role in developing adequate human capital for research and development, innovation, and efficient use of scarce resources through the following strategies:
(i) meet the demand for research and innovation in the private and State sectors,
(ii) attract more young graduates to pursue research careers,
(iii) attract senior researchers and innovators through appropriate incentive schemes to reverse the brain drain and
(iv) dissemination of research findings to a wider cross section of stakeholder groups in our society.

At present, Sri Lanka is confronted with several challenges: i.e. inadequate economic growth, inequity, high rate of educated youth unemployment, high level of foreign debts, inadequate export income, narrow and low-tech export base, dominance of low-value-added products and services, restoration of good governance practices, strengthening international relations, image building, etc. Strategic solutions to these issues both in the short-run and long-run would depend on the stock of human resources capable of handling these complex issues. It requires subject-specific experts as well as individuals with multi-disciplinary knowledge and skills. As predicted by the demographers the “demographic bonus” of Sri Lanka is expected to come to an end in 2017, and therefore, we need to act fast to exploit the full benefits of currently available human resources. Sri Lanka is no more a low cost production centre. It has to reorient itself towards a high value added-high skilled economy in order to compete with the emerging competitive nations in the world.




If we were to make use of all the above conducive factors for deriving the full benefits of an efficiency-driven economy, what would be crucial is an enabling environment in the domestic front. There has to be political stability with strong economic links with the world. Within the country, good governance based on human rights and ethnic harmony, rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are prerequisites. Such an environment ONLY would facilitate effectively, domestic and foreign investments for the expansion of production and increase of productivity. How are we positioned today for overcoming these challenges?
For the first time since Independence, we Sri Lankans experience a new political culture of consensus. Two principal political parties have joined hands to make lasting and sustainable national policies. The Government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickermesinghe is not only laying the foundation within the country for the necessary legal framework and the ethnic harmony but also building good relations with the entire world. We all have great hopes for professional governance with sound national policy-making in matters of national importance.


 

"Efficiency is a pre-condition in addressing Sri Lanka’s goals for rapid economic development within an overall 60-month time frame in the overall National Plan"



The role of higher learning and research institutes such as FGS has become vital in the above context. I am glad that FGS is already playing a very dynamic and a positive role in promoting objective analyses of socio-politico-economic issues through its numerous multidisciplinary programmes of research. No other evidence is required in this regard than over 70 research abstracts, a very high number covering a wide variety of issues, produced by students of FGS and included in the FGS 2015 Annual Research Brochure. Openings that have been created by the new policy environment, I hope, would certainly strengthen the role of FGS and other higher learning institutes for realizing the dreams of an efficiency- driven economy.
The history of the world is replete with examples of personages who assimilated expertise by their incisive and scholarly research and thereby discovered solutions to vexed problems. In this context, former German Chancellor Prof. Ludwig Erhard is worthy of being mentioned. He pioneered the rescuing of the German economy from the morass she had been thrust into by the World War II.
While we proudly claim that we have a very high rate of literacy, lamentably we have not explored adequate grounds in research. It was up to young British scholar Jane Russell who did a research on communal politics under the Donoughmore Constitution from 1931 to 1947. I have my serious reservation as to whether any research on communal politics has been done up to date though it is laden with facts pertaining to our economy. We might be able to attribute it to lack of adequate incentives provided for such wearisome endeavours.
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