Taking the lead in research

From left: Jacob Lee Chor Kok, Professor Deborah Hall,Datuk Dr Mohd Azzman

From left: Jacob Lee Chor Kok, Professor Deborah Hall, Datuk Dr Mohd Azzman and Associate Professor Santha Vaithilingam

Ranked in the top 100 universities in the world, we are a full-fledged research and education institution renowned for our research outputs. And the launch of Trailblazing Research @ Monash Malaysia on 15 October 2019 stems our position as a research platform in Southeast Asia.

Curated and organised by Monash Malaysia Library, under the patronage of the Vice President (Research) Office, the exhibition showcased a collection of high impact research outputs such as monographs, journal articles and innovation awards by our researchers.

From religion to political economy to nano-therapeutics and genome sequencing, these works have impacted local communities and contributed to nation-building in Malaysia as well as in the region and the developing world.

Combining material from our library collections, award-winning innovations and online interviews, visitors had the opportunity to explore pioneering research by the university, which has contributed to new knowledge and helped advance the national and regional priorities articulated in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

In his opening speech, President and Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andrew Walker said the exhibition was an excellent effort to condense research into an accessible, exciting and engaging format.

He highlighted that academics spend a lot of time producing articles for journals and writing books, but have overlooked the fact that the root word of publication is the word 'public'. Academics need to consider how to put the 'public' back in publication.

"Academics must come up with alternative forms to make research accessible and engaging as well as ways to broadcast research to the world. And gadgets are the new tools for publication in the modern area," he said.

Delivering the keynote address for the day was Professor Mahendhiran Nair, Vice President (Research and Development), Monash University Malaysia and CEO of Monash Malaysia R&D, who highlighted that universities are the most vital resource to drive innovation.

"Universities are key enablers of innovation. Therefore we must look at broader reforms at all levels to build connectivity that is important in universities and to innovators on the ground. A strong ecosystem is required with research universities as the key players for reform and by understanding the ecosystem at state and national levels, will we be able to develop the country further," he said.

The exhibition also brought together local and international experts from education and industry in a panel session on "Trailblazing Global Innovation" who shared their perspectives on the Malaysian innovation ecosystem and its challenges.

The distinguished panellists included YM Tengku Datuk Dr Mohd Azzman Shariffadeen Tengku Ibrahim, Chairman of University Malaya's Board of Directors and Vice President of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM); Professor Deborah Hall, University of Nottingham Malaysia Vice Provost for Research & Knowledge Exchange; and Jacob Lee Chor Kok, Selangor Branch Chairman of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) Malaysia.

In the panel session, Tengku Azzman highlighted that Malaysia is not new to innovation and that palm oil was developed into an industrial product through investment in research and development.

"Following the British cess model, research was funded by the tax paid by the producers and utilised for the benefit of the industry. Today, it is the most efficient industry among other vegetable oils industries," he said.

He reminded that with the changes in the innovation landscape, it is time to embrace the post-industrial economy driven by knowledge and service. Innovation is not merely getting profits from science and technology; it must reflect social transformation, and this requires new structures to build a knowledge-driven society and economy.

Professor Hall was also aligned with his comments saying that today's challenges are different and there is a need to work in interdisciplinary ways. "Universities can partner with industries and businesses for various types of engagements that are not necessarily for commercialisation. This fosters a good research management ecosystem to support academics who engage with industry in a mutually beneficial way," she said.

Meanwhile, Lee expressed his concern about the real-life impact of research and whether research efforts translated to commercial products would remain relevant to society. He noted that funds allocated for research need to be monitored for their impact and outcome so that we know how many research works have produced commercial products and in which industry.

Fundamentally, businesses, industries and research organisations need to work together to strengthen the innovation ecosystem in Malaysia, and collaboration for sustainable development is possible when skills and talent come together and when the democratisation of knowledge takes place using opportunities of digital platforms.

"Technology itself will not bring changes, but people will and to that end, different agencies must collaborate to build an ecosystem that will drive research and innovation," Tengku Azzman said.

The Trailblazing Research exhibition is currently being held at Building 9 (level 3) until 1 November 2019.