Low R&D expenditure hinders innovation and development
According to the recent Global Innovation Index 2018, published annually by Cornell University and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Switzerland is ranked as the world's most innovative country while Bangladesh ranked 116th, the lowest in South Asia. Amazingly, Switzerland holds this prestigious position unremittingly since 2011 and its capacity for innovation and the quality of its scientific research institutions are just two of the leading factors that have enabled this small alpine country to seize this peak position in the world. The performance of Bangladesh in research and innovation is found to be far lower than many LDCs and other comparable countries which is truly undesirable at a time when the country is about to graduate from an LDC and also experiencing a high growth momentum. Research and innovation are considered the warranted drivers of business and economic growth as well as social transformation. It therefore bears immense significance in both the near term and long term regardless of the size, location and condition of the country.
The SCImago Lab is one of the leading organisations which ranks the academic and research institutions of the world based on the three different sets of indicators such as research performance, innovation outputs and societal impact. In Bangladesh, only 13 ranked institutions can be found in the 2018 raking repository of SCImago Lab where above 90 percent are educational institutions. Whereas, India, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia have 271, 126, 36, 35, 25, and 19 ranked institutions respectively. During 1996-2017 Bangladeshi scientists published 38,897 citable scientific documents in referred international journals which include research articles, reviews and conference papers. During the same time, Nigeria published 71,046, Indonesia 72,146, Pakistan 1,21,836, Saudi Arabia 1,48,836, and Hong Kong 2,45,629 scientific papers in international peer-reviewed journals. The amount of scientific papers our neighbouring country India published during 1996-2017 is a thousand times higher than ours.
Now the question is why Bangladesh's performance is so poor in having ranked research organisations and scientific publications compared to other countries. The answer is obviously the lack of quality and capacity of research, researchers and the institutions. Our educational quality is not satisfactory and far below the global standard where no higher educational institute can be found in the global rank. The government extended its support for the quantitative expansion of education in the last couple of years but very little effort was given on quality assurance and research facilities at the universities. This has an adverse impact on the country's research and innovation outcome. In addition, lots of studies are carried out in Bangladesh each year by different think tanks, NGOs and universities but most of them remain unpublished in referred scientific journals due to not fulfilling the minimum research standard and publication criteria. Thus a large number of them are found to be published in the non-indexed and non-referred journals which are deemed neither scientific nor citable.
The average citation of per paper published by Bangladeshi authors during 1996-2017 is 8.85, which is surprisingly higher than Malaysia, Iran, Russia, Indonesia, India and even China. Though the figure of per paper citation is somewhat impressive, it usually happens where there is a lower number of citable papers. Before 2006, the scientific community of Bangladesh published less than 400 research papers per year in referred journals which crossed 500 in 2008. Since 2016, the total scientific publications of Bangladesh appeared 1000 per year in the international peer-reviewed journals. Though, it is very slow progress compared to similar nations, this significant achievement has remained unnoticed and under-promoted. This achievement clearly indicates the existence of a vibrant and international-standard scientific community within Bangladesh which includes scientists, researchers, academicians and development practitioners. To increase the flow of research-based knowledge generation, dissemination and innovation, they require sufficient resources and modern infrastructure which remains undetected by the government. Rather, it can be seen that knowledge and evidence generated by the scientific community often did not get proper attention and appreciation by the policymakers. If we want to increase our knowledge base and innovation footprint compared with other developing and emerging economies, the scientific community must be promoted and ample research facilities need to be provided through the allocation of public and private budgets. This will produce more capable scientists, researchers and academicians, who can create the ground for a developed and prosperous Bangladesh and transform the country into a scientifically rich and innovative nation.
Surprisingly, the reality is that, the government has not been able to come up with adequate R&D spending since our independence. Israel, Korea, Japan, Sweden and Austria are the top five countries in terms of R&D spending. In 2015, Israel, Korea, Japan, Sweden and Austria spent 4.27, 4.23, 3.28, 3.26 and 3.07 percent of their GDP on R&D respectively. According to the Economic Survey of India, East Asian countries like China, Japan and Korea have seen dramatic increases in R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP as they have become richer. But, even our private sector is also very reluctant to spend on R&D activities compared to the neighbours. During 2003-2016, India's automobile giant Mahindra and Mahindra's (M&M) R&D expenditure had jumped by 26 times, while its revenue increased by 10. In 2002, M&M invested one percent of its revenue in R&D and it increased to 4.5 percent in 2016.
As Bangladesh already satisfies the criteria of LDC graduation and can seize the lower-middle-income country status, innovation outputs are essential to accelerate the growth and prosperity pathway. Innovation will not come automatically; demand-driven research and testing the ideas for demonstration are essential. Since the country has started growing as a lower-middle-income country, the accessible research funds for low income countries will no longer be available for Bangladesh for which we have to be prepared. Bangladesh obviously needs to intensify its efforts to improve R&D leading by at least 1.5 percent of the GDP on R&D. A separate allocation for the R&D in the national budget is highly desirable at this juncture of Bangladesh's development.
Md Arfanuzzaman is a Program Manager of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Lead Author in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)