Malaysian scientists: Working conditions drive them away

Source: http://www.nst.com.my/Monday/National/20061030100617

Malaysian scientists: Working conditions drive them away

This was not unrealistic as it was what he had in mind when he returned under the Returning Scientists Programme.

But what actually happened was totally unexpected: His employer was more concerned with living benefits and relocation than his research potential.

To make matters worse, he was asked to teach at the university that employed him instead of carrying out research. It was not surprising that he packed his bags after his contract ended.

This was also the case with the other 22 Malaysian scientists who had come home under the programme.

In fact, Dr Songs complaints were somewhat similar to that of 70 foreign scientists who came to Malaysia to work under the same programme.

They did not renew their contracts despite overtures by the then Science, Technology and Environment Ministry, which oversaw the programme.

The Malaysian scientists had been employed by Universiti Malaya, Mimos, Universiti Putra Malaysia and International Islamic University.

The 23 were from Canada, the United States, Singapore, Germany and the United Kingdom and were experts in pharmacology, medicine, semiconductors and engineering.

According to a Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry internal report on the exodus of the scientists, their complaints generally involved working conditions.

One of those interviewed said he had to wait a year for his grant to be approved and another three months for payment to be made.

Another complained that maintenance of research infrastructure was lacking while one respondent said his employer lacked the attitude for commercialising research.

“Collaboration between universities is difficult. It isnt easy to exchange information and ideas,” a scientist had said.

The programme, launched in 1995, was considered a failure by 1998 when the scientists left.

“Most of them, Malaysians and foreigners, left after finishing their one-year contract. They were given the option to renew, but did not,” a ministry official said.

The programme ensured allowances for housing, relocation and schooling for scientists families.

Other perks included return airfares to their home country and medical benefits.

But while the scientists might have appreciated these perks, according to the report, they complained about:

a lack of commercialisation focus;

low awareness of intellectual property rights, laws and funding;

poorly-maintained and scattered research infrastructure;

cumbersome administrative procedures to procure research equipment;

a “perceived gap” in the availability and sustainability of research funds;

slow disbursement of research funds;

a critical shortage of scientists and support staff with required research experience;

a closed environment with scientists focusing on their own research and reluctance to share experiences with other scientists outside the team or department; and,

insufficient collaboration between the industry and academia.

Ministry officials could not provide an estimate on the amount spent on the programme.