SECOND READING OF MAURITIUS RESEARCH COUNCIL (AMENDMENT) BILL (No1 of 2014)
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY SITTING OF TUESDAY 08 APRIL 2014
I beg to move that the Mauritius Research Council (Amendment) Bill (No1 of 2014) be read a second time.
Mr Speaker Sir, it is not surprising that members of the opposition have chosen to be absent to debate such an important piece of legislation which is intended to take Mauritius to its next level of development. This demarche has been their brand throughout history. They are the opposition which has broken the record of walk-outs among Commonwealth countries.
This absence of the opposition is a reflection of the level that they have reached. One can disagree on many issues but this one is not a political issue. It is a Bill to make Mauritius realize its potential to the maximum in the future by making full use of Science and Technology by the present and future generation. Academics and Researchers will note with sadness that the opposition could have come with constructive proposals of the Bill. But unfortunately their empty chairs show their dilemma. They cannot but congratulate the Government for these amendments meet the expectations of the nation. But they have chosen to stay away maybe because they are bankrupt of constructive ideas.
In introducing this Bill, Mr Speaker Sir, it is important to put in context the proposed amendments to the Mauritius Research Council Act. I wish to start by emphasizing the new environment and the challenges that the Mauritius Research Council will face in order to continue to support the development of innovative capacity of our academic and other research institutions.
Since the MRC was created, many of the fundamental economic and social drivers of change have evolved. There is a new world order and new pillars of economy have emerged. While sugar is no longer the main revenue generator, the ICT and financial sectors, and other wealth and job creating sectors demand a new vision to catapult these into the innovative phase in order to sharpen our competitive edge. In the world arena, safety nets and privilege treaties are increasingly being removed. The free market requires Mauritius to be innovative and to adapt a niche-market-seeker attitude. It is only by differentiating our products and services that we shall develop our competitive advantage. This, Mr Speaker Sir, calls for Innovation through innovative institutions and enterprises. These institutions, in turn, require the support of organizations such as the MRC.
Mr Speaker Sir, I wish to inform the House that in preparing the amendments to this Bill, there have been consultations with relevant stakeholders, mainly ministries, academia, private sector and research organisations.
Mr Speaker Sir, the Republic of Mauritius is fortunate to have over the years developed macroeconomic and political stability, and a market-driven economy based on assurance of private property rights, a strong and independent legal system, and a solid institutional infrastructure. Indeed, Mauritius is widely recognised by the international community for its sustained track record of democratic and good governance, a strong economic performance based on sound institutions and macroeconomic policies, despite adverse natural endowments and high vulnerability to external shocks.
Once a mono-crop economy reliant on sugar, Mauritius is today an upper-middle income country with an economy based on financial services, textile manufacturing, tourism and ICT. Indeed, under its diversification strategy, tourism and the financial sector have developed as the third and fourth pillars of the economy. The country has been consistently ranked as a top performer in terms of governance according to the Mo Ibrahim Index. Moreover, the country ……
Moreover, the country has also improved to the 19th position worldwide in the 2013 Ease of Doing Business Index, progressed to the 45th place in the Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014 and is ranked 80 out of 187 countries and territories with an HDI value of 0.737 in 2012.
In the longer term, through better mobilization of resources, joint solutions and shared knowledge, we can redefine agricultural production, make energy use more efficient, investigate other possibilities related to renewable energy and design systems to maintain our ecosystems and conserve biodiversity. We can also address emerging social issues and contribute to improve the quality of life.
Mr Speaker Sir, it is equally important for the country to continue the same strategy to reinforce existing and spearhead emerging economic sectors. The Mauritius Research Council was created to coordinate national scale Research and Development activities, through a cohesive strategy promoting collaborative research. With the collaboration ofall major research and tertiary education institutions, it has undertaken a number of innovative projects of national importance. Among these, the House will note that the Sea Water Air-Conditioning(SWAC), conceptualised by the Mauritius Research Council,which aims at cooling high rise buildings using deep sea cold water is being implemented by a local private sector and a multinational. Furthermore the House will recall that currently the Mauritius Research Council is driving the implementation of the setting up of an IIT like institution in Mauritius.The Mauritius Research Council has also recently signed anMoU with Oxford University for joint research initiatives. Achievements such as these are to be congratulated.
It is well known that countries that have invested heavily in research and development are now reaping innumerable economic and social benefits. In the same manner research has contributed to the successful development of the Sugar industry. It is vital that we continue along the same line to support innovation in other pillars of the economy. The more so as our country is evolving towards a knowledge based economy, whereby research and innovation will be critical success factors for the development of the economy and improving the quality of life.
It is against the above back-drop that I shall later elaborate the proposed changes to the Mauritius Research Council Act.
What this Bill is NOT about
However, Mr Speaker Sir, I wish first to kindly remind the House what these amendments are NOT about. The proposed amendments constitute a break from past policies and practices. In particular, are:
1. They are not about discouraging institutions from undertaking research according their specific mandates;
2. They are not about undermining academic freedom of researchers;
3. They are not about encouraging duplication of research activities.
New elements introduced
Mr Speaker Sir, this Bill is introducing fivecrucial features, intended to give a new momentum to research and development and innovation. These five features are:
1. Developing a National Strategy for Research and Development;
2. Setting up a National Research and Innovation Advisory Committee;
3. Setting up a National Research and Innovation Fund;
4. Developing a regulatory framework for private sector participation;
5. Ownership of Intellectual Property.
Let me now elaborate on these five key elements.
1. National Strategy for Research and Development and Innovation
Firstly, Mr Speaker Sir, at Clause 5, the Bill is introducing a new provision, listing new functions of the Mauritius Research Council, which did not exist previously. One of the functions of the Council, as listed in Clause 5 of the new Bill, will be the development of aNational Strategy for Research, Development and Innovation based on the economic, technological and social development needs of the countryevery five years.
Such a strategy, Mr Speaker Sir, will be formulated in consultation with all stakeholders, including the private sector and NGO’s. The formulation of the national strategy will help to avoid an uncoordinated and fragmented approach to research, create greater coherence and consistency, while increasing focus on national priority issues.
One other function of the Council as proposed in Clause 5 will be to develop a science, technology strategy. I am pleased to inform the Housethat on 20 March 2014, a national consultation, supported by UNESCO and the Science and Technology Policy Research Unit of the University of Sussex, was held with all stakeholders to reach consensus on a National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy and Strategy. The policy document will be finalised by May 2014.
2. National Research and Innovation Advisory Committee
Mr Speaker Sir, the second novel feature proposed in this Bill at Clause 8is the establishment of a National Research and Innovation Advisory Committee, consisting of local and international experts and Nobel Laureates. The House may wish to note that already five Nobel laureates have visited Mauritius –
1. Professor R. Huber
2. Professor Stiglitz
3. Professor Woodrow Clarke
4. ProfessorJean Marie Leclezio
5. Bishop Desmond Tutu visited Mauritius
Furthermore, upon directives from the Prime Minister, Mauritian students are participating every year in the highly prestigious Lindau Meetings of Nobel Laureates. This Committeeis expected to become aplatform for dialogue and consultationbetween Government, industry, academic institutions and NGO’s and to advise onthe development of research programmes relevant to national needs and collaboration in the private sector for joint research programmes and the funding of research.
The Council would identify and contact international researchers and scientists of high reputation to form part of this Committee which will meet at least once annually. In this manner, the MRC will be guided by best international practices, norms and standards.
Mr Speaker Sir, the Housemay wish to note that the Bill provides for the Chairperson of the Advisory Committeeto be someone with wide experience in research and innovation and to be designated by the Board of the MRC which will also appoint10 other membersfrom the public, private sector and international research institutions. The Board of the Council is being given sole authority to constitute this Committee in all freedom and independence.
3. Setting up of a National Research and Innovation Fund
Mr Speaker Sir,the third novel feature of this Bill is the setting-up for the first time of a national research and innovation fund which will minimise duplication of efforts while enhancing collaborative research in multidisciplinary areas. For example, seaweed projects have in the past been carried out independently by different institutions, with inevitable overlaps in the activities and outcomes. The National Research and Innovation Fund as outlined at Clause 12will consist of inter-aliagrants from Government, donations or grants from private sector, international agencies or regional bodies or from revenue derived from the sale of any products or services developed from research. The national research and innovation fund will provide a channel for private sector participation in research, similar to other countries.
Mr Speaker Sir, the creation of a centralised fund to support research and innovation has been long overdue. Most developed countrieshave similar funds which include a large component of private sector contribution. Some examples are the Finnish Innovation Fund, the National Research Foundation of South Africa and the National Research Foundation of Singapore.
Mr Speaker Sir, it is a known fact that endowment funds have been extremely useful to universities, in particular for financing research activities. Harvard University is the college with the largest endowment in USA with an endowment of $30 billion in 2012. Of the 1,141 ranked higher education institutions in USA, the average endowment was roughly $330 million. We shall, of course, aim much lower than this, but the essence is that amendments provide for such a vehicle which did not exist before.
It is our clear objective that the Mauritius Research Council will develop strong international relations and canvass support from large global and local private sector organisations to support funding. As mentioned earlier, in November 2013, the MRC signed aMoU with the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Delhi with a view to set up an IIT like institution named International Institute of Technology Research Academy. Also, the MRC, through my Ministry, succeeded in getting the commitment of the prestigious Oxford University, by way of aMoU signed in November 2013.
Mr Speaker Sir, as the Houseis aware, this Government’s commitment tothe development of a knowledge based economy, is reflected strongly in the Budget 2014:
1) Aprovision of Rs100 millionhas been made to fund research and innovation projects, including a Collaborative Research Scheme, Small Business Innovative Scheme, and research by public sector institutions through the Mauritius Research Council;
2) Rs 15 M has been provided to fund the appointment of 30 foreign faculty members to encourage cross fertilisation of ideas;
3) Rs 228Mhas been earmarked over the next five years for the development of an IIT Research Academy in Mauritius. The campus at Montagne Blanche will be put at disposal for the IIT. Funding for the infrastructure and research facilities will amount to overRs 304 m;
4) Rs 6.3 M has been voted for the setting of an IOR-ARC Chair and a SSR Chair for African studies and Rs15 M for the National Research Chairs, one of whom has already produced one patent.
4. Development of a regulatory framework for private sector participation in research and development
Mr. Speaker Sir, the contribution of the private sector is crucial for the creation of new knowledge and technological innovation. Most reports on competitiveness, have consistently shown that Mauritius needs to improve the linkage between academia and the private sector. It has to be acknowledged that the private sector has specific competencies which can contribute to research and development.Technology is evolving very fast and a good example is mobile phone technology. Existing devices are becoming obsolete in avery short span of time.
Up to now, for research and innovation in Mauritius has largely been derived from public funds. The MSIRI has been a successful example of funding research through the cess levied from sugar exports. Unfortunately, there is no such scheme for other sectors of the economy. With the exception of the sugar sector, the level of private participation in research and development has been relatively low.
It is estimated that the average expenditure on research and development in Mauritius amounts to about to 0.4 % (average of 1.2 billion rupees annually) of the GDP, whereas the expenditure in most developing countries ranges from 2 to 4%. The objective set in the national budget is to increase research funding to at least 1% by 2025.
Thus, one of the main objectives of this Bill is to encourage private sector participation in research and innovationthroughthe development of a framework for private sector participation on the governance structure of research and innovation; andencouragement of innovator ownership and commercial development of intellectual property.
Mr. Speaker Sir, I wish to inform the Housethat the World Bank is considering assistance for the development of a framework to create an enabling environment for private investors to feel confident to invest in research.
5. Ownership of Intellectual property
Mr. Speaker Sir, the fifth novel feature of this Bill is the review of the existing section on intellectual property provisions to encourage innovator ownership.
Section 12 of theMauritius Research Council Actprovides thatthe intellectual property rights for research carried out with funding from the Mauritius Research Council or a sponsor shall rest with the Council andgives the power to the Ministerto assign the intellectual property rights.
Mr Speaker Sir, I do not think it is proper for the Minister to have such an authority. To that end, Clause 10 of the Bill is proposing that this section be repealed, thus withdrawing the discretionary power of the Minister and leave it to the Council to determine and assign such rights. This highlights the shift from political decision making to collective decision making based on considerations of technological merits and business acumen. In effect, we are talking of a shift in both mentality and culture leading to openness and meritocracy.
Mr Speaker Sir, I understand that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and international Trade is currently working on the comprehensive review of the intellectual property rights legislation. Pending this review, this Bill purports to encourage innovators to own and develop commercially their intellectual property. My personal preference in this matter is to give the intellectual property to the innovator, therefore providing the incentive to develop an innovation into business reality.
Composition of Board
Mr Speaker Sir, through this Bill, we have also seized the opportunity to make the Board more representative of the major economic sectors of the economy. At Clause 6, provision is being made to include representatives of Ministries responsible for the subjects of ICT, health, environment, fisheries and one representative of institutions dealing with ocean matters. This amendment will facilitate coordination and encourage a more synergistic approach to research and innovation.
Impact of the proposed changes
Mr. Speaker Sir, allow me to explain the potential impact of the amendments to the MRC Act. The impact will concern the following four issues:
· Improving our competitive edge
· Optimising resources
· Improving the quality of research
· Consolidating past initiatives through collaborative and multi-disciplinary efforts.
1. Improving our competitive edge
Mr. Speaker, Sir, the Global Competiveness Report of 2013 underlines the need for an environment that is conducive to innovative activity and supported by both the public and the private sectors. The above five novel features presented in the Bill will enable us to build new technologies; develop extensive collaboration in research and bridge the gap between universities and industry.
Mr Speaker Sir, the European Union has placed research and innovation at the heart of its strategy to create growth and jobs.EU countries are encouraged to invest 3% of their GDP in R&D by 2020 (1% public funding, 2% private-sector investment) - this is expected to create 3.7 million jobs and increase the EU's annual GDP by nearly €800 billion.
In 2013/14, Mauritius ranked first in Sub Saharan Africa in Global Competitiveness. However,in order to move up the Competitiveness ladder, we need to improve thecapacity for innovation, the quality of scientific research including number of scientific and technical publications,company spending on R&D, University-industry collaboration, availability of scientists and engineers and number patents applications per million population.
Mr Speaker Sir, research is also vital to deal with issues such as social integration, poverty eradication, ageing population, societal dysfunctions, sustainable development, and climate change and disaster management. The amendments, Mr Speaker Sir, call for more research regarding social policy formulation and social policy evaluation.
2. Optimising resources
Mr Speaker Sir, the introduction of this Bill has also been motivated by the necessity to rationalise research and develop a more holistic approach with regard to national priorities. Currently, 19 public organisations – ministries and parastatal bodies are involved in the research.
There is need to improve coordination, avoid duplication and create a strong synergy among public and private institutions. Research and Innovation should be responsive to the needs of the economy and society as well as support policy making.
Mr Speaker Sir, I should also emphasize that while the amendments promotes coordination and optimization of resources, they, in no way, preclude other institutions in undertaking research and studies pertinent to their mandate.
3. Improving quality of research
Mr Speaker Sir, another factor which we have considered while working on this Bill, is the need to increase the level of quality research in Mauritius with a view to improving the international ranking of our research institutions. It is also very important to address the issues of research ethics and the MRC in consultation with academic and research institutions will be called upon to strengthen its Research Ethics guidelines.
In year 2012, Mauritius had 110 publications/million inhabitants,which is below countries such as South Africa with 262 publications/million inhabitants, and Singapore with 3011 publications/million inhabitants.
Based on contributions from different institutions, the current estimation for MPHIL/PhD students is 374 students registered in publicly funded Tertiary Education Institutions. You may wish to note that in 2008/9 there were 219 students registered.
The PhD production rate of Mauritius (number of PhDs/ Million of inhabitants) was 5 in 2000 and this figure rose to 17 in 2011. The rate in South Africa is 23, 43 in Brazil, 140 in USA, 221 in Australia. With the proposed amendments and additional funding, it is hoped that in the first instance, Mauritius will be among the leading African countries.
4. Consolidating past initiatives through collaborative and multi-disciplinary efforts.
Mr Speaker Sir, this Bill is complementing some of the other measures already being implemented by Government as part of an overall strategy to increase research and innovation in the country. Allow me to inform the Houseof some of themeasures taken and major achievements in the very recentyears, and which be enhanced through the proposed amendments:–
(i) a Centre for Biomedical and Biomaterials Research (CBBR) headed by Professor Jhurrywas set up in 2010 as the first multi-disciplinary research Centre and has been recognized as an ANDI (African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation) Centre of Excellence in health Innovation in October 2011;
(ii) threeNational Research Chairs – Professor Jhurry, Professor Bahorun and Professor Moheewere appointed in 2011. The Budget 2014 has made provision of Rs 6.3 M for two other national research chairs - a SSR Chair for African studies and an IOR ARC Research Chair;
(iii) the Mauritius Research Council signed a memorandum in November 2013 with IIT Delhi for the setting up of an IIT Research Academy in Mauritius. This academy will after five years, develop into a full-fledged academic Institution to be named International Institute of Technology, Mauritius. The Academy will in the first instance focus on five clusters which have been identified in collaboration with the University of Mauritius and at the end of five years, 50 persons will have obtained their PhD’s. The Academy will benefit from the services of highly qualified researchers and faculty members of the IIT Delhi.
(iv) The Mauritius Research Council, along with the partner institutions, has successfully carried out research on –
· seaweed farming in natural conditions in Mauritius and Rodrigues with a strong potential for commercial utilisation;
· 3 varieties of wheat cultivation in Mauritius since 2012 with promising results in terms of yield and quality in 2012 and 2013. This research has been carried out with the collaboration of private sector;
· the impact of wind on 4 high rise buildings in Ebene , with regards to the health and safety of the building users and safety and comfort of the pedestrians;
· use of coconut oil and Waste Vegetable Oil as substitutes to diesel for transportation in Agalega and Mauritius in 2009. One tractor is running on Coconut Oil in Agalega since November 2009;
· low cost housing prototypes in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing and Lands, through the NHDC to identify low cost housing technologies adapted to Mauritius;
· several research on social issues including work and employment, crime and safety, gender-based violence, governance, vulnerable groups, domestic violence;
· acting as the lead organization to develop and promote marine renewable energy, which is one of the seven clusters of Oceanic development identified in the Ocean Economy Strategy.Four post-graduate research scholarships awarded by MRC in the field of ocean economy.
· ethical guidelines addressing three major areas, namely: (1) the conduct of research, (2) the use of animals in research, and (3) biomedical research involving human subjects.
· Setting up of a Business Research Incubator Centre at the University Campus of Curepipe since September 2013 to provide assistance, free of charge, to young graduates and entrepreneurs willing to transform their innovative ideas into potential successful businesses.
Before concluding let me remind the House that the absence of the opposition is a missed opportunity to contribute for the future of Mauritius. History will note that when the first MRC Bill of 1992 was introduced in the House, the present Prime Minister was then the Leader of the Opposition agreed to the Bill. He made valuable contribution to the Bill regarding the autonomy, duplication, private industry participation and ethics. Now all these issues are being reinforced in the new Bill.
Mr Speaker Sir, the main thrust of this Bill lies in the introduction of the five new features aimed at strengthening the governance structure of the Mauritius Research Council, and creating a more conducive environment for researchcollaboration and innovation.
Mr Speaker Sir, as the House is aware, Government has always invested in its people. Our economic success has been the result of our investment in education – namely free primary and secondary education, widening access to tertiary education and promoting research for development.
If we are to address the future challenges to --- improve the quality of people's lives, to support the development of new industries and to remain competitive in the global knowledge economy, then we need a strong innovative and research and development-based community.
We all know that the World is going to be totally different from what it is today. We may not know exactly what it is going to be. But we know for certain that it will be shaped by Science and Technology. For our own survival and our own future it is our responsibility to prepare ourselves for the future. It is with this perspective that the amendments have to be viewed for they update the functions of the Mauritius Research Council to better equip it to meet the challenges of the future.
This Bill is responding to the need and is one of the means to prepare ourselves for the future.
With these words, I commend this Bill to the House, Thank you.