Malaysia’s innovative ties that bind

A commitment to closer bilateral cooperation in the fields of innovation and education was among the leading outcomes of a visit to Kuala Lumpur from a delegation led by UK Prime Minister David Cameron in late July.

International cooperation is a cornerstone of Malaysia’s strategy of becoming a developed economy by 2020, Mah Siew Keong, minister in the prime minister’s department, said during a ministerial roundtable discussion at the summit, with research and development seen as key growth drivers.

“International cooperation with other developed countries is crucial, and our strong partnership with the UK has helped us a lot, not only from an economic viewpoint, but also in terms of active collaboration on science, technology and innovation,” he said.

Strategic partnerships

Cameron, on a tour of South-east Asia, was accompanied by Sajid Javid, the UK’s secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, as well as representatives from “Northern Powerhouse” businesses – companies from the north of the UK seeking to strengthen trade ties with Malaysia and other countries in the region.

Speaking at the roundtable, Javid underscored the importance of advancing the UK’s relationship with Malaysia through joint efforts in science and innovation, in line with Malaysia’s goal of becoming a regional technology powerhouse.

To that end, a five-year intergovernmental programme, known as the Newton-Ungku Omar Fund, was launched last year to promote science, technology and innovation collaboration between two countries, backed by joint funding of RM239m ($58.1m). The fund will see closer cooperation between UK-based research councils and the Malaysia Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), with a particular focus on sustainable urbanisation, Javid said.

“There has been a long history of trade links between our two countries, and now we’re going to build on that even further in the fields of science and innovation,” he said.

According to Javid, the programme will usher in a series of advanced fellowships and training, researcher mobility and institutional linkages amongst the UK’s Royal Society and Royal Academy for Engineering, the British Academy in Malaysia’s Ministry of Education, the Academy of Sciences in Malaysia and the British Council.

Reverse flow of technology

The UK also stands to benefit from the arrangement. Malaysia’s Petra Group announced plans in late July to invest RM72m ($17.4ms) in a plant to recycle used tyres, with the facility to be built in the north-east of the UK, creating up to 90 local jobs.

The plant will specialise in devulcanising waste rubber, with over 200m tyres targeted for recycling per year.

According to Petra, the recycled material has diverse industrial applications, including footwear, car mats, marine fenders, weather stripping, protective cushions and bicycle tyres, as well as retreaded tyres and sporting goods, offering investment potential in the region alongside direct employment.

Learning curve

Education was another area of focus at the summit. According to data issued by Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are some 17,000 Malaysian students enrolled in educational facilities in the UK, and five UK universities have already established campuses in Malaysia, representing one of the strongest national contingents in the country’s growing international educational market.

Christine Ennew, provost and CEO of the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, underscored the importance of the cultural blend fostered by the educational partnerships, particularly in terms of advancing scientific research and working with multinational firms.

“We’ve been able to work with the Aerospace Malaysia Innovation Centre, Rolls-Royce and Airbus, which is linked to the research being carried out by MIGHT, bringing expertise from the UK, from partners and from Malaysian industry,” Ennew said at the summit. “UK universities in Malaysia have a unique role to play in terms of bridging the two countries – we’re not British, we’re not Malaysian, we’re both.”

Build out

The international education market in Malaysia is set to see further expansion, with the British Council announcing plans in late July to open an international school in Kuala Lumpur’s Sentul West district, modelled after a similar project in Madrid.

The council has already signed a memorandum of understanding with Malaysian property development company YTL Land and Development to design plans for the campus, which will provide education aimed at Malaysian nationals with an emphasis on multilingual and multicultural learning.

According to Gavin Anderson, the British Council’s director in Malaysia, the school represents a significant step towards greater bilateral cooperation in the field of education. “Our school will take that work onto a new level, while helping to develop the next generation of Malaysian global citizens and leaders,” he told local media.

The plans for the school are part of a broader “year of education” between Malaysia and the UK in 2016, which aims to strengthen educational links between the two countries.