Science & technology parks -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Science & technology parks

In today’s knowledge driven world, education, science, technology and innovation are the key pillars for socio-economic development. The promotion of innovation involves several important facets that include ease of doing business, legal infra-structure to facilitate IPR and new start-up companies, access to Venture Capital funds, creation of industrial clusters, incentivisation of private sector research and development (R & D) and government technology transfer policies.

Science and technology parks (S&T parks) are a potential source of knowledge-based industries, and are increasingly viewed as an essential component of the knowledge economy. The concept of science and technology parks is embedded in clustering of knowledge producing institutions with a group of interconnected local and multinational companies. Co-location is believed to facilitate learning, technology transfer, and helps in achieving knowledge-based industrial growth. S&T parks provide office buildings, laboratory space, infrastructure facilities and expertise where new research and ideas generated by universities are tested and commercialised. Most S&T parks also host business incubators, which provide physical space, management assistance, coaching on business plans, access to capital and equipment, technology and feasibility studies for marketing.

Currently about 1,500 science and technology parks and approximately 3,000 incubators are operational worldwide and 70 percent of these are located in the developed countries. The most successful examples include the Silicon Valley, USA, the Cambridge Science Park in the UK, the Hsinchu Science and Technology Park in Taiwan, the Daedeok Science Town in South Korea and the Science and Technology Park and Biopolis in Singapore.

Two particularly demonstrative examples of the role of science and technology parks towards transformation of the economy from a low value resource base economy to a high value added knowledge base are those of Singapore and Taiwan.

Singapore science and technology park and biopolis: Singapore is a small country with a population of 4.5 million. It had per capita GDP of US$ 480 in the 1960s, which has risen to US$43,867 in the year 2010. Singapore has also attracted foreign universities such as John Hopkins and MIT to deliver their courses to Singapore’s students.

The Singapore science park was envisioned as part of its science and technology based economic vision. The park, established in 1984, has been successful in attracting multinational firms, which are required to conduct at least 50 percent of their R&D in the park. Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) created a US$1.0 billion Techno-Entrepreneurship Investment Fund to attract leading venture capital companies to support new start-ups companies in the park and provided training to venture capital professionals.

EDB also encourages joint ventures through innovation fund where EDB matches dollar for dollar up to a maximum of US$300,000. Singapore’s ICT revenue reached US$22.6 billion in 2010.The production of data storage devices accounted for half of the global total and had created 100 local companies by 2003. Singapore has the second largest cluster of aerospace maintenance, repair and overhaul activities. It also has a 70 percent market share in the manufacture of offshore oilrigs. The biopolis complex focuses on development of biotechnology and it is home to five of Singapore’s biotechnology institutes. Biopolis has attracted not only local talent but also top class international talent from abroad. International bio-medical companies, such as Novartis and Glaxo SmithKline (GSK) have established their research and manufacturing operations in the biopolis.

Hsinchu Science Park, Taiwan: Taiwan is an Island of 20 million people and had a per capita GDP of US$170 in the 1960s, which has grown to US$20,848 in 2011. The export of information technology products from Taiwan grew from US$100 million in the 1980s to over US$ 21 billion in 1999. High technology exports comprise half of Taiwan’s GDP. Taiwan’s government during 1960s-1970s was dominated by technocrats, mostly educated in the US and Japan in engineering and science subjects. Inspired by the success of Silicon Valley, they made investments in education and training of high quality technical manpower and engineers.

The emergence of Taiwan’s IT industry owes its growth to the multinational companies operating in Taiwan during the 1960s-1970s. Taiwan attracted FDI from the US and Japan by providing generous incentives and availability of highly skilled low cost labour for consumer electronics manufacturing in its export processing zones.

The Hsinchu Science Park was established in the 1980s and contributes approximately 10 percent to Taiwanese economy. The park employs 102,000 people and generates about US$28 billion in sales. Its infrastructure and educational facilities include two universities, the national Tsing Hua and National Chiao Tung and a research institute, Institute for Technology, Research and Industry (ITRI). The government supported a venture capital industry where government banks were asked to invest up to 49 percent share in joint ventures. Taiwanese Diaspora that returned from the US started their own companies in the park. The park now hosts some 300 high technology companies, 113 of which were set up by the diaspora.

The Pakistan Technology Park Disaster: In Pakistan a wonderful scheme to establish foreign universities of engineering & technology with integrated technology parks was launched in 2006. These were the Italian, French and Korean Universities/Technology Parks in Karachi, The German and Austrian Universities/Technology Parks in Lahore, The Swedish University/Technology Park in Faisalabad and the Chinese University/Technology Park in Islamabad.

Discussions were under way with the Turkish and Japanese governments for establishment of their universities/technology parks in Peshawar and Quetta. Some 60 international companies were expected to establish international R & D centres in Pakistan, and giants such as Siemens and Ericsson were agreeable to set up such centres in the German and Swedish universities, thereby providing a huge boost to our efforts to develop a knowledge based economy.

The cost of these projects was only 7 percent higher than the cost of building Pakistani universities, and they would have saved Rs100 billion annually presently spent by parents in sending their children for education abroad. The projects were approved by ECNEC in February 2008. Classes were scheduled to begin in October 2008 and plans to hire foreign faculty members had been finalised. Then disaster struck. The new government decided that Pakistan did not need this visionary network of foreign universities/technology parks and abandoned the whole scheme, much to the annoyance of the foreign countries who had done a lot of work in planning these visionary projects.

A wonderful opportunity was alas lost due to the short-sightedness of our leaders. Valiant efforts are now being made by National University of Science & Technology (Islamabad) to establish a flourishing technology park.

Prof Atta-ur-Rahman is the president, Pakistan Academy of Sciences, former federal minister for science & technology and former chairman of the Higher Education Commission. Dr S T K Naim is an expert on STI Policy and consultant at COMSTECH, Islamabad.

Source: The News