CYBER WARRIOR

Malaysia 2016 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Datuk Dr. Ewon Ebin, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, on cyber security and fostering interest in the sciences among young people.

CyberSecurity Malaysia was established as an agency under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI). What is the importance of cyber security in today's digital age, and what role can the cyber security industry play in Malaysia's development?

The role of CyberSecurity Malaysia is to provide specialized services to ensure the security and safety of Malaysia's cyber space. It is part of our contribution toward supporting Malaysia in becoming a digital and high-income nation driven by a digital economy. Our focus, as reflected in the National Cyber Security Policy (NCSP), is on the protection of the Critical National Information Infrastructure (CNII), which governments, businesses, and citizens are highly reliant on. CNII enables the nation to function and acquire critical services. In today's global and highly competitive market place, any disruptions to the CNII, including data loss, damage, cyber attacks, and other cyber crimes, can cause anxiety and significantly impact Malaysia's economic competitiveness. Perpetrators can access information systems, or use other electronic means to launch cyber attacks against critical information infrastructure, such as financial, energy, transportation, and government operations. The online banking system and electrical distribution grid can be crippled by shutting down the control systems. Cyber attacks can sabotage airport traffic control systems and government operations can be disrupted by an attack on the national network services. This underscores the strategic role of CyberSecurity Malaysia in driving the economy to further growth by ensuring infrastructure and digital assets are safeguarded against cyber security threats.

What are some of MOSTI's initiatives to promote the development of biotechnology?

MOSTI has introduced a cluster concept to implement the National Biotechnology Policy, an initiative coordinated by the National Biotechnology Division (BIOTEK). Each cluster member provides services and facilities to support programs under the National Biotechnology Policy. These clusters provide services and facilities encompassing technology, incentives, support, awareness, talent pool, scientific discoveries, translational research, and access to industry and the capital markets. MOSTI also launched the Commercialization Year initiative in 2014 to provide the opportunity for entrepreneurs in the technology sector to commercialize their R&D products. The objectives of the Commercialization Year included targeting at least 60 R&D generated products for commercialization every year; providing a comprehensive commercialization platform, and addressing issues such as low product commercialization uptake. MOSTI met its target of commercializing 65 R&D products in 2014. In supporting the development of biotechnology in Malaysia, MOSTI provides funds for related research.

What is being done to develop and retain talent in science, technology, and innovation (STI)?

MOSTI has always recognized the importance of human capital development to achieve not only its organizational goal, but also more importantly its contribution to the national vision. At MOSTI, we have a dedicated program called the Human Capital Development for Science, Technology & Innovation (HCD STI Programme), which provides training grants to enhance competency and develop the technical expertise of our STI talent. MOSTI is the only ministry allocated with this special fund for specialized training in technical areas on top of the normal budget for generic training. This fund enables MOSTI's employees, especially those in technical service to pursue specific training within the scope of their work. Modes of implementation vary from sending people to attend certified courses to training at highly reputable research institutes, both local and overseas. We also bring in world-renowned experts to conduct customized training at respective agencies. Often, these training courses also result in a strong network between MOSTI and its agencies with international R&D institutions and regulatory bodies, leading to research collaboration, as well as knowledge and technology transfer. Through this HCD STI Programme, MOSTI has been able to nurture and enhance high-performing local experts, retain them, and simultaneously gain advanced knowledge from global experts.

What is being done to boost interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and how soon do you think the desired 60:40 ratio for STEM-to-non-STEM ratio will be achieved?

In 2010, the ratio was 25:75, and has increased to the current 42-58 STEM-to-non-STEM ratio. This shows that collective moves by the government have thus far registered change; however, much work has to be done to achieve the desired target ratio of 60:40. The supply of human resources has never been inclined toward science and technology, despite the policy introduced by the Higher Education Planning Committee in 1967. Out of a 15 million total workforce to be achieved in 2020, about 1 million (or 6%) belongs to the S&T domain and half of that at 500,000 is expected to represent the skilled worker group. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that this is the quantity of human resources in STI with tertiary education, from which a portion may be involved in R&D and pursuing PhD studies. Through MyBrain15, 60,000 PhDs are expected to be generated by this cohort by 2023. In encouraging the full utilization of MyBrain15, the age limit of MyBrain15 sponsorship has been lifted since 2012. Lukewarm interest in science among young people is largely blamed on the school system, the curriculum for teaching science, a seemingly unattractive career path, or a lack of monetary incentives. The Ministry noted that it is important to foster interest among young people, and, thus, fun and engaging activities such as the National Science Challenge are organized by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM), an agency under the MOSTI umbrella that is also one of the strategies behind ensuring that students appreciate the need for science and technology. Such efforts in strategic cooperation with the Ministry of Education and ExxonMobil are expected to enable more students to choose STEM-related subjects in university and eventually contribute to the desired target of a 60:40 STEM-to-non-STEM ratio.

What role will STI play in advancing Malaysia's human capital and socio-economic development?

In order to meet global and local STI challenges, Malaysians must be equipped with STEM knowledge to meet the increasing demand for engineers, healthcare workers, scientists, computer programmers, actuaries, and other related professions. The government has also shifted its focus to emerging technologies, such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and advanced manufacturing, as well as expanding existing STI based sectors such as oil and gas, energy, palm oil, agriculture, ICT, and electrical and electronic engineering as per the country's New Key Economic Areas (NKEAs). The Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) in Malaysia, which has identified 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs), is covering two such areas related to the technology and innovation sector, namely electronic and electrical engineering, as well as communications, content, and infrastructure. The electronic and electrical sector is one of the crucial areas of development, with Malaysia enjoying traditional strength in electronics manufacturing, as recognized by major multinational companies. The sector accounts for $10.3 billion, or 6% of GNI and $70 billion, or 40%, of total exports. It also provides approximately 522,000 jobs for skilled and semi-skilled workers.