SCIENCE diplomacy is basically the use of scientific collaboration among nations to address common problems and to build constructive international partnership. It transcends borders, politics, culture and religion where the universality of science is accepted by all.
One such example of science diplomacy is the Newton Fund from United Kingdom comprising matching grants given out to 18 countries around the world to promote the economic development and social welfare of either the partner countries or, through working with the partner country, to address the well-being of communities.
The fund was launched in 2014 and originally consisted of £75 million (RM422 million) each year for five years. In the 2015 UK Spending Review it was agreed to extend and expand the fund. The Newton Fund was extended from 2019 to 2021 and expanded by doubling the £75 million investment to £150 million (RM843 million) by 2021, leading to a £735 million (RM4.13 billion) in UK investment to 2021, with partner countries providing matched resources within the Fund.
Malaysia is one of the most active of the 18 Newton Fund countries, with one of the highest averages in respect of the quality of their applications. Via the Newton-Ungku Omar Fund, 18 British and Malaysian funding organisations are working together to offer funding opportunities for researchers. A total of 28 activities have been established and about 100 funding grants awarded since the fund’s inception in 2014.
New programmes rolling out this year include collaborations to improve understanding of the impacts of hydrometeorological hazards led by the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia (MoHE) and Natural Environment Research Council UK; and programmes for delivering transferable skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), focusing on transformative and high-quality collaborative projects to raise skill levels in Malaysia involving Science and Technology Facilities Council UK and MoHE.
British High Commissioner to Malaysia Vicki Treadell said UK’s motivation is not just about “how it helps our country, actually it is about our sense of global responsibility as a global citizen, a global nation.
“It is not just the government-to-government political relationship, it is about the broad spectrum of our relationship. So how do we connect with a country on science and everything that flows from that: healthcare, education, knowledge, skills, on defence engagement. We collaborate here with Wisma Putra, on a big global general issue on what we do at United Nations together. That way, it is not about what we can sell to Malaysia, or what Malaysia can invest to UK,” she said.
“Nowadays, disease does not recognise borders, extreme climate condition does not recognise borders, these are things that have a global effect. So by working together and finding solutions, it is not just for Malaysia or Britain, it is actually solutions that can help other countries, too. Cancer research, for example, is not specific to a given race or geography; there might be some cancers that are more prevalent in some regions. But they still manifest themselves in a range of countries around the world,” Treadell continued.
Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, Malaysia’s Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, said the country is seeking a role in science diplomacy.
“Many of the challenges we face today are international — whether it’s tackling climate change, or fighting disease, poverty reduction or tackling food security. That’s why it is important that we create a new role for science in international policy making and diplomacy to plays science at the heart of the programme on the international agenda,” he said.
Treadell and Zakri were participating in a panel discussion entitled “Energising International Collaborations in Science, Technology and Innovation” chaired by Academy of Sciences Malaysia president Professor Datuk Dr Asma Ismail.
Earlier on, the Weather and Climate Science for Service Partnership (WCSSP) was launched — a landmark collaboration between the UK Met Office and National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) Malaysia, Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia), National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia (NAHRIM), and Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) Malaysia.
This project aims to harness Malaysian and British scientific expertise to improve forecasts for severe weather in Malaysia and the region, to save lives and protect livelihoods.
Professor Simon Vosper of the UK Met office said the impact severe weather has in the Southeast Asia region in particular is really important.
“The weather phenomenon — severe thunderstorm, flash flooding, wind damage, landslides and storms — these occur broadly across Asia and this is why working with Malaysia is extremely important to us. Looking at Southeast Asia as a whole is a way to tackle this problem - to find the kind of advices needed, to inform on economic policy — via the understanding of severe weather and how it works.
“We have achieved great successes recently developing UK capability in the MET Office, where we implemented high resolution models which can capture the fine scale detail of weather system such as thunderstorm or cyclones. So this model was being used by the UK and internationally within partnerships to understand particular risks under a changing climate,” said Vosper.
He highlighted the complex weather in Southeast Asia makes it a challenge and this is why it is important for UK Met Office to work in partnership with hydrometeorological services and the universities in this region.
Asma, who is also the vice-chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia, ended the session by saying that collaboration is the way forward for Malaysia.
“With the collaboration that we now have with reputable universities and organisations in the UK, we can provide solutions and perhaps do something that can create sustainable change. It’s important for diplomats to understand this and for academy sciences to put forward our idea and discuss our plans for the future,” she said.