Sustaining Asean's science and technology future
January-March 2016
By: Allison Sonneveld

Of course, these projects require that resources are effective. The Asean Science Fund (ASF) is the grouping’s main mechanism here, though many other opportunities exist bilaterally through initiatives such as the Asean-US Science and Technology Fellowship and the Asean-India Science and Technology Fund.

The ASF is generally used to finance COST, its subcommittees and research projects. It has successfully reached its target of around $11 million, predominantly through member contributions. Unfortunately, this is not a sizeable amount when considering the 119.9 million euros ($127 million) that the European Union allocates to the FET Flagship initiative, or even the $480 million that China pledged to Asean to reduce poverty in 2014. But while the ASF is small by these standards, Asean has recently started looking to the private sector and dialogue partners for additional support.

Asean, of course, has its own goals as a regional entity that are distinct from those of the European Union. Yet it is still worth recognizing that funding is only one component of a successful research program and does not automatically guarantee success. The Human Brain Project, one of the European Union’s flagships, encountered public controversy as its original objectives in experimental neuroscience became sidelined in favor of computer brain simulation. Likewise, its Graphene Flagship has struggled to identify commercially viable applications for its research findings.

Should Asean decide to award these kinds of competitive grants (and this is possible given that in 2012 leaders agreed to establish an Asean Innovation Fund to support projects in line with ApastI), it will also be critical to ensure quality. Some 60 percent of the submissions to the European Union’s FET Open program, for instance, are reportedly of substandard quality, although that is partly owing to the flexible guidelines used to encourage multidisciplinary submissions.

The outlook

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