Reports

The Future of EU-Taiwan Science and Technology Cooperation

30 May 2005


The European Policy Centre held a Policy Dialogue on “The Future of EU-Taiwan Science and Technology Cooperation” featuring Chi Guo-chung, Deputy Minister of the National Science Council (NSC) Taiwan, Roger de Keersmaecker, Vice President Strategic Relations, Interuniversity Microelectronics Center (IMEC), Jan-Willem Blankert, European Commission and Philippe Vialatte, EU-Asia Science & Technology Co-operation, DG Research, European Commission. Hans Martens, Chief Executive of the EPC, chaired the meeting. The Dialogue was followed by a question and answer session. This is not an official record of the proceedings and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.

Summary

Taiwan, as one of the “tigers of the East,” had much to show Europe in the field of science and technology, panellists agreed. As the knowledge-based society develops across the globe, science and technology had become the central elements of the economic growth, Mr Chi Guo-chung said. The availability and attractiveness of well-paid jobs in science and technology encouraged students to pursue related studies and to return to the country upon spending time studying abroad. Taiwan was willing to share its experiences with the EU and engage in a constructive dialogue to the mutual benefit of both sides with respect to science and technology.

Event Report

EPC Chief Executive Hans Martens opened the Dialogue with a call to European businesses and governments to look beyond the Europe’s borders in the field of science and technology, particularly toward the “tigers in the east” such as Taiwan. Now was the time to develop a deeper exchange of views and best practice – but for that a framework needed to be established.

Chi Guo-chung, agreed and said that both Taiwan and the EU hoped to increase regular contacts and intensify cooperation. The whole world was adopting the knowledge-based economy as a goal, and science and technology were definitely one of its central elements.

He outlined the work of the NSC, with its nine ministerial departments, half-funded by government and half by industry. The NSC’s goal was to boost the information industry, financing universities and research programmes. For the last five years the NSC had concentrated on promoting academic excellence in universities through research projects in fields such as genomic medicine and in the telecom and the biotech sectors. The initiative had boosted the numbers of Taiwanese science and technology students pursuing research courses abroad, mostly in America and Japan, but these students largely returned to take up posts in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, Taiwan had spent the last 25 years developing a series of six “science parks,” also promoting high quality, high technology industries and attracting talent to the country. This north-south high-tech corridor in the country was now a valuable asset – just one of the parks, the Hsinchu Science Park, with its focus on semiconductors, now housed 384 high-tech companies on 632 hectares, producing in the process 10% of Taiwan’s energy needs he pointed out.

All of this required a financial commitment. Taiwan’s research and development budget was operating at a relatively high 2.45% of the total budget, well on the way to a 2.5% by 2006. Venture capital was the key, said the Deputy Minister, with a majority of small venture capitalists being encouraged by the carrot of a 20% government contribution.

Philippe Vialatte, specialist in EU-Asia Science and Technology Cooperation in the European Commission’s Research Directorate-General, said a very close relationship was already developing with Taiwan’s high-tech business sector. Such was Taiwan’s place in the market that Taiwanese companies had recently won three out of three Commission research tenders in the scientific research field - an “exceptional” result. “The European Union treats Taiwan as a very serious partner, one which has already achieved much of what Europe is aiming for,” he said.

Currently the emphasis in EU-Taiwan collaboration was on the mobility of researchers, something crucial to the future for both parties. On the EU side, the desire was to encourage “partnership and movement” in Taiwan, and raise awareness of the need to be more involved in joint panels paving the way for future developments.

Roger de Keersmaecker, Vice President of Strategic Relations at the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (IMEC), made clear that EU research facilities were themselves doing well, and IMEC, set by local Belgian authorities with just 70 people more than 20 years ago, was now a 1300-strong research and development stronghold, operating on projects between three and ten years ahead of industrial needs.

There had been increasing cooperation between IMEC and Taiwan’s NSC, with cooperation agreements signed last November and again less than three months ago. Taiwan’s success, he suggested, was due to a good combination of entrepreneurial culture and effective government involvement. The result was one of the deepest reserves of high-technology talent in the world.

Jan-Willem Blankert from the European Commission agreed that Taiwan had achieved the mix between the private sector and government, and he, for one, posed the question: just how do the Taiwanese do it? What is the secret?

There is no secret, Mr. Chi Guo-chung responded: it was just a question of good education. Taiwan’s education system was so popular that 50% of students went on to university or college. Further education was a routine aspiration for Taiwanese families. In Taiwan, education was the biggest government budget priority, with 21% of tax income being used to promote education. A “huge chunk” of that went on higher education in a country with 15 major national universities, all of which were guaranteed cash for research.

The icing on the cake was a jobs climate, at least in the scientific field, which encouraged these highly trained students to return home once they had spent time abroad.