A national innovation system is set to boost R&D in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is set to implement a national innovation system as part of its aim to join the top 50 countries in the Global Innovation Index by 2030. In the 2020 edition of the index, Uzbekistan was ranked 93rd, below Kazakhstan and Iran, although the country does rank in the top 10 countries worldwide in three indicators: graduates in science and engineering, ease of starting a business, and capital investment.

The development of the system – with help from a financing project worth 50 million US dollars from the World Bank, approved this week – shows that Uzbekistan has recognised that boosting innovation and research has become ever more important given the new wave of global digitalisation and automation that is rapidly altering economies around the world, a trend that has has acquired even greater importance since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since the launch of market economy reforms several years ago, the Uzbek government has started to revamp the country’s scientific and innovative capacity.

In September 2018, it adopted a strategy for innovative development for 2019-2021, designed to improve research excellence, strengthen the links between education, science, and industry, and increase public and private investments in innovation, research and development, and modern technologies. A major outcome has been that gross expenditures in research and development are expected to quadruple from 0.2 per cent of GDP in 2018 to 0.8 per cent in 2021.

“Innovation is critical for economic growth, but also for addressing major development challenges, such as those associated with economic inclusion and social resilience, which are central to a post-pandemic recovery,” says Marco Mantovanelli, World Bank country manager for Uzbekistan. “The new project will help the government develop a market-oriented national innovation system that will stimulate collaboration between state agencies, public research organizations, and the private sector in the area of research and development, and commercialisation of scientific and innovative products and services.”

The project will improve the capacity of public research organisations (PROs) to achieve international standards of research quality and enable the commercialisation of research results. Senior and junior researchers from local universities or research institutes will be able to get grants to implement up to 50 research and development sub-projects, including joint projects with international researchers and the private sector.

Research proposals can focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency, low-carbon technologies, and Covid-19-related topics. It is planned that up to 50 papers will be published in internationally peer-reviewed journals, based on research funded by the project.

In addition, up to 30 grants will be allocated among local firms to finance the launch of their knowledge-based start-ups and invest in research and development of new or existing innovative products and services, which they can sell locally or export. For instance, firms can apply for financing to develop medical, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology products and services.

An international expert board, consisting of distinguished foreign scientists, experienced venture capitalists, and former policymakers in the areas of science, technology, and innovations, will make decisions on financing schemes and selection of research proposals based on clear and objective criteria reflecting their scientific merit, innovative potential, social, and/or economic relevance.

The project will also invest in the modernisation of infrastructure and laboratories of selected research institutes that will be identified by the Uzbek Ministry of Innovative Development after a full assessment of all candidate institutions.

In addition, project funds will be used to develop a comprehensive legal framework regulating the issues of research and development commercialisation and innovation in Uzbekistan and implement respective institutional reforms. Among them will be the establishment of a technology transfer unit under the Ministry of Innovative Development that will assist local researchers and firms to fulfill the commercialisation potential of their scientific and innovative products and services.

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