building facade on innovation center
The new UB Innovation Centre in Ulaanbaatar

Science, technology, and innovation as the engine for growth in Mongolia

Asia Development Bank-funded project aims to strengthen STI systems with new roadmap and investment plan

15. Oct 2019

Science, technology, and innovation (STI) are recognised as major contributors to economic and social development by leading authorities and developed economies. The greatest growth in Asian economies has been by those countries aligning STI with their social and economic priorities over the long term and integrating them into overall policy decision-making. Regrettably, Mongolia has not followed this practice and, as a result, its economic growth has lagged behind the leaders in the region. 

To address this, the Asia Development Bank funded a project to prepare a complete roadmap for the Mongolian STI sector. NIRAS delivered the roadmap which highlighted priorities such as health and human development, environment, intensive agriculture, advanced industrial technology and high technology, in line with Mongolian 2015-2030 state development policies. Implementation of the strategy will require the involvement of and close coordination among several government ministries and institutions such as the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Sports (MECSS), the Ministry of Finance; Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry; and the National Development Agency.

In its analysis, NIRAS found a need for policy initiatives to address a lack of focus and resources at a national level and inadequate linkages to national social and economic priorities. This demands commitment at the highest level and recognition that STI can deliver benefits in many policy fields while being integral to the achievement of important strategic goals. These include: Mongolia’s Sustainable Development Vision 2030, the Action Programme of the Government of Mongolia for 2016-2020, and the Three-Pillar Development Policy.

Investing in STI

In connection with the preparation of the STI roadmap, an STI Investment Plan was also drawn up, focusing on investments in physical infrastructure with essential running and staffing costs. The plan is accompanied by recommendations for the development of human resources, reform of management systems, strengthening of support institutions, provision of online portals, and the implementation of effective intellectual property rights (IPR), all of which are key to ensuring the plan will have the optimum impact. 

With respect to physical infrastructure, the plan emphasised that investment should focus on developing networks of key laboratories linked to strategic priorities and technologies, which would in turn underpin social and economic growth in Mongolia. NIRAS proposed to apply an open laboratory concept, which supports collaborative, multi-disciplinary team-based work and optimises the use of equipment and expertise. The project team identified ten key labs. Mongolia will have to establish a national system for open laboratories, including a procurement register and a database for laboratory equipment with inventory lists and procedures for keeping them up to date.

The ADB is also working with Mongolia to improve the lives of people living the
country’s ger areas, or traditional tent communities.

For STI to be effective in Mongolia. The quality of education will need to be enhanced to include research, practical skills and entrepreneurial training. NIRAS proposed curriculum reform based on innovation and entrepreneurship, especially in the technical fields, to include hands-on projects that require creative thinking. Greater collaboration and opportunities for partnership with local companies and start-ups will offer real-world experience to students.

Funding for research was another area highlighted for improvement. Existing research programmes need to be revamped to include greater collaboration between universities and the academy and commercial bodies. NIRAS also found a need for more suitable and permanent selection criteria - emphasizing the social and economic impact of research results - as well as more applicable evaluation committees to access which research should be funded. Mongolia’s STI system would gain international recognition if a larger number of international evaluators and scientists participated in the evaluation of research projects in the form of peer review. Likewise, the quality of scientific publications could also be improved through the introduction of a Quality Committee and increased training.

Two other important recommendations to strengthen STI in Mongolia included the creation of a  new national secretariat (or committee) on STI guiding the policy of an (also new) national implementation agency. Such an organisation would be responsible for the development of higher education institutions (HEIs) and ensure STI policy is aligned with the economic and social priorities of Mongolia. In addition, together with other ministries and agencies, MECSS should organise an independent unit for foresight and forecasting potentially at one of the main universities or a major research institute.