Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)

by Rahimah Moasi

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), previously known as the National Science and Technology Board until January 2002, is Singapore’s driver of scientific research. A statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), A*STAR aims to advance the economy and improve lives by growing the knowledge-intensive biomedical, research, scientific and engineering fields.1 Among the entities under the A*STAR umbrella are scientific institutes, an extensive scholarship programme and commercialisation bodies.2

History and establishment
Science Council of Singapore
The origins of A*STAR can be traced to the Science Council of Singapore, which was officially established on 30 October 1967 to develop the nation’s scientific and technological capabilities.3 The initial role of the council was predominantly advisory; its work included creating reports and recommendations related to research and development (R&D) for the then Ministry of Science and Technology.4

From the late 1960s, the council explored the creation of an R&D agency, and its functions included reviewing proposals of research projects submitted by academic staff in tertiary institutions,5 and handling research schemes introduced by the ministry to encourage research by scientists, technologists and researchers in tertiary institutions.6

Following the dissolution of the Ministry of Science and Technology in 1981, the Science Council was brought under MTI’s purview.7 In the 1980s, its role focused on creating awareness for the adoption of science and technology in Singapore,8 establishing links with the international science and technology community and agencies, as well as organising seminars and conferences.9 The council later also took over the administration of the Research and Development Assistance Scheme10 and that of Science Park at Kent Ridge.11

The council’s shift from an advisory role to having a more direct hand in steering Singapore’s R&D industry aligned with the country’s increased emphasis in the 1980s on high-tech R&D, with the manufacturing and services sectors driving the economy.12 As Singapore moved towards industry-driven R&D, the Science Council evolved accordingly.13

National Science and Technology Board
On 11 January 1991, the Science Council was upgraded to a statutory board known as the National Science and Technology Board (NSTB). Besides being responsible for all science- and technology-related policies, the NSTB was tasked with developing the necessary human resource in the relevant sectors as well as establishing and nurturing research facilities.14

The NSTB drew up the first national technology plan (NTP) in September 1991. Focusing on economically driven R&D, the NTP’s execution was spearheaded by the NSTB, and the government injected S$2 billion for its fulfilment.15 The five-year plan served as the blueprint for R&D development in nine sectors: information technology; microelectronics; electronic systems; manufacturing technology; materials technology; energy, water, environment and resources; food and agrotechnology; biotechnology; and medical sciences.16

A*STAR
In August 2000, Philip Yeo became the chairman of A*STAR and divided the organisation into two research bodies – one focusing on the biomedical field, and the other on science and engineering. The reorganisation concentrated resources by bringing together previously disparate R&D-related organisations under one umbrella, and was more strongly focused on increasing manpower in science and technology fields.17 In January 2002, the NSTB was renamed the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, or A*STAR.18

A*STAR receives a portion of the total budget of national science and technology plans in support of its initiatives.19

Mission and functions
A*STAR’s mission is to develop Singapore’s science, technology and engineering capabilities to boost the nation’s economic growth.20 The organisation achieves this in three ways: developing required manpower to advance the science and technology sectors; steering and undertaking R&D efforts to drive innovation and enhance the nation’s knowledge-based economy; and monetising R&D results.21


Manpower development
In 2003, A*STAR launched a scholarship programme known as the A*STAR Graduate Academy (A*GA) in collaboration with local schools and universities. The programme aims to expand the local pool of scientists by offering scholarships to exceptional students in the science, technology and engineering fields.22 The host of scholarships offered by the A*GA are available for the secondary level up to postdoctoral studies.23 The National Science Scholarship (NSS) programme, which was first launched in 2001 while A*STAR was still known as NSTB, is also offered as part of the A*GA.24 The launch of the NSS marked the first time that doctoral-level scholarships were awarded by the Singapore government.25


Besides growing the local talent pool, A*STAR also recruits scientists and engineers from overseas.26 With continued emphasis on the innovation sector in Singapore, the number of researchers, scientists and engineers working with A*STAR has doubled from 15,000 in 2002 to 30,000 in 2012.27 

Research and development
The Biomedical Research Council (BMRC) is one of the two main research arms of A*STAR. It was established in 2000 to support, oversee and coordinate public sector biomedical R&D activities in Singapore.28 The Biomedical Research Council (BMRC) supports, oversees and coordinates public sector biomedical R&D activities in Singapore. The research entities managed by BMRC focus on developing core research capabilities in the following core research clusters: pharmaceuticals; medical technology; biotechnology and biologics; and personal care and nutrition. BMRC helps to develop the biomedical sciences to be one of the key pillars of Singapore's economy.29


The Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) is an example of a research institute under the BMRC. Formed in 2003, IBN is the world’s first bioengineering and nanotechnology research institute. An award-winning organisation, the IBN has developed a genetic engineering technique for safer stem-cell therapy for cancer patients, among other achievements.30

The other research arm of A*STAR is the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC). SERC’s research focus is divided into the following clusters: chemicals, materials and energy; electronics; engineering; and infocommunications.31 Its research focus is divided into four clusters: chemicals, materials and energy; electronics; engineering; and infocommunications, media and computing.32

The Institute of Microelectronics and the National Metrology Centre are two of seven research institutes under SERC.33

Commercialisation, collaboration and partnership
Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd (ETPL) is A*STAR’s commercialisation arm. It manages intellectual property created by A*STAR, and facilitates technology transfer to industry.  Apart from marketing and licensing A*STAR’s technologies and managing intellectual property, ETPL also establishes and invests in spin-off business services for budding technopreneurs affiliated with A*STAR.34 As at 2010, ETPL has managed more than 2,000 patents and licensed more than 90 technologies.35


The A*STAR Joint Council (A*JC) was launched in 2007 with the aim of bridging BMRC and SERC, linking researchers across different fields for new scientific opportunities. The A*JC is also responsible for building relations with international partners and scientific agencies.36

A*STAR also supports small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) with programmes such as GET-Up (Growing Enterprises Through Technology Upgrade). GET-Up, which started in 2003 as a collaborative effort with other government agencies such as SPRING Singapore, was formed with the intention to upgrade the technological capabilities of local SMEs in order to improve their competitive edge. The main initiative of GET-Up involves the secondment of experts to SMEs in order to enhance the latter’s product development.37

Among the other organisations that A*STAR works with are the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and the National Skin Centre, researching on areas such as nutritional sciences, metabolic diseases and skin biology.38

A*STAR has also forged partnerships with various international companies from different industries such as Procter & Gamble (personal care), The Coca-Cola Company (food and beverage), and GlaxoSmithKline (pharmaceutical) to collaborate in projects via various agreements and funding programmes.39


Organisation and headquarters

The organisation's research entities and scientific centres are located primarily at Biopolis and Fusionopolis at one-north.40


Selected milestones
30 Oct 1967: Science Council of Singapore is formed.41

11 Jan 1991: Council is renewed as statutory board, NSTB.
Aug 1991: NSTB publishes the inaugural national technology plan.
Oct 2000: NSTB is divided into two councils, BMRC and SERC.
2001: NSS programme is launched.42
Jan 2002:
NSTB is renamed A*STAR. It is helmed by Philip Yeo.43

2002: The Institute for Infocomm Research is established.
2002: A*GA is established.
2003: A*STAR researchers at the Genome Institute of Singapore collaborate with Roche Diagnostics to develop a SARS detection kit during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak.44
2008: A*JC is formed.45

2010: It is announced that the government will invest $16.1 billion in R&D under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2015 Plan.
2011: A*STAR commemorates its 20th anniversary.46



Author

Rahimah Moasi




References
1. New names for boards. (2002, January 26). Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2015, April 17). A*STAR mission and vision statements. Retrieved 2019, April 25 from A*STAR website: https://www.a-star.edu.sg/About-A-STAR/Overview

2. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, p. 76. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)
3. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN); Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1967, June 29). Science Council of Singapore bill (Vol. 26). Singapore: [s.n.], col. 48. (Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN)
4. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN); Lee, H. S. (1984, November 29). Science council to spearhead thrust into high-tech business. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, p. 24. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)
6. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)
7. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, p. 32. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)
8. Glauberman, S. (1985, March 1). Council out to change attitudes towards science. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Forum to encourage medical research. (1986, October 8). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Science and technology wins more support. (1985, March 5). The Business Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Lee, H. S. (1984, November 29). Science council to spearhead thrust into high-tech business. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN); Lee, H. S. (1984, November 29). Science council to spearhead thrust into high-tech business. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, pp. 39, 43. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)
14. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, p. 45. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN); Cheong, C. (1990, August 2). Board status for Science Council. The New Paper, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Functions of new science agency. (1990, September 13). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. The National Technology Plan. (1991, September 17). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Science and Technology Board. (1991, September). Science and technology: Window of opportunities: National Technology Plan 1991. Singapore: SNP, p. iii. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)
16. The National Technology Plan. (1991, September 17). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Ministry of Trade and Industry. (2006). Science & technology plan 2010: Sustaining innovation-driven growth. Singapore: The Ministry, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING q338.9595706 SCI); Low, E. (2001, February 16). NSTB splits into 2 research councils. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, p. 66. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN); Chang, A.-L. (2001, February 16). NSTB makes ‘two-legged assets’ a priority. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Low, E. (2002, January 5). Boon Swan Foo is MD of science agency. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. National Science and Technology Board. (1996). National Science and Technology Plan: …towards 2000 and beyond. Singapore: National Science and Technology Board, p. viii. (Call no.: RSING 338.9595706 SIN); Ministry of Trade and Industry (2006). Science & technology plan 2010: Sustaining innovation-driven growth. Singapore: The Ministry, [n.p.] “Foreword”. (Call no.: RSING q338.9595706 SCI); Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). STEP 2015: Science, Technology & Enterprise Plan 2015, pp. 2, 6. Retrieved from A*STAR website: http://www.a-star.edu.sg/portals/0/media/otherpubs/step2015_1jun.pdf;
20. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2015, April 17). A*STAR mission and vision statements. Retrieved 2019, April 25 from A*STAR website: https://www.a-star.edu.sg/About-A-STAR/Overview
21. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2009, October 17). Strategic thrusts. Retrieved 2019, April 25 from A*STAR website: https://www.a-star.edu.sg/About-A-STAR/Overview
22. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (n.d.). Scholarships & attachments. Retrieved 2019, April 25 from A*STAR website: https://www.a-star.edu.sg/Scholarships/Overview; Want a $380,000 scholarship? (2003, January 4). Today, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Choudhury, A. R. (2015, March 20). A*Star gets S$380m of R&D investment from industry. The Business Times. Retrieved 2019, April 26 from The Business Times website: https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/government-economy/astar-gets-s380m-of-rd-investment-from-industry
24. Zackaria Abdul Rahim. (2002, April 16). A*Star wants more local researchers. Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, p. 102. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)
26. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, pp. 98–101. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)
27. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2014). Agency for Science, Technology and Research: Annual report: Apr 2013–Mar 2014, p. 23. Retrieved 2019, April 25 from A*STAR website: http://www.a-star.edu.sg/Portals/0/media/yearbooks/ASTAR%20Annual%20Report%202013_14.pdf
28. The 2000s. (2011, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 6 / 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. Biomedical Research Council: Overview. Retrieved 2019, April 26 from A*STAR website: https://www.a-star.edu.sg/About-A-STAR/Biomedical-Research-Council/Overview
30. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, pp. 158–159. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)
31. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. Science and Engineering Research Council: Overview. Retrieved 2019, April 26 from A*STAR website: https://www.a-star.edu.sg/About-A-STAR/Science-and-Engineering-Research-Council/Overview
32. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2013, September). Our science your business: SERC research institutes, pp. 5–6. Retrieved from A*STAR website: http://www.a-star.edu.sg/Portals/0/media/yearbooks/SERC%20Corporate%20Brochure.pdf
33. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2013, September). Our science your business:SERC research institutes, pp. 3–4. Retrieved from A*STAR website: http://www.a-star.edu.sg/Portals/0/media/yearbooks/SERC%20Corporate%20Brochure.pdf
34. Quek, C. (2004, June 15). A*STAR technologies take on real world. The Business Times, p. 9; A*STAR on the move. (2008, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 92. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, p. 145. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)
36. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (October 2010). Pursing Knowledge for the Prosperity of Singapore. Retrieved 2019, April 26 from A*STAR website: https://www.a-star.edu.sg/portals/0/media/corp_pubs/astar.pdf
37. Choudhury, A. R. (2015, March 20). A*Star gets S$380m of R&D investment from industry. The Business Times. Retrieved 2019, April 26 from The Business Times website: https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/government-economy/astar-gets-s380m-of-rd-investment-from-industry; Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2013, May 14). A*STAR’s GET-Up programme marks 10 years of successful partnership with SMEs [Press release]. Retrieved 2019, April 26 from A*STAR website: https://www.a-star.edu.sg/News-and-Events/News/Press-Releases/ID/1813
38. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2014). Agency for Science, Technology and Research: Annual report: Apr 2013–Mar 2014, p. 16. Retrieved 2019, April 25 from A*STAR: http://www.a-star.edu.sg/Portals/0/media/yearbooks/ASTAR%20Annual%20Report%202013_14.pdf
39. Procter & Gamble, A*STAR sign 5-year research agreement. Today, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chan, F. (2014, April 29). Coca-Cola partners A*STAR to expand research activities in Singapore. The Straits Times. Retrieved from The Straits Times website: https://www.straitstimes.com/business/companies-markets/coca-cola-partners-astar-to-expand-research-activities-in-singapore; Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2012, November 6). A*STAR’s GIS collaborates with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to further research on lung cancer [Press release]. Retrieved 2019, April 26 from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
40. Huang, C. (2015, October 20). Spurring cross-disciplinary innovation. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, pp. 20, 4546. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)
42. Zackaria Abdul Rahim. (2002, April 16). A*Star wants more local researchers. Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, pp. 67, 189 (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)
44. Joining hands to battle flu virus. (2013, October 13). The Straits Times, p. 50. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (October 2010). Pursing Knowledge for the Prosperity of Singapore. Retrieved 2019, April 26 from A*STAR website: https://www.a-star.edu.sg/portals/0/media/corp_pubs/astar.pdf
46. Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2011). A*Star: 20 years of science and technology in Singapore. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, p. 195. (Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)


Further resources
Agency for Science, Technology and Research. (2003). My journal: A*STAR’s annual report. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research. Available via PublicationSG.  

Agency for Science, Technology and Research. Annual report of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research. Singapore: Agency for Science, Technology and Research. Available via PublicationSG.

Govt to pump $625m into R&D as part of new blueprint. (2001, February 24). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

National Science & Technology Board (1991). ‘Window of opportunities’: Science and technology: National Technology Plan 1991. Singapore: SNP Publishers.
(Call no.: RSING 507.205957 SIN)

National Science & Technology Board. (1996). National science and technology plan: Towards 2000 and beyond: Securing our future. Singapore: The Board.
(Call no.: RSING 338.9595706 SIN)


The information in this article is valid as at April 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

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