Global Politics, US, VR World

Chang San-cheng Wants to Reboot Taiwan’s Competitiveness

Taiwan remains a powerhouse of innovation, but struggles to properly commercialize this innovation in the highly competitive technology sector was the topic of a speech made by Taiwan’s Minister of Science and Technology at an American Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Taipei Tuesday.

Comfortably navigating his speech in English, the Cornell-educated Chang San-cheng, who was appointed to lead the Ministry of Science and Technology after it was renamed from the National Science Council earlier this year, contrasted during his speech Taiwan’s sweep at global innovation exhibitions such as iENA and INPEX with its failure to produce a homegrown commercially successful Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) or Facebook (NASDAQ: FB).

“The United States has its Microsoft, Apple, and Google but none of those companies are from Taiwan,” he said. “Business models are one ingredient of innovation. Taiwan is good at coming up with new inventions, but very few of them are commercialized.”

The homegrown giants that Taiwan has grown to be world class, namely Acer (TPE: 2353) and Asus (TPE: 2357), have failed to adequately adapt to market changes making the two companies much less important players than they were in their prime.

He also gave the example of the inability PTT’s owners — a hyper-popular local web forum that’s roughly analogous to Reddit — to develop a business model for the forum. Instead the forum, a household word amongst the under-40 set in Taiwan, has continued to rely on support from National Taiwan University in order to survive.

“Over the years none of the students from National Taiwan University ever thought about commercializing PTT. One might say that if you commercialize PTT you will loose a forum to freely publish your ideas,” he said. “But if you look at Facebook, nobody at Facebook ever interferes with the way you publish your ideas. Commercialization and free expression of ideas are not a contradiction.”

Reorganizing the academy

Chang cited the need to reform Taiwan’s post-secondary education system as one of the building blocks to reboot Taiwan’s competitiveness. There’s a big gap between the needs of industry and what academia produces, he said, explaining that this wasn’t something unique to Taiwan but rather a first world problem.

“Taiwan is not alone in facing this issue, but Taiwan has a much bigger problem as Taiwan’s industry does not have research capability that’s as good as competitors in Europe or the United States,” he said.

While many many universities have effective research partnerships with industry, there is still work to do in better aligning the two. Too many professors have very niche impractical research fields, he said, giving an example of one political scientist at a university in Taipei whose sole research field was the electoral system of a certain state in the United States. The state in question has no major economic or cultural connection to Taiwan, but this professor would get funding to publish multiple papers per year on it.