Dartmouth Professor Helps Boost Productivity in Malaysia


March 4, 2015 

In 2009, Dartmouth Economics Professor Diego Comin visited Malaysia to study how this emerging economy was faring in the wake of the global financial crisis. He met with business and government officials and learned that growth was slowing dramatically. His curiosity was sparked, and he embarked on a five-year research endeavor that resulted in the Public-Private Research Network, a new government agency aimed at reversing this decline in productivity. 

The PPRN, which officially launched on February 24, 2015, connects businesses with academic researchers to cultivate innovation and increase productivity. “It bridges two worlds, government-funded academic research and private businesses,” says Comin. He wrote about this work in Malaysia Beyond 2020, published by UTM Press in 2014. 

In Malaysia, companies need current technology to grow their businesses, and university researchers want to bring their knowledge to market. “The PPRN creates an environment where those two problems can be solved,” says Comin. The program matches companies with researchers that can solve their specific technological problems. That way, researchers do not have to become entrepreneurs and market their research, which is not their specialty. They just need to apply their knowledge and research to company problems that the PPRN brings them.

According to Comin, “the way the PPRN works is the opposite to how tech start-ups appear in Silicon Valley. It is a different solution to a different problem.” He says that the PPRN model could be used also in the U.S. “However, people should get over ideological tenets, such as that innovation is best left to the market.”  

Funding to support the PPRN comes from both the government (via university research funding) and from the companies that use the new agency. Companies get access to state-of-the-art technology to move up the value chain, and the researchers find ways to bring their work to the marketplace. “The PPRN helps set up the right contractual environment for the participants. Both sides benefit,” Comin says. 

Professor Diego Comin can be reached directly at: diego.comin@dartmouth.edu.