Leading Mongolia’s Biotechnology Research
Posted: 30 August 2015
Summer holidays spent with his grandparents in a small village called Gachuurt, about 20 kilometres outside Ulaanbaatar, could easily have helped determine Ariunbold Usukhbayar’s future career path.
Usukhbayar, who holds three different positions with the Mongolian National University of Medical Sciences (MNUMS), lived with his Grandmother, a Paediatrician; and his Grandfather, a university lecturer; and cousins – during his secondary school summer holidays.
“Perhaps it was my Grandmother’s emphasis on medicine and healthy lifestyle that eventually led me in the direction of medicine”, Usukhbayar said.
In secondary school, Usukhbayar immediately took to both Biology and Mathematics.
He showed a natural aptitude for both subjects by representing his school and district in the Biology and Maths Olympiads, and following secondary school, Usukhbayar completed a six-year program at the Health Sciences University of Mongolia to graduate with a Medical Doctor and a Bachelor of Science degree.
While at university, he earned money during vacations by working as a tour guide for English-speaking tourists – giving him a chance to experience different cultural habits and to improve his English.
After graduating with his Medical degree, Usukhbayar was invited to join the University as a Lecturer – in Medical Biology and Histology.
In his two years as a Lecturer, he established and mentored several student clubs and became fully involved in both the social and academic aspects of the University. He also took any opportunity to present papers at conference in academia.
“I liked lecturing… no subject is boring; it’s all about how you communicate the subject matter to students.”
Usukhbayar chose the University of Queensland (UQ) as the location for his Australia Award studies, after thorough research had shown him that UQ excelled in Biotechnology and health sciences and its commercialization in the world.
He spent the next two years in Australia, in intensive study to complete his Master of Biotechnology (Advanced) and Innovation Management in minor program.
“Our own university in Mongolia was just about to extend its expertise into biotechnology, so it was important to make sure that we were completely up to date with the most recent developments and technologies”, Usukhbayar said.
Arriving in Queensland in January 2011, Usukhbayar encountered the worst flooding in the State for almost 40 years – when it rained for almost four weeks straight.
“I spent the first two months in an old-style Queensland home (central core rooms surrounded on most sides by open verandas), where I had to contend with being attacked by mosquitoes, and put up with damp clothes caused by the high humidity.”
Like others during the floods, Usukhbayar helped many people whose homes had been flooded and who had lost all of their possessions.
“That was my first experience of just how generous Australians could be”, he said.
“I was pleased to be part of that community spirit and to be able to see just how warm-hearted Australians are.”
Once his wife joined him in Brisbane, Usukhbayar travelled extensively around Australia – from the Great Barrier Reef in the far north, to the Gold Coast, Blue Mountains, Sydney and Melbourne, and to the Great Ocean Road in the South.
“We even got a chance to try scuba-diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and to swim amongst schools of Nemos and other sea creatures”, he laughed.
While in Australia, his wife, a doctor, worked as a volunteer as well as assistant to doctor at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane – a long-established hospital, which opened in 1906 and offers both public (free) and private medical services.
Returning to Mongolia in early 2013 with a “bag full of ideas”, Usukhbayar realised that universities in the country were not yet good at marketing their skills and knowledge – and still had to build expertise in developing public-private partnerships (PPPs).
Selected from a wide field of applicants, in 2013 he travelled to Tokyo for an Intellectual Property Cooperation in Human Resource Development Program of the Japan Patent Office, one-month intensive course on the topic of intellectual property, commercialisation and entrepreneurship, with 24 other representatives of 12 countries.
As a member of National committee to establish Science Technology Park in Mongolia, in 2013 he travelled to Taiwan with other representatives from government agencies and the major universities to gain experience on technology incubation within universities.
Since returning to the Mongolian National University of Medical Sciences, he has established a dedicated Technology Transfer office, while undertaking his responsibilities for three simultaneous roles as Head of Division for International Relations; Secretary of the University’s Technology Board; and Corresponding Secretary of the University’s main Health Science Journal.
Usukhbayar has also developed the university policies on innovation, technology transfer, start-up company, trademarks, and research management.
“And we are just about to open a modern biomedical research laboratory – the Core Research Laboratory at the university”
With such a successful academic and professional career already behind him, Usukhbayar is in a good position to offer advice to potential Australia Awards applicants.
“Before applying for a scholarship, it is crucially important to determine what you want to learn and gain. Set several goals to achieve, develop the necessary language skills, and prepare early”, he advised.
“Also, it is important to stay in touch with your job colleagues and your supervisors back in Mongolia while you are on award.”
His own plans for the future are just as clear as the advice he offers potential Australia Award applicants.
He intends helping universities to develop skills in knowledge based economy; increasing commercialisation of intellectual property; and encouraging multi-national corporation investment in Mongolia to establish high-tech companies.
Appreciative of the opportunity for personal and national development the Australia Awards program has provided, Usukhbayar is a strong advocate for the scholarships:
“An Australia Award scholarship offers world-class education and training to fulfil academic goals, while also providing a generous stipend to cover life in Australia, and excellent conditions for those awardees who want to take their family with them to Australia.
In April 2015, Australia Awards Mongolia caught up again with Usukhbayar.
Six months after first being interviewed, Usukhbayar is still very closely involved with key technology transfer challenges and development at the Mongolian National University of Medical Sciences (MNUMS), particularly now that the planned biomedical research facility – the Core Research Laboratory – is open.
Equally important to Usukhbayar, however, is his new responsibility as part of the Government’s “Competitive Mongolian Citizen” program.
“The Program, which is very large, is intended to support Mongolian citizens to become more competitive at the Global level”, Usukhbayar said.
“It is organised around four main groups – with each group involving active participants from government, industry and universities.”
As a head of the “National Innovation System” Group, Usukhbayar is involved in assessing five proposals for “start-up” companies, although he acknowledges that the global model for establishing private-public partnerships (PPP) may not apply yet in Mongolia.
“There are still eight or nine laws that need to be amended to ensure such collaborative activities are possible and are supported”, he said.
And while universities and industry are keen to collaborate on making the most of new and emerging technologies, there is not yet a suitable operational framework in place to encourage productive partnerships.
“A university lecturer may come up with a great new idea, but as yet, there is no harmonisation of laws and legislation to make the most of that innovative concept”, Usukhbayar explained.
“When the National Innovation System is working, the framework will be in place and it will allow and encourage harmonisation across different sectors – and assist university professors to take advantage of the knowledge-based economy.”
Usukhbayar explains the five main objectives of the National Innovation System proposal:
“Clearly, the first objective is to harmonise the legislation to allow change to happen”, he said.
“Next, we need to stimulate professors by disseminating information about the knowledge-based economy across our universities.”
The third stage involves getting industry and universities together, to encourage meaningful collaboration – as universities often consider opportunities from a different perspective to that of the private sector.
“Establishing an ‘innovation ecosystem’ requires finding reliable and acceptable sources of venture capital; this is the fourth objective”, Usukhbayar said.
“And the final National Innovation System objective is to support local technology companies – but to do this in a systematic, planned and equitable cycle, and to ensure that partnerships remain fully aware of their social responsibilities”, he added.