That giants such as Google and Rolls-Royce are setting up shop here shows that Singapore is "beginning to reap the fruits after more than two decades of efforts" in research and development (R&D), said former president S R Nathan yesterday.

He pointed to how the country's strong R&D culture has attracted leading companies, such as Google, to set up research centres here.

He also highlighted two joint efforts by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). First is the Future Mobility Research Lab, set up with BMW Group in April to study future transportation.

The other venture is the $75 million lab set up with engine-maker Rolls-Royce and the National Research Foundation in July to tackle challenges in large-scale manufacturing and repair, like reducing noise and emissions.

This partnership will help develop Singapore's scientific and engineering talent, who will learn skills from Rolls-Royce's various departments, he said.

But beyond the economic and social benefits, innovation is also vital in inspiring young people to "believe in their own abilities, leadership and future potential".

Mr Nathan was speaking at the opening of the inaugural World Academic Summit, one of two global events hosted by NTU this week. The summit brings together some 200 experts to discuss trends in higher education over three days.

The other event - the World Cultural Council (WCC) awards ceremony, which took place yesterday before the summit - was held here for the first time in its 30-year history. The awards given by the WCC, a Mexico-based organisation, honour scientists and artists for their work.

Finnish artists Petteri Nisunen and Tommi Gronlund were given the Leonardo Da Vinci World Award of Arts, while Nobel Prize-winning British biochemist Paul Nurse received the Albert Einstein World Award of Science for his contributions to biological sciences and medicine.

"Science is best done by individuals driven by their curiosity... that means they need the freedom to operate," said Professor Nurse.

Senior Minister of State for Education and Law Indranee Rajah, who opened the award ceremony, said: "We hope to create a variety of ways that will allow our young to experiment and discover, in the belief that small encounters have the power to spark curiosity and create wonder."