Interview: Pailin Chuchottaworn
How is the government aligning the education sector with the Thailand 4.0 strategy?
PAILIN CHUCHOTTAWORN: From an education standpoint, many changes have been made to enable Thailand’s transition into an advanced country. Because of dissatisfaction with Thailand’s educational output, the government decided to separate tertiary education from the Ministry of Education. There was also a revamp of the main bodies that will overlook the research and development (R&D) ecosystem, with responsibilities to be split between the ministries of education, science and technology, and higher education. These bodies will be empowered to devise policies, secure national research funds and ensure the whole research engine is moving forward.
In the end, boosting R&D spending and forging new links between universities and the private sector is essential for achieving the goals set out in Thailand 4.0. To support the government’s aim of revitalising R&D, our national research funds will equate to at least 1% of GDP. Until now we only spent 0.4% of GDP on R&D, compared to 1.26% in Malaysia and 4.29% in South Korea.
What are the main areas that need to be improved within Thailand’s tertiary education sector?
PAILIN: Thailand has some 200 universities, with 80 being state owned. Of these, only 10 are first tier. When we benchmark Thai universities against foreign ones, our national best only makes the top 400. Because of lax standards, Thai universities are falling behind their Asian and Western counterparts. The objective is to raise the quality of our local institutions by introducing disrupters in the form of foreign universities, to force old-style universities to improve educational output.
Foreign institutions will only be allowed to operate in Thailand under two conditions. The first requires that incoming universities have a top-class ranking. Second, their campuses must be located within the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), as the government wants to avoid universities being cramped in Bangkok. Furthermore, the EEC seems the most fitting place to nurture innovation and entrepreneurship.
In addition, most Thai universities are failing on teaching quality. Our top-tier institutions average 35,000 students, but if you look at the top 10 universities, as ranked by Reuters, most have 10,000 students on average. Evidently, we are too commercially oriented.
Where do you see scope for the private sector to collaborate with educational bodies?
PAILIN: Under the Thailand 4.0 strategy, we want to develop advanced manufacturing. However, the number of active research centres operated by the private sector remains extremely low in Thailand. This is partly an issue with research universities, but also because the private sector is not open to research collaborations. For instance, if you look at the 10 largest companies on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, no more than three have set up a research centre.
The private sector has neglected research as a method of advancing their businesses. Meanwhile, on the education side, most universities focus their efforts on producing graduates rather than researchers. Because of this, even the best institutions cannot convince the private sector to partner with them. If we are going to push innovation, we need the commitment of both corporate and education entities.
How can government incentives encourage new research in emerging industries?
PAILIN: Up until now the government has focused its budget on public universities, which has meant almost nothing has been put in place to support the private sector’s efforts to establish research centres. We initially need policy support, though with the establishment of the EEC we are starting to see positive changes. For example, the EEC provides incentives for skilled foreign workers by reducing personal income tax. Such initiatives are supporting growth in the private sector.
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