On the value of research and education
To what extent can the proliferation of private research institutions in Thailand lead to growth in marketable research?
Pailin Chuchottaworn: The establishment of private research institutions enables another degree of flexibility that was not present among public institutions, which are often bound by restrictive regulations and bureaucracy. Private institutions are able to employ a business model that accommodates collaboration with other private sector members. By opening private sector research facilities, we are able not only to secure increased research funding, but also to yield research output in a way that is both pertinent to industry and commercially viable. Furthermore, government incentives allow the funding party of the private sector to enjoy significant tax holidays which will strengthen the cooperation between the private sector and the research institution, allowing us to respond to the nation’s future economic demands more directly.
Which frontier research fields are being emphasised to add value to Thai industries?
Pailin: The OECD recently published a report on future technology and innovation in which it listed 40 key emerging technologies. These technologies were grouped into four areas: energy and environment, advanced materials, biotechnologies and digital technologies. I strongly believe that these four areas address the needs of Thailand for achieving its goal of advancing existing industries. The areas of frontier research which have a significant potential for impact include energy science, advanced functional materials, bio-engineering, molecular engineering, agrochemicals, and sustainable environment, health and safety.
To promote entrepreneurship and innovation, I truly believe that interdisciplinary education must be offered. For instance, in regards to science students there was usually difficulty in emphasising entrepreneurship. Therefore, I am against the division or partitioning of science from engineering and believe that liberal arts can be the connection between all branches of science.
What reform needs to take place for Thailand to nurture and retain more students in the sciences?
Pailin: The first step in increasing the scientific output of the nation is to foster the belief that we can accomplish in the field of science just as successfully as our counterparts in the West, and that there is no reason to think otherwise. We need to prove the hypothesis that Thais can be very capable scientists and researchers. To this end, the nation is now significantly increasing its research output and trying to put itself on the world map. Secondly, to achieve this we must retain the best minds in Thailand. Apart from offering good faculties with a conducive setting, we must truly encourage students through incentives such as full scholarships for the brightest to stay on and we must provide an appealing alternative to foreign scholarships.
How can successful education systems in advanced Asian economies be replicated in Thailand?
Pailin: The two most technologically advanced economies in Asia at present are Japan and South Korea. Japan shares a common history with Thailand due to the fact that we were the only two Asian nations to avoid colonisation by the West while still opening our countries to accommodate Western trade, which brought about new technologies such as railways, electricity and medicines, among other things. One of the fundamental reasons the two nations are so far apart from an economic development standpoint is that, at the time, Emperor Meiji immediately enacted educational reform concurrent to the inflow of Western technologies. Thailand’s first university was set up 40 years after that, thus missing the opportunity to harness and master the technologies that were flooding in from the West at the same time Japan did.
However, I believe that South Korea is a more readily comparable model for Thailand, as it managed to kick-start its education system in a very short period of time following periods of arms conflict. The administration at that time enacted radical changes in such a way that invigorated research institutions in particular, including exempting science students from military service and offering professors a high salary, which resulted in an economic boom. I believe that Thailand can follow a similar pathway by reforming and incentivising research institutions to prepare for our new future.