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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        19  February 2011

Thai research and development lags

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Experts say Thailand has been slow to expand its research and development (R&D) capability, placing it in danger of losing out to global competition in its quest for economic growth via the production of higher value-added goods.

Thaweesak Koanantakool, president of the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), said the government would have to do more if it wants to meet its target of increasing R&D spending to 1 percent of national income over the next five years from 0.2 percent now. The target entails quintupling R&D spending while tripling the number of personnel. As well, the goal of altering the public-private contribution ratio from 47:43 to 30:70 will prove a major challenge.

"Some personnel can be recruited from abroad, but most of them should be produced locally to improve the R&D culture in local businesses," Dr. Thaweesak told a recent seminar in Bangkok hosted by the World Bank.

"The public sector will have to triple its spending and the private sector increase its by eightfold. To do that in five years' time is very difficult unless we are truly committed." He pointed to the Siam Cement Group (SCG) as a successful case study in increasing revenue from higher value-added products via R&D. Half of its gross revenue for last year - 46 billion baht - was generated by such products after it spent almost 800 million baht on R&D in 2009.

The number of SCG employees holding doctoral degrees increased from only 40 in 2004 to 1,000 in 2009.

Dr. Thaweesak said a recent success in agricultural innovation was the modification of aromatic rice that can tolerate longer periods underwater. In medical science, an advanced testing kit for HIV and blood diseases was created.

The NSTDA has forged a collaboration between a local university and the Tokyo Institute for Technology to produce doctoral graduates in scientific fields such as information and communications technology, environmental engineering and biotechnology.

"Local universities have a very small capacity for doctoral candidates in science and technology, so we must team up with foreign institutes," said Dr. Thaweesak.

Poramathee Vimolsiri, a deputy secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board, said R&D investment at 1 percent of national revenue and a rate of 6.7 full-time R&D personnel per 10,000 could lead to a staggering performance in terms of global competitiveness. "One reason there is no demand for R&D locally is we just act like an assembly house. We fill orders by multinational companies based on their blueprint for the products," he said.

"We should move to higher value-added products and a knowledge- and creativity-based economy. We should be our own boss in production. This requires R&D."

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