Government approves plan for innovation ministry

Thailand’s national strategy is getting its own ministry. The cabinet of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha approved a proposal last week to establish a Ministry of Higher Education, Innovation, Research and Science with responsibility for developing the Kingdom’s human resources to meet the needs of a more advanced economy.

The new ministry will be the chief government agency supporting and overseeing research and development to “steer the nation towards the digital era,’’ said Tossaporn Sirisamphan, secretary-general of the Office of the Public Sector Development Commission.

Thailand has adopted a 20-year national strategy called Thailand 4.0 that seeks to accelerate the transformation of the Kingdom to a higher level of development. The strategy involves shifting from manufacturing products designed overseas to creating products in the Kingdom. Accomplishing that will require evolving from rote learning methods in education to inculcating critical thinking and creativity.

The goal is to sustain Thailand’s competitiveness far into the future by promoting innovation, creativity, research and development, higher technologies and green technologies as bedrock drivers of the Thai economy and society.

Because the new ministry will be finding its way at first, Tossaporn said the government will establish a “super board” to supervise the ministry’s policies. In addition, new committees with specialists in higher education and research will also help guide the ministry in its early stages of operations.

National Legislative Assembly approval is needed to officially create a new ministry, and the process for that can take several months. Tossaporn predicted that the new ministry would be up and running by February next year.

The Thai government has been increasing its budget for research and development while urging the private sector to do the same. The government expects spending on research and development by the public and private sectors to reach 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year, with 70 percent of that coming from the private sector.
The government’s target is for spending on research and development to total 1.5 percent of GDP by 2021. That would be a substantial improvement, but Thailand still has a significant gap to close to catch up to more advanced economies.

In Asia, South Korea leads by spending 4.23 percent of GDP on research, the second highest percentage in the world after Israel, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Within Southeast Asia, Singapore is the leader in research and development spending at 2.2 percent of GDP and a target of 3.5 percent in coming years.