New ministry takes on human factor

New ministry takes on human factor

Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation aims to meet Thailand 4.0 goals, writes Chatrudee Theparat

Mr Suvit gives a speech at Startup Thailand 2019. He says a short-term goal is resolving labour shortages in targeted industries. Somchai Poomlard
Mr Suvit gives a speech at Startup Thailand 2019. He says a short-term goal is resolving labour shortages in targeted industries. Somchai Poomlard

Suvit Maesincee is the first minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, the new ministry established as part of the previous government's bureaucratic reforms.

The ministry is a merger of the Science and Technology Ministry, the Office of Higher Education Commission, the Office of National Research Council and the Office of Thailand Research Fund.

Founded this May, the ministry focuses largely on promoting research for commercial purposes, producing human resources in response to future needs and developing innovation throughout the business cycle.

The ministry aims to create a new body of knowledge and to upgrade the country's manpower, equipping Thais with higher skills and capabilities to realise the Thailand 4.0 concept of a value-based, innovative and technology-driven economy.

The Bangkok Post sat down for an exclusive interview with Mr Suvit, who describes the new ministry's mission and challenges.

What is the new ministry's priority?

The ministry aims to build connectivity between higher education, science and innovations from policy to operational levels in order to improve Thailand's competitiveness in this century.

The ministry is divided into four working groups: policies on research, funding or research funding; transformation of the Science and Technology Ministry into an institute on research and innovation; research on social science and humanities; and university affairs.

Human resource development and creating innovation are prioritised. The curriculum at universities must be changed to meet demand in the real world and the country's development. The ministry will be a mechanism to build cooperation between educational institutes and the private sector to produce potential employees that meet real private sector demand.

In the short term, human resource development should solve the labour shortage in the targeted industries.

The ministry plans to develop human resources among two groups: some 2.5 million people aged 18-21 and the current workforce of 38 million.

How will the ministry implement concrete actions to tackle the labour shortage and human resource development to meet varying demands of private firms?

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak on Oct 28 chaired a joint meeting of high-ranking officials from the ministry, universities and 10 private firms in an attempt to design courses both for non-degree and degree schools to train the current workforce, including those who need to change jobs or labourers who are affected by technology disruption, as well as the elderly and first-time workers.

The 10 private firms included SCG Group, PTT, Toyota Motor Thailand, Bangchak Corporation, Mitr Phol Group, Advanced Info Service, Thai Beverage Group and commercial banks.

Private companies can design courses that align with the latest Board of Investment's promotional privileges on human resource development.

These firms can claim exemptions of 250% of their expenses if they organise training programmes on advanced technology between 2019-20.

With Thailand already an ageing society, courses will be designed for retirees who want to learn new skills and return to the job market, as well as workers aged 40-45 who want to upskill to new technologies.

Another issue is skill mapping so courses conform with real demand.

The ministry partnered with an overseas company to build a programme for digital literacy.

On Oct 22, Huawei Technologies Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Science and Technology Development Agency and the National Innovation Agency to cooperate on digital technology.

The cooperation encompasses co-developing and fostering an ICT innovation programme to support state agencies, industrial partners, universities, companies and startups to integrate vertical industrial solutions. Another area is building a knowledge base and platform to support increasing demand for high-value technology, as well as promoting public-private partnerships in human capital development between Huawei and agencies through Huawei's existing platform.

The pact covers collaboration in the development of talent and capability-building of ICT digital skills for students, workers, small and medium-sized enterprises and startups.

Huawei Academy will be established in the Eastern Economic Corridor of Innovation (EECI) at Wang Chan Valley. Foreign universities are also being established at the EECI.

What is the role of the ministry in boosting the country's R&D expenditure?

The ministry will try its best to stimulate all related parties to invest more in R&D and is ready to financially support private companies that carry out R&D that benefits the country's social and economic development.

The R&D should be related to five topics: human resource development; competitiveness enhancement; income disparity reduction; elderly care; and environment conservation.

Over the past five years, R&D made up only 0.48% of GDP. The previous government raised spending in R&D continuously, with the figure estimated to represent 1.1% or about 120 billion baht this year.

R&D expenditure is projected to be 1.5% of GDP, or 200 billion baht, in five years, 75% of which will be contributed by the private sector, up from 70% in 2019.

R&D expenditure in developed countries ranges from 2-4% of GDP.

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