PM urges 27 universities to form clusters

PM urges 27 universities to form clusters

Solar panels displayed at the 45th International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva, held recently in Bangkok. The state is trying to commercialise research. THITI WANNAMONTHA
Solar panels displayed at the 45th International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva, held recently in Bangkok. The state is trying to commercialise research. THITI WANNAMONTHA

Twenty-seven universities are being urged to unite into five clusters for research and development and focus more on market demand to optimise the use of government funding.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday that 100,000 studies have been conducted by universities and state agencies, but only 1,000 of them have found commercial use.

"Many research projects are not utilised because they were conducted only for the purpose of furthering an academic career," he said. "The universities should, therefore, come together and form a cluster to better use the state budget, and the R&D, once conducted, should meet private sector demands."

According to Gen Prayut, the Pracha Rat public-private collaborative model should be applied to drive R&D development in order to support Thailand 4.0, which focuses on added value, high technology, and innovation.

Gen Prayut said R&D should also be used to support low-income earners, farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises in order to help them upgrade their occupations and generate income in communities.

Prime Minister's Office Minister Suvit Maesincee said the universities can work together on R&D in five sectors: agriculture and food, ageing society, bioenergy, smart city and creative economy.

He said the government has already allocated 2.5 billion baht for fiscal 2017 to support universities conducting more R&D in five sectors as part of ongoing efforts to upgrade Thailand into a value-based economy under the Thailand 4.0 initiative.

Of the total 2.5 billion baht, 1.5 billion will be offered to 27 universities and Kasetsart and Mahidol universities will each be allocated 500 million baht.

Kasetsart University will be tasked with conducting R&D on biotechnology and Mahidol University will conduct R&D on biomedical technology.

The government has pledged to earmark more funding once 27 universities unite and form clusters to conduct R&D in five sectors.

National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT) secretary-general Sirirurg Songsivilai said related agencies, universities and private sector aim to push 1,000 R&D findings to be used commercially this year.

He said Gen Prayut has authorised the NRCT and the National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office to address obstacles for the R&D, such as property rights issues.

The cabinet in May approved tax incentives for companies that group together in clusters to invest in R&D in five specified areas.

Companies that cluster will be eligible to claim 300% deductions for R&D expenses, up from 200%, if they invest more in food, agriculture and biotechnology; public health, healthcare and biomedical technology; robotics and smart devices; digital, Internet of Things and artificial intelligence; and creative economy, culture and lifestyle.

The incentives will be offered from 2017 to 2019. Similar incentives on offer during 2016-20 to individual companies will remain in effect.

The government's tax incentives could help stimulate expenditure in R&D to reach 1%, or 130 billion baht, of the country's GDP in five years.

R&D spending in 2015 accounted for only 0.62% of GDP. That figure was estimated at 0.75% in 2016 and is forecast to reach 0.8% in 2017.

The government's 20-year plan aims to raise R&D spending to 1% of GDP during 2017-21, 1.5% during 2022-26, 2% during 2027-31 and more than 2% from 2032 to 2036. The private sector is estimated to account for 70% of the country's R&D spending by 2036.

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