Science chief defends 'new ministry' plan

Science chief defends 'new ministry' plan

Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee insisted the new ministry that will result from the merger of the Science Ministry, the Office of Higher Education and state research arms, will not forsake social sciences and humanities as critics fear.

"Research in social sciences and humanities are still important to the country and will not be left behind, but they will be supported through the Research and Social Development Fund," Mr Suvit said yesterday at a meeting about the new ministry.

Mr Suvit said the new ministry is modelled on the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The name is yet to be finalised, but the task of the new ministry, he said, is to be an instrument to drive research and innovation in academic institutes, in order to create human resources for the "Thailand 4.0" initiative.

Three funds will be set up under this ministry, said Mr Suvit. First is the Higher Education and Research Development Fund to help Thai universities climb the world rankings. Second is the Competitiveness Fund to help startups. Third is The Research and Social Development Fund to improve Rajabhat universities.

Mr Suvit said the new ministry is seriously needed because Thai universities lack funds and a clear strategy on research.

"Only 10% of the country's research can now be put into practice. The situation will improve only if we come up with a clear direction and clear source of funding for each group of universities," he said.

There are rising concerns from educators such as Thammasat University's former rector Somkid Lertpaitoon that the new ministry will support only science and innovation.

Sompong Jitradub, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Education, also raised concern over a possible conflict with plans to create a Ministry of Higher Education.

"The merger plan is different from the original concept of establishing a Ministry of Higher Education, so more discussions should take place particularly with heads of higher education institutes," he said.

Next week, the government will hold a meeting with the Council of University Presidents of Thailand (CUPT), the Council of Rajabhat University Presidents of Thailand and the Council of Rajamangala University Presidents of Thailand to discuss the merger.

The new ministry could be officially up and running before the general election next year, Kobsak Pootrakool, the minister attached to the Prime Minister's Office, said.

Mr Kobsak said three draft bills needed to launch the new ministry would be completed within three months, and he believed all three will be sail through the legislature without any need for Section 44 to be invoked.

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