Thailand needs to innovate to avoid 'middle income trap'

17 September 2015

​Thailand needs to make strong efforts to foster innovation in order to be able to compete in higher value-added activities and avoid falling into the "middle-income trap", UNCTAD's Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) Review of Thailand has revealed.

UNCTAD's STIP Review of Thailand was presented to around 100 national stakeholders in the Thai capital Bangkok on 14 September, stimulating discussion of its detailed recommendations and ideas to improve the country's national innovation system.

Participants, including high-level government officials, heads of universities and public research agencies, and business leaders, advocated for collaboration and coordination among public agencies to stimulate business innovation. The private sector should, at the same time, play a more proactive role in seeking innovation and in collaborating with other firms, stakeholders agreed. There was also a shared recognition of the need to enhance education in science, technology and innovation (STI), both at the vocational and higher educational level, so that the types of skills required for an innovation-driven economy can be developed.

Thailand's Minister of Science and Technology Dr. Pichet Durongkaveroj gave details of the STI measures the Government is currently adopting to escape the "middle-income trap" and compete in higher-value markets. He said that Thailand's STI policy aims to reduce inequality, provide opportunities and address the needs of society. Underlining that investing in innovation leads to productivity gains and greater opportunities, Dr. Durongkaveroj stated that the thorough and independent evaluation of Thailand made in UNCTAD's STIP Review offered valuable suggestions for action.

Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, former Secretary-General of UNCTAD, said there was a need to adopt an economic-growth model based on knowledge and innovation, and productivity growth, in an effort to build an "increasing-return economy". He also said that coordination and collaboration between different ministries was needed with the involvement of the highest level of government in STI policy. Creativity and innovation among young people had to be encouraged, Dr. Panitchpakdi added.

STIPR Thailand
H.E. Dr. Pichet Durongkaveroj, Thailand's Minister of Science and Technology, at the national presentation of the UNCTAD STIP Review of Thailand

UNCTAD's STIP Review considers the effectiveness of Thailand's national system of innovation and sets out nine "strategic thrusts" with detailed actions for consideration by the Government of Thailand. It suggests actions in three major areas:

  1. Enhance STI governance and management by introducing a strengthened National STI Policy Committee, making clearer the roles and responsibilities of STI institutions, and increasing accountability and oversight to ensure the effectiveness of STI policy efforts.

  2. Stimulate innovation efforts by: introducing matching funds to support collaborative research and development (R&D); scaling-up schemes and organizations that operate at the interface between sources of knowledge and firms; providing incentives for industry-academy collaboration; and making smart use of national megaprojects (such as rail projects) to leverage greater public and private investments in R&D and innovation.

  3. Upgrade the education system to provide the STI skills needed in the economy by, among others, exposing students, teachers and academics to work in the private sector. This can be done, for example, through dual vocational training, mobility programmes and combined studies. Such exposure could lead to greater generation and assimilation of relevant knowledge and know-how for the country.

Thailand can build on a number of existing STI programmes as the basis for further progress - for example, scaling up support for regional science parks - the STIP Review notes.

The Government could also expand successful cooperative educational programmes such as the Bamboo School, the Work-Integrated-Learning pilot programme, and the engineering practice schools of King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT).

UNCTAD conducted the analysis in collaboration with the Thailand's National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Office at the request of the Government of Thailand.

STIP Reviews are conducted by UNCTAD at the request of interested Governments in order to support the development of national technological and innovation capacities, to contribute to development strategies and to improve the competitiveness of the productive sectors of developing countries in the global economy.

STIP Reviews have been implemented by UNCTAD in 13 developing countries and are part of a wider programme for promoting policymaking capacities in the field of science, technology and innovation in developing countries.