Challenges for research and innovation

Improving access to post basic education has been a high priority for most of the government, which would also like to expand the higher education sector in order to widen access to higher education and meet need for highly trained personnel. Public resources are tight, however, and so Higher Education Institute have to try to meet expectations regarding research and innovationwith very limited budgets. Proper guidance and better regulations are needed to support their attempts to enhance the development of research and innovation.

The higher education system is expanding in size, but it remains small by regional standards. 

There are also some serious concerns about its quality. While various policy dialogues between the government and its development partners have discussed the importance of research, but limited follow-up actions have been taken. Most public universities do not yet have sufficient capacity to provide doctoral programmes.This is not only due to a lack of human resources such as qualified supervisors and technical staff, and physical resources such as laboratories, but also to the lack of a research culture and weaknesses in management and leadership. Private universities have taken a lead in providing graduate degree programmes, but these programmes are rarely backed up by a strong institutional commitment to research.

Most of the students enrolled in graduate degree programmes are public servants and professionals in both development organisations and private businesses. The graduate studies programmes offered by universities in the fields of education, law, economics, business management and development studies are directed mainly at the needs of professionals upgrading their knowledge and skills for the purposes of professional effectiveness and eventual promotion. These programmes are constrained by the limited availability of advanced scholarly literature, and by the fact that materials available in other languages may not be relevant to the context.

Within public universities there are no visible incentives for research by lecturers and there is no link evident between research achievements and either promotion or pay rises. A new policy on academic promotions is pending approval by the Office of the Council of Ministers, but it is difficult at this stage to see how this policy could address the many gaps that exist in research capability.

The gaps come in many forms. First, there is a lack of strong political commitment, which combines with a weak national research capacity to push the responsibility for research and innovation onto public universities and public research institutes. The level of understanding of the importance of research is not high among political and institutional leaders. Policy decisions, for example, are more often than not based more on assumptions, values and personal experiences, rather than on systematically collected data. More broadly, there is not a sound appreciation of the relevance of research and innovation to the future economic independence and prosperity of National .At present, it is easier to buy solutions for complex problems in agriculture and industry from abroad, rather than invest in the development of a strong national research capacity.

Second, the capacity for research and innovation is not yet well developed. Universities are commonly understood to be producers of research but across higher education system the faculty are under qualified. Augmenting this capacity is a major challenge. There are limited opportunities in universities for making research presentations, obtaining proper guidance from supervisors, or accessing research equipment and materials. Not surprisingly, most aspiring doctoral candidates prefer to do their studies abroad, whether self-financed or with the support of scholarships. Of the lecturers with doctorates. Opportunities for study abroad are scarce, though, which limits the supply of developed research talent. Most senior and highly qualified full-time lecturers in public Higher Education Institute also teach part time in various private universities, which pay them on an hourly basis. The income they earn is a valuable supplement to their government salary of around USD 150-200 per month, which is not enough to support a family. There are no promotional or financial incentives for lecturers in public universities to conduct research and publish. Their major commitment is to teaching, and preparing for promotion to a management position.

Third, As a national continues to struggle with the idea of academic freedom. At National peace is fragile and there are sensitive topics (for example anything related to borders with neighboring concerning government corruption) on which research is not generally encouraged. Furthermore, it is difficult to find any local peer-reviewed journals that published.

External development agencies and some of the government’s policy advisory agencies are needed to expand research capacity. The UNDP, World Bank, Development Bank, and the International Cooperation Agency should invested significantly in research and development.Tanzania Investment and Consultant Group Ltd-TICGL official high-level think-tank, is playing a key role in drafting and advising on a national strategic development plan. In doing so, TICGL is working closely with Different Organizations and a number of key development partners to influence national policy and development. Partnerships to conduct research within government institutions and public universities have been sought for mutual benefits and with a view to building research networks and communities for knowledge management.

There is very little research co-operation between universities themselves, or between universities and either public or private enterprises. However, Development Organizations Agency, a non-government agency, has been providing valuable support for young researchers, especially for those fresh back from abroad. TICGL publishes the National Outlook Brief, in partnership with the The Economist Review and Acedial International Ltd. This publication is a key resource for many policy makers and decision makers in National Development . There are very few other instances of the skills of highly qualified persons being utilised in this way. In future, though, international and regional co-operation through networks will make it more likely for highly qualified to become engaged in research-based collaborations with colleagues from other countries.

Conclusions

Recent developments in the higher education sector have seen an increase in enrolments and an increasing number of graduates moving from the bachelor to the doctoral levels. The slowness of the government’s approach to policy development and implementation regarding research and innovation is, however, a concern.

Building a research and innovation culture is likely to be a long-term challenge.National has had an Education Law , a Policy on Research and Development in the Education Sector and the Five-year Master Plan for Research and Development. This legal and policy framework aims to guide universities, researchers and research institutes to expand and commit to research and development towards turning into a knowledge-based society.

It is commonly understood that research prepares the ground for reforms and for improvements in the quality and effectiveness of policy processes and implementation. Public universities need financial commitment from the government and external assistance agencies if they are to make any progress in developing their research and innovation capacity. While the government has made some financial commitment to enhance research and innovation, it is difficult to trace exactly how large the commitment is. Against this backdrop, any donor-driven research investments need to be made conditional upon the publication of high-quality research outcomes.

The financial and political commitment to research and innovation is weak for various reasons. The government has little capacity to fund priority research areas and innovation. Furthermore, the government has little appreciation of the benefits of a knowledge society, or of evidence-based decision making. 

Research is most likely to be funded by development partners on a project basis. The World Bank’s has continuously urged investment in and more public attention on research and development. Future policy must focus on the development of properly funded public research universities that are autonomous in their governance and management. Performance standards for lecturers in these universities should stress the importance of quality in both teaching and research.

The management of research and innovation is currently not very effective. This situation arises from a lack of understanding of and a lack of political commitment to expanding research and innovation opportunities, particularly in any areas deemed to be politically sensitive. Policies and legal documents expressing a commitment to research and innovation are not supported in practice. There are almost no incentives for scholars and other highly qualified persons to engage in research and innovation. 

Research achievements in universities do little to help staff climb the career ladder. Universities are required to play more of a role as business enterprises, delivering teaching services, to the detriment of research. They may also be producing graduates who lack the research skills needed for future national development or for the labour market of the future.

Public and private partnerships are not being sufficiently explored and developed. The private sector has a big stake in the quality of education and training, and could also be an important consumer of the research services if the universities were able to provide them. It should, therefore, be arguing for, and investing in, the development of a research and innovation culture and capacity in universities and research institutes. 

For the moment, however, its voice is subdued.

In order to promote research and innovation at a policy level some measures/strategies that should be considered are as follows:

  • Adopting top-down co-ordination to deal with the fragmentation of responsibilities for R&I by various ministries and institutions.
  • Formulating a national roadmap for the promotion and enhancement of science and technology in which research is key to this development.
  • Bringing the concept of R&I into the mainstream through capacity building for policy makers through regional network meetings or workshops;
  • Enhancing participation and initiatives annual meetings. 
  • Seeking support from development partners or donors to revitalise R&I in the short run and preparing for a take-over of responsibilities by the government in the long run.
  • Continued networking with regional development on R&I and advising Higher Education Institute to have professional society forums and exchange research outcomes.

Leadership by government

The typology covers leadership in research and innovation (R&I) by government. This is a complex area and requires changes beyond training to address the gaps. These gaps are:

  • The lack of strong and sustained national leadership for science and technological innovation. This gap relates to the political system and requires political reform. Rational policy formulation, implementation and evaluation has to become evidence-based. Policy research on research and innovations needs urgent strengthening. The government needs to recognise universities as an important resource for the country’s innovative capacity. While there are clearly social and economic returns for investment in research and innovations in Thailand, especially in the fields of agriculture and medicine, they need to be substantiated in order to convince policy makers and the public
  • Inadequate structural planning. This has resulted in an imbalanced, fragmented and redundant structure, with serious gaps. There is no real innovation platform and the mechanisms for development are inadequate. Recommendations for reform of the system at the national level should be taken seriously.
  • Insufficient co-ordination among agencies. Mechanisms for effective co-ordination require leadership and skills among top managers. Senior executive training programmes could lead to a broader national perception, encouraging leaders to go beyond their agencies, and improve the skills of top managers for interagency collaboration.
  • An inadequate financial support system and inadequate funding mechanisms. This includes funding, budgeting, investments, promotional incentives and monitoring, especially correction and reform. Training for budget bureau personnel, and Parliament’s budget scrutiny and budget supervision commissions would be helpful as they are responsible for budget allocations. This could give them an awareness of the role and importance of research and innovation in national development. The level of funding for research and development is very low. Governments have repeatedly stated their intention to provide more funds for research and development. It remains to be seen whether it will ever be achieved.
  • Inadequate quality control and assurance. This includes inadequate incentive systems for quality and relevant research, and for the utilisation of results, as well as an inadequate system for intellectual property management. There is insufficient knowledge and skills among those responsible for the management of research, development and innovation. Many types of training activities would help. There is a large gap between research results and utilisation and commercialisation. Translating research results into marketable products carries high risks, and may require high levels of investment. It also requires a change in mindset among decision makers. They would also need training in intellectual property.
  • Inadequate understanding of the innovation process. This includes awareness and understanding of the essential enabling elements, which has led to gaps in the structure and mechanisms to support innovation. Knowledge and understanding of innovation processes, as well as skills in the nurturing of innovation, require intensive training and development.
  • Inadequate private-sector participation. This is due to gaps in the implementation of already existing incentives and promotional provisions. In order to improve the existing tax incentives and investment promotion provisions, training regarding knowledge and understanding of the programmes, and skills for effective communication, would help.

Human resource management for research

Research commitment and achievements now feature prominently in human resource planning and management. Academic promotion, career tenure and remuneration all take account of research capability and performance. The university’s autonomous status allows it to determine rules, regulations and guidelines for academic staff management that permit active and productive researchers to climb the academic career ladder more rapidly, and to acquire financial benefits as a consequence of their research productivity. 

Individual staff members get a large proportion of any financial returns from the exploitation of their intellectual property and from patents. They are also recognised and rewarded for quality research outputs such as publications and citations.

Research programme planning and management

Senior administrators at the university are well aware of research trends, policy settings and funding opportunities for research, both within and outside. National is still establishing legislation and restrictions on and requirements for some types of research activity, but the university is contributing to their development and its administrators and major researchers are well aware of them. Researchers at large, however, have different levels of awareness. The implementation of financial auditing, compliance, and performance reporting needs more rigour and scrutiny although the requirements are understood. The university exercises its autonomy by having committees responsible for formulating research policy, mechanisms and for implementing research evaluations.

Strategic planning for research and innovation has been in operation for many years, but the rigour of its implementation varies. Even though the university has been working towards becoming a significant research institution for the past 30 years, it will take more time for it to fully establish a real research culture and ethos. Its risk management processes concerning research and its products have only been initiated during the past four years and are still limited. It has had a goal of university-industry collaboration for several years, but this remains largely at the policy level, with not many significant instances of implementation. Collaboration would require different mindsets and expectations from both sides – academics aim at excellence and perfection, while industrialists base decisions on utility and profits. The university would have to build trust with private sector over its ability to deliver in a timely fashion and the quality of its research outputs.

The university has increasingly active channels for communication internally and with external stakeholders, as well as with the public at large, with a special office responsible for this area. The efforts of this office appear, however, to lag behind the rapid rate of change and the growth in new opportunities. The University has a popular radio station, for instance, with a capacity for broadcasting programmes over the Internet, but now it must look at the prospect of having to develop a multimedia television station.

Mechanisms to support university-industry linkages remain at a conceptual level, or are implemented on a grant-by-grant basis. Truly collaborative ventures need further exploration to suit the local conditions and culture. Researchers, inventors, engineers, manufacturers, marketing experts and investors, as well as users, all have different points of view which need to be distinguished, and a culture of teamwork needs to be developed.

Gaps at University

There are a number of gaps in both institutional leadership and research management in University. Research and development is fairly well addressed, but innovations need more emphasis. Frequent changes in administrators mean that the skills for the implementation of strategies need to be constantly developed. Research management training must be an on-going activity. There needs to be a concerted effort to develop the rules, and guidelines for good research practice that are appropriate for the local conditions. International collaboration could be further strengthened with new knowledge and skills. A big gap exists in relation to the scaling up of research and innovation to a commercial level, as well as in marketing and entrepreneurial activities. In particular these gaps include:

  • Inadequate breadth and depth of knowledge regarding the sources of fund for research, development and innovations, both inside and outside the country, as well as weaknesses in skills to access and exploit them. Addressing this gap would enhance the productivity of the research resources within the university, and enhance research outputs and outcomes.
  • University staff do not have the knowledge and skills needed to commercialise research results and innovations, particularly about the steps to take, regulatory barriers and the investment in the process that is needed. More collaboration with outside agencies, both private and public, would expand the activities of the university. Better co-operative efforts would mean that businesses could contribute much more to the activities of the university.
  • University staff lack the skills to recognise the marketability of products from research, and whether innovative processes might be patentable. Many processes are either published in academic journals, or even left unpublished. Developing the entrepreneurial skills of academic staff and students would be helpful, and could be done through collaboration with private businesses.
  • Improved skills in writing grant proposals for a variety of different research funders would enhance the university’s research, development and innovation efforts.
  • Improved skills in writing research reports would make the university’s research output more widely available, especially if they were written in English for international distribution. Many research results are reported in Thai and in national journals, even though they would have been suitable for international publication.
  • Researchers lack the skills to transform routine work into research. A lot of innovations emerge from routine academic work and services, and could add to the university’s research output. Innovations from case studies and success stories are often not properly documented.

Discussion

As a developing country that has long recognised the need for research in support of national development. For many years it has been developing its universities and research institutes, but with inadequate financial and human resources, and with inappropriate structures and mechanisms. Although the higher education system started about a century ago, its research function came late, starting with the creation of the National Research Councils. Inadequate structural planning has resulted in an unbalanced, fragmented and redundant structure. There are serious gaps in the country’s innovation platform and a lack of adequate mechanisms for innovation development. Spending on R&D is low compared with international statistics and very low when compared with developed and other emerging Asian countries. Private-sector investment in R&D is also very low. While the shortage of R&D personnel in Thailand is recognised as a problem, it will take a long time to remedy.

As a national we needs to reform its research system if it is to meet the challenges of a more competitive world and if research, development and innovation are to play their part in national competitiveness. It also needs to improve the quality of its research management. Senior executive programmes for high-level policy makers would improve policy formulation and implementation, including financing and human resources development. These should place particular emphasis on the sources of funding and how to mobilise them. Even though granting agencies, universities and research centres have developed their research managers, middle managers still need additional training to enable them to take on a broader range of functions, including funding mobilisation and quality measures. Improving the quality of research processes and outputs will require standards and appropriate flexibility. Quality evaluation of research results and innovations, both by peer review and by other stakeholders, must be strengthened. The need for training of research managers must, therefore, be recognised and actively pursued. It is also crucial to offer researchers a career structure.

Scaling up and commercialising research results and innovations is complex, involving many steps. It needs supporting infrastructure and investment in the process. Training would improve knowledge and skills in the strategic management of the utilisation and marketing of innovations as well as intellectual property matters, including licensing, incubation, start-ups, joint ventures, and other commercial alternatives. Collaborations between universities and industry and between individual academics and entrepreneurs collaboration would benefit from sensitive development.

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