The challenges facing innovation policymakers in Thailand
Thailand must deal with political instability and regional competition
Although innovation is now a top priority for the Thai Government and policymakers, the Thai innovation system is still relatively weak compared to other Asian countries of similar size and development level. According to the Global Innovation Index 2017, Thailand is not only far behind Singapore and the Republic of Korea (which are top world performers), but also outpaced by neighbouring Malaysia and Vietnam.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) pointed out that ‘political instability and a lack of policy continuity have weakened the ability of public institutions to provide an enabling environment for businesses and, equally important, to steer and sustain major reforms over time’.
The Thai administration is still hierarchical, fragmented and silo-based
According to UNCTAD, the various existing financial and non-financial schemes to improve innovation in Thailand are ‘too fragmented and uncoordinated’, thus leveraging little R&D and private sector funding for innovation, and involving only a relatively small number of firms. Additionally, in spite of the 2017 National Competitive Enhancement Act for Targeted Industries, there has been little or no synergy between the existing innovation promotion schemes managed by different ministries.
Some public institutions within the Thai innovation system are still quite hierarchical and silo-based in their administrative processes, impeding innovation policy implementation. On the other side, the lack of transparency and heavily bureaucratic procedures also negatively impact the environment for business and innovation.
Programmes developing skilled labour in innovation do not keep up with the pace of demand
Many programmes supporting the development of human resources in science, technology and innovation have been put in place and implemented at all levels of education. Increasing market demand for human resources in innovation, both at the vocational and higher levels of education, has however exacerbated the shortages of skilled labour.
Intellectual property (IP) policies are not yet meeting the needs of the system
A basic level of protection and a registration system has been put in place for copyrights, trademarks and designs with a basic legal framework enforcing IP rights. However, the commercialisation of research and IP management is still underdeveloped in Thai universities and patent protection is inadequate, suffering from holes in patentability and severe patent backlogs.
There is a persistent disparity in access to the innovation system
Large multinational companies, state-owned enterprises and family-owned domestic conglomerates play a major role in the development of science, technology and innovation capabilities and exercise a considerable influence on the design of economic policies. On the other hand, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), though accounting for 80 per cent of national employment and about 36 per cent of the GDP, still have limited participation in the national innovation system.