Most Thais are familiar with the term gross domestic product (GDP). But not so many know what GERD is. The acronym stands for gross domestic expenditure on research and development, or the amount each nation spends on R&D in science, technology and innovation.
This low awareness is understandable. Although the GERD of Asian countries is on the rise, Thailand came 11th out of 12 countries for GERD to GDP in 2009, according to the website of the National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Office (STI), a think tank on research and development policy in Thailand. The countries with the highest GERD to GDP were South Korea (3.56% of GDP), Japan (3.36%), Taiwan (2.94%), Australia (2.28%) and Singapore (2.24%). Thailand (0.24%) and the Philippines (0.10%) were last.
The Ministry of Science and Technology has spent years trying to reverse the trend. The STI, Bangkok Bank and Siam Cement Group (SCG) collaborated to run a seminar called “Driving R&D Investment to 1% of GDP through Public-Private Partnerships”.
Science Minister Pichet Durongkaveroj said the lack of investment in research and development has been the result of political instability.
“Our R&D policy lacks consistency given the fact that we often change government,” said Mr Pichet. “If you look at other countries, you will find that those with stable policy make advances in R&D.”
The current military government has plans to stimulate science, technology and innovation. Last year Thailand spent 57 billion baht on R&D, or 0.47% of GDP. A target was set to increase GERD to 1% of GDP, or to around 100 billion baht by 2019. This would be accomplished by encouraging the private sector. In December, the cabinet approved a policy that will let private companies use R&D expenses as a tax deduction. In February, the cabinet approved a “talent mobility” policy that allows researchers who received state scholarships to work on private projects and claim work in lieu of scholarship repayment. Such a policy is significant, as few Thai scientists end up working with private companies. According to the STI, only 6% of 10,676 PhD graduates work in the private sector.