Science parks key to linking education with industry
Dr Chachanat Thebtaranonth of the National Science and Technology Development Agency told me the other day that the agency is seeking an initial budget of Bt582 million from the government to build two additional science parks, in the Northeast and the South, to increase Thailand's international competitiveness.
The northeastern science park will be based in both Khon Kaen and Nakhon Ratchasima, while the southern one will be based in Songkhla. Both schemes will require a further investment of Bt3.61 billion and Bt3.48 billion, respectively, in order to be completed within the next six to eight years.
Altogether, the country will then have a total of five science parks nationwide including the first two provincial units in the North and the East, and the headquarters at Thailand Science Park in Pathum Thani.
The concept of science parks originated in the United States during the 1950s, when Stanford University housed the world's first such park. A science park is usually a piece of real estate that houses research-and-development facilities or knowledge-based enterprises that are closely linked with universities and other institutes of higher education in the area for the purpose of technology transfer and commercialisation.
For example, Thailand Science Park, which currently has around 1,000 staff members, including over 600 researchers with master's and doctoral degrees, now has 45 tenants at its site in Pathum Thani, employing a total of 223 researchers. Thailand Science Park has also acted as an incubator for 10 enterprises, with 48 being prepared to enter this programme. Over the past decade, a total of 116 research schemes were implemented, generating a combined value of Bt3 billion annually.
Among the tenants at the park are Siam Cement Group's units for ceramic and chemical industries, Betagro's Science Centre, Hemotrans, Mobilis Automata, Alltech Biotechnology, Shiseido, Western Digital and Poly Plastic Marketing.
Currently, the Board of Investment offers maximum tax cuts and other incentives to all tenants approved at Thailand Science Park. The park itself provides specialised support services, manpower training, research-and-development grants, low-interest loans, scientific equipment, testing and analysis services and technology-patent management. It also considers investing with residents in selected joint-venture projects.
According to the National Science and Technology Development Plan (2004-2013), science parks will help create an environment in which four core technologies - information and communications technology, biotechnology, material technology and nanotechnology - can be utilised in clusters of national innovation systems to increase the country's economic potential and international competitiveness.
The goal is to boost the number innovation-based indigenous enterprises from around 12 per cent of the total to around 35 per cent, while the ratio of added economic value generated by knowledge-based industries is supposed to double from 13 per cent to 26 per cent of GDP.
In addition, the plan calls for key provincial cities in all parts of the country to have more advanced science and technology capabilities in order to benefit from the following stages of economic development. For instance, the proposed northeastern science park will be closely linked with Khon Kaen University and other institutions of higher education in the area, while the southern park will join hands with Songkhla Nakarin and other universities there to benefit from their research strengths. Each park will focus on industries that have a high growth potential in their respective areas.
Chachanat is also the president of the International Association of Science Parks, which comprises 325 members in 69 countries with about 110,000 tenants. He says that several factors account for the success of a science park, including the number and quality of enterprises that enter the "incubator programme", the number of tenants, the number and quality of research projects and the number of the park's projects that are commercialised. Other key success indicators for science parks include the number of researchers and knowledge workers in the parks, the amount of research-and-development spending as well as economic value creation, the number of private enterprises that use the services of science parks and the level of linkage between industries and relevant universities.