Having been back from a workshop and a guest lecture invite from four Thai universities, it is time to reflect on how national priorities in science affects development. I visited Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, Katsetsart and Mahidol universities. The first is Thailand's oldest university and has a city campus in Bangkok. Its faculties are considered Thailand's most prestigious. Thammasat has its social sciences faculties near the Chao Phrya river and its sciences campus at Rangsit, north of Bangkok. Katsetsart is located in Bangkok and is the prime agricultural university. While Mahidol is known for the health sciences and is located in Salaya.
What I noticed is that each public university has centres for spurring national science development according to research priorities. Thammasat's Rangsit campus was first conceived in the 1980s as a venue to boost Thailand's scientific development. Similarly Kasetsart and Mahidol had similar facilities. Today Mahidol gets the biggest state allotment of 5 B baht a year, a majority of which goes into the graduate programs.
The University of the Philippines gets a slightly smaller appropriation 6 B pesos or 4.6 B baht a year but that is needed to support a university system of 7 campuses rather than a graduate program alone.
The Philippines and Thailand had the same level of national development in the 1970s with the Philippines having the edge in having a managerial and technical class proficient in English. The cliche is this" Thais were sent to study in UP Los Banos to find how to grow high yielding rice and now who imports rice?"
What has happened then? Thailand was able to leave the English speaking Filipinos eating the dust. Surely the disaster spawned by the Marcos regime is a big factor. However when the Marcoses were booted out, succeeding administrations should have been able to play catch up. But none did until the Gloria Macapagal Administration thought it was wise and prudent to invest just about 3 B pesos for the National Science Complex at UP. This was approximately 30 YEARS after Thailand did the same thing.
Despite Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's faults and perceive faults, she is the only Philippine President that backed up her words to develop our science infrastructure with cash.
Thus Thailand is ahead from the Philippines in science and national development by about one generation. This is the same time that was needed to create Thai scientific capabilities in all aspects. Thai biomedical research in its schools of medicine have made great advances in tropical public health as well as cater to medical tourism. Each of the university hospitals can serve the Thais as well as the medical tourists that pay a premium for health care. And I need not emphasize agriculture, where Thailand made a breakthrough as early as the 1970s.
The development of science and technology is closely tied with basic education. While sending students to study for science advanced degrees overseas was a worthwhile strategy, Thailand never neglected its basic education sector and this can be seen in the well built schools that dot the countryside.
Thailand has its own political culture so akin to the Filipino and the social problems are in some extent similar. Despite this the Thais have succeeded in national development. There is a widespread acceptance that political stability is needed.
As for advancing science capability, Thailand's major universities are increasingly implementing ENGLISH language programs in the sciences, humanities and social sciences. Increasingly upper level undergraduate courses are taught in English and many graduate programs are in English. These programs don't cater for foreigners but to Thais. And increasingly many Thais now can speak good English. This is evidenced by the many international refereed publications churned out by Thai academics in all departments. In UP Diliman there are some departments with nary a publication!
As my Thai colleagues have pointed out, the University of the Philippines is going backwards. Instead of improving English language competency and programs, it still cannot resolve the debate on language. The Thais say that if the university abandons English in teaching, scientific development will be postponed by another generation.