Thai academic researchers lag behind their counterparts in the Asean region, study finds

national April 04, 2015 01:00

By Pratch Rujivanarom
The Nation

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THAI researchers perform at about the world average but are far behind regional neighbours like Singapore and Malaysia, Elsevier senior vice president Michiel Kolman has said.

He has advised related agencies to grant more funds and urge Thai researchers to collaborate more with international academic groups to improve research standards.
Elsevier, the world’s largest online intellectual material provider, which owns around 25 per cent of academic articles online, spoke to The Nation recently about Thailand’s position in the regional academic circle.
According to Elsevier’s information, the number of Thai researchers in 2011 with articles on the Elsevier database increased to about 24,000. But that was still less than Singapore (34,000) and Malaysia (47,000).
“The number [of researchers from 2005 to 2011] is going up for Thailand but there is a gap with Singapore and the gap is getting bigger,” he said.
“A big surprise is Malaysia, which started very low in 2005 and surpassed Thailand in 2009 and is now far above Singapore in the number of researchers,” he added.
The sharp growth in the number of researchers was because the Malaysian government dramatically boosted funding compared to the Thai government, which has had a stable rate of funding in recent years. 
“Thailand is actually growing very nicely – started with 5,000 articles per year [in 2005] and now is more than 8,000 articles per year. This is a good goal for other countries,” he said. 
“They [Malaysia] have money. They hire researchers. The researchers are active, so that the output is high,” he explained.
Malaysia currently produces around 24,000 academic articles each year compared to Singapore, which publishes around 16,000 articles a year. Thailand was third, well above Indonesia (which publishes about 3,000 articles per year), Philippines (1,000 articles a year) and Laos (under 500 articles a year).
On the other hand, the quality of Thai researchers’ work had dropped slightly, according to the Field-Weighted Citation Impact (FWCI) measurement.
“FWCI is the way to normalise [the quality of academic work judging by citation]. One is the world average, and Thailand is just below the world average at 0.96, which is good but there is still room for improvement,” he said. 
“Singapore is actually doing pretty well on quality. They are the champions in the region, while Malaysia started with much lower quality than Thailand |but now have overtaken Thailand.” 
He said international collaboration was a major factor in top academic work as well as funding.
“If you have sufficient funding, you build up the centre of excellence. Sooner or later you’ll find yourself collaborating internationally. The output quality of international collaborators is higher than if you write an article alone or with your colleagues from you own institute or someone in your own country, so the way to increase quality is to go international,” he said.
 Elsevier said most research articles from Thailand were about medicine, although 16 per cent of Thai research is on this field. 
Interestingly, Thailand’s leading research fields are engineering and energy. Curiously, many Thai researchers studied agriculture science or computer science, but the quality of such research is still below international standards. 
“Computer science [research] is relatively low quality and this is kind of interesting because I know that there is a lot of discussion in Thailand to go to a ‘digital economy’ and if you want to achieve that computer science is one of the drivers,” he noted.

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