(18 Mar 2021) In 2020, Thailand was third, after China and Vietnam, on Nature Index’s list of rising countries in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region…From an even lower base, Indonesia and Vietnam rank fourth and fifth on the APAC rising countries list. Malaysia, with more than 2,200 researchers per million people — second only to Singapore, which has 6,730 researchers per million — had the third-highest average output in the Web of Science in south and southeast Asia in 2014–18, according to a 2019 analysis by Clarivate’s Institute for Scientific Information (ISI). The ISI report found that research output by Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam roughly doubled in the past decade.
This may be due in part to a pivot by many universities in southeast Asia from teaching to research, in a bid to improve their international rankings and attract more funding and students.
Amid growing recognition that R&D can help a country progress, governments, too, have established new ministries or policies specifically targeted at boosting research. For example, Vietnam launched its National Foundation for Science and Technology Development in 2008; Malaysia unveiled a 10-year National Higher Education Strategic Plan in 2015; and Thailand set up a new Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation in 2019, consolidating functions previously divided between several government entities.
Countries including Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have also introduced rules stipulating that graduate students and researchers must publish papers before they can attain their PhD or professorships.
As a result, research output has increased, but not always for the better, says Numpon Mahayotsanun, an executive member of the Thai Young Scientists Academy. “It seems to me that we are being pushed to produce quantity not quality, and that publishing is linked more to recognition instead of impact.”
And although new national agendas and scientific roadmaps “look good on paper”, their execution is another matter, he says.
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