“The mind is everything. What you think you become.”
These are words familiar to many a Thai, words from the Buddha himself and equally applicable to Thailand’s drive to break free of the ‘middle income trap’. Thailand 4.0 is the nationwide movement to do just that, focussing on the ‘value based economy’.
Innovation, creativity, and technology define that movement, one which looks to rebase the Thai economy. Thus a hospital, under Thailand 4.0, integrates technology even more closely, developing smart prosthetics to provide sensory feedback, or nanotechnology to regrow nerves and restore movement to a paralyzed patient.
This is no simple task, and the more integrated technology becomes, the greater the specialisation required from its practitioners. Quality education, and improving human capital, will be essential in the implementation of Thailand 4.0: as of 2014, 20% of Thais had a degree, meaning for every 100 vocational job openings, there were only 77 recruits.
This is the role Mahidol University will play, so says its president, Udom Kachintorn. “We are the research hub for public health and biomedical science” he says with pride: “We are making important contributions in biomedicine and are preparing our facilities and staff to become a world class university with state-of-the-art equipment.”
Mahidol has links with Japanese companies, the Norwegian government and the World Health Organisation: also key to adapting Thailand’s knowledge base will be integration into a globalised world. This is where universities like UTCC come in, who have partnered with international institutions such as MIT and Alibaba to provide practical business training: “I have to prepare them to support Thailand 4.0 and to follow a digital world, so I brought in Alibaba” says president Sauwanee Thairungroj.
But it’s never too early to start nurturing such human capital. British education is the gold standard worldwide, and Rugby School Thailand aims to cultivate the next generation of Thai leaders. Although a private school, CEO Taya Teepsuwan provides such an education for the widest possible cross section: “our scholarship programs to provide education for underprivileged but talented students, so they benefit from our top academic standards and emphasis on character development”.
Through education and an integrated approach raising the human capital of Thais, Thailand 4.0, can be realised and Thailand can become a high income nation. But what about industries seemingly left behind? In 2016 49% replaced a traditional hotel stay with Airbnb – a worrying tech trend for hotels such as The Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park or The Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit. Of the former, general manager Bob Fabiano has a solution. As the first Marriott in Asia-Pacific to reach the Marquis category with a focus on MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events), it taps a wholly different market niche. “We have the capability of feeding, housing and meeting in excess of a thousand people and no other hotel can do that in Bangkok currently” he says, and in this way helps bring people together in a way Airbnb cannot.