Ever since the Meiji restoration, determined leaders of national development have seen modern knowledge to be the key to their destinies in a complex world. But strategies for gaining a command of modern knowledge and the ability to apply it to national purposes remain obscure.

      In the last three decades, Thailand has achieved remarkable economic success without benefit of bountiful mineral resources or unusual levels of capital assistance. It also has had success in lowering mortality and morbidity rates, curtailing fertility, increasing food production and educating its people. It is, we suggest, no coincidence that the country also has developed notable institutions of higher education and research that contribute in a variety of ways to understanding and dealing with national problems.


Courtney A Nelson - Beirut 1973

A Klong in Bankok   1954

      Success has too many fathers to allow us to ascribe parentage to a few institutions, but without claiming that Thailand’s accomplishments in economic policy making and public health spring directly from its premier universities in those fields, Thammasat and Mahidol, it may be useful to consider some of the ways they contribute to national achievements and then to focus on how these institutions developed.

      Our purpose is to concentrate not on what is unique to the Thai experience, but on what has been done that could perhaps be done elsewhere, both through foreign assistance programs and through wise domestic policies. We are interested in identifying the ways in which Thai leaders were able utilize resources available domestically and through foreign assistance mechanisms to build strong institutions, and especially in how they have succeeded in sustaining and enhancing the institutions after the assistance programs phased out. We also wish to consider the need to define new mechanisms for future cooperation if maximal mutual returns on these achievements are to be gained.


      Although respect for modern knowledge has been widespread since Meiji times, opinions about the means of acquiring and using this elusive commodity have changed frequently over the intervening years. The Japanese relied more upon translations than do later day developers, but virtually all serious attempts to modernize begin with a substantial investment in overseas education.

      Overseas education for a time plays the R&D role for a developing country; it is a primary source of new methods and technologies. Reliance upon the direct transfer of knowledge and techniques from industrial to developing countries has familiar hazards, however, and the necessity for field research and the adaptation of knowledge to local conditions has been recognized at least since Walter Reed braved Panama.

      The discoveries of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains and of oral rehydration therapy (ORT) conclusively demonstrated the value of conducting high-quality research on location in developing countries, but these successes for the most part occurred within the confines of enclave research institutions controlled by scientists from abroad. The Rockefeller and Ford Foundations set up and ran CIMMYT and IRRI before the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) shared the burden among a variety of donors, and the US Navy supported much of the field research which culminated in the discovery of ORT at the Pakistan/SEATO Cholera Research Laboratory in Dacca.

      A case could be made, perhaps, for the industrialized countries to conduct the bulk of the research needed on Third World food production and disease problems under some sort of international division of labor, but this would fail in practice even if it were somehow accepted in principle. The world’s largest medical research budget, that of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), devotes no more than 5% of its funds for maladies primarily of concern in the tropics.

      Even if budgetary limits were overcome, understanding the social and cultural settings for illness can be as critical as mastering its biological aspects. Even simple and effective remedies such as ORT require adaptation to fit the cultural and social context of dealing with diarrheal illnesses.

      The need for each country to have its own health research system has recently been defined and affirmed by an International Commission on Essential National Health Research, and the case for creating indigenous capacity for analyzing and dealing with national problems in other fields is no less accepted.

      The development of local problem-solving capacities in health, agriculture, economics and other dimensions of national action would seem to be an obvious arena for international cooperation, and so it is, but just how this capacity can be created remains a challenge in many countries. The role of universities continues to be controversial among development strategists. Universities can be and often are remote from the realities of poverty and disease, expensive purveyors of higher education of doubtful relevance and merit.

      Without suggesting that universities need be the primary research institutions in a country, or that Mahidol and Thammasat are the only successful universities in Thailand, the experience of these two institutions in developing high-quality research and teaching capacities, and the part played in their success by foreign assistance, seems worthy of attention.


      Thailand’s economic and social success is particularly encouraging for other countries because the Thais have demonstrated that it is possible to succeed without massive external assistance or the discovery of oil riches. Thailand has benefited from enlightened and effective foreign assistance in institution-building from both private and public sources, as these papers are intended to demonstrate, but foreign aid played a relatively minor role in the overall success of the economy.

      By comparison with Taiwan, where US aid averaged $10 per capita for many years and made up 34% of gross investment, assistance in Thailand was seldom more than $1 per capita and averaged less than 1% of total investment. Whereas US aid averaged 6.4% of Taiwan’s GNP between 1950-1970, and was 10% in the initial years, in Thailand during that period it averaged 0.7%.(1)

      The Thai economic achievement as not been as spectacular as that of Taiwan, Korea, or the other Asian Tigers, Singapore and Hong Kong. Indeed, in 1965 Thai per capita income exceeded that of Korea, and in 1985 it was only a third of Korea’s(2), but the rate of growth has been impressive, relatively constant, and healthy in terms of diversification.

      In the 1950s, when Thailand’s national income accounts were first being estimated, its per capita income, as in many developing countries, was well under $100 per year. During the 1950s, the Thai economy grew by a respectable rate of over 5% annually, and this increased in the 1960s to an 8.4% annual average. The oil price shocks of the 1970s hit Thailand relatively hard, but the economy still grew by an average of 7% per year during that decade.(3)

      Much of this early success was due to a continuous expansion of agricultural exports, some of which took a heavy toll of tropical forests, and import-substitution manufacturing. During the first part of the 1980s, oil and commodity price shocks set the economy back, slowing growth and leading to rising debt and austerity. In the second half the of l980s, however, Thailand’s performance has been spectacular, including a 40% annual increase in manufactured exports, a 30% annual growth rate in total exports, and an overall double-digit GDP growth rate.(4)

      The shift in export composition is particularly significant. The Thai economy was initially dependent upon a narrow range of primary commodities, chiefly rice, rubber, teak and tin. In 1971 manufactured goods accounted for only 10% of exports, and as recently as ten years ago, primary products constituted two-thirds of exports. Now over 60% derive from manufacturing.(5)

      A recent analysis by a team of economists at TDRI goes in some depth into the sources of the recent export-led growth, its effects on the economy, and prospects for its sustainability. Of interest to us here are less the factors that caused the growth than those that did not. Contrary to what one might expect, neither increases in world demand for traditional Thai products nor a growth in foreign investment provides the explanation for the Thai success, although both were positive factors. The authors credit instead the Thai ability to take advantage of favorable domestic and international economic circumstances (such as slowing of the expansion of extensive agriculture, developing the manufacturing sector, producing a skilled workforce, and creating economic infrastructure), and responsive macroeconomic management (a reasonable exchange rate, responsible fiscal and monetary policies, etc.).

      In other words, the Thai economic success over the years, and particularly recently, is home-grown. It is less the product of natural or donor benevolence, or of fortunate shifts in the terms of trade of its traditional products, than of local abilities and sound policies. Our interest here is to learn what we can about how those local abilities and sound policies came into being.

      In the population and health sector, Thai accomplishments are no less outstanding. The rapid reduction in fertility rates accomplished in the course of three decades is regarded in the literature as a demographic revolution(6). The annual population growth rate declined from a peak of over 3% in the early 1960s to around 2% at the end of the 1970s, and is expected to reach 1.6% by the end of the century.(7)

      Similarly, the health status of the Thai people has improved greatly as evidenced by available indicators of health status: life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rates, nutrition status of infants and children under five, and leading causes of death and illness.

      Life expectancy at birth has increased by five years since 1965 and is projected to increase another five years, to over 65 for both male and female, for the generation that will be born after the year 2000. Infant mortality rates have dropped by half or more since 1965 to a national average of 45 per 1000, although regional disparities persist. Leading causes of death have shifted in twenty years from diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis and pneumonia to accidents, heart disease and cancer. These statistics compare favorably with countries at the same and, higher levels of per capita income.(8)

      These achievements, too, have many fathers, including an unusually effective Ministry of Health, an outstanding population and family planning program, and strong medical education and research institutions. Although it is not possible or even desirable to try to allocate credit for improved health status among the participating institutions, it is more plausible to credit research and training institutions with success if their societies are doing well in the areas in which the institutions specialize than if they are not.

      Nor are Thailand’s successes in economic growth and health status improvement cause for complacency. Income distribution is seriously skewed, particularly by region, and many people in rural areas have scant access to health care. The point is not that all problems have been solved; it is that solid institutional capacity for analyzing and dealing with problems has been created from a relatively rudimentary base in a remarkably short time. We need to learn what we can about how it was done, under what conditions it might be replicated elsewhere, and what future linkages between Thai and US institutions would make sense in the post—aid period.


      The topic is, of course, unmanageable. But since our purpose is to learn what we can about how institutional research capacity was successfully created in Thailand, with US assistance, and what avoidable mistakes may have been made in the process, we invited two senior researchers, and research administrators, to discuss the evolution of their institutions and the part played in it by US assistance.

      This initial paper is, then, devoted to defining our purpose and describing some of the mechanisms through which assistance contributing to research capacity-building has been channeled to Mahidol and Thammasat Universities over the past thirty years. The description is not encyclopedic, nor is it evaluative; it is meant to provide a backdrop for the other papers in this series.

      The author of the second paper, Professor Natth Bhamarapravati, has been Rector of Mahidol University since 1979. He is a pathologist with a D.Sc. from the University of Pennsylvania and was the first chairman of the Department of Pathology in the Faculty of Medicine at Ramnathibodi Hospital. He served as Dean of the Faculty of Graduate studies at Mahidol from 1973 to 1980. He has remained active as a researcher throughout his distinguished career in academic administration and continues to be a leader in the field of dengue vaccine research. Dr. Natth’s observations on strategies for institutional development that have benefitted Mahidol University are thus based upon a wealth of first-hand experience.

      Professor Praipol Koomsup has been Vice-President for Academic Affairs of Thammasat University since 1988. He is an economist with a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1978, He served as Chairman of the Research Committee of the Faculty of Economics at Thammasat from 1979—82, and was Dean of the Faculty from 1986-88. Dr. Praipol publishes extensively in the areas of energy policy and economic development. His observations on strategies for institutional development benefiting Thammasat University are similarly based upon long personal experience.

      The fourth paper, by Dr. Charles Myers, Jr., provides a contextual perspective to these accounts of institutional development by discussing changing labor and employment patterns, the structure of the education system, and policies through which the Thai authorities dealt with pressures for rapid enrollment increases in a period of budgetary constraint. Dr. Myers is an economist with a Ph.D. from Princeton University, who is currently Acting Director of the Health Office at the Harvard Institute for International Development. He is a frequent consultant to TDRI and was a resident researcher there from 1985 to 1987.

      Part V will eventually contain a summary of lessons gleaned from the preceding papers that may be of use to other countries trying to strengthen their economic and health research systems, and a discussion of bilateral and international linkage mechanisms that will continue in the post—aid era, or which might need to be created. This concluding section will be prepared following the Princeton Conference. In the present version, some preliminary ideas along these lines are put forward for discussion by Conference participants.    


      In choosing to look at the development of institutional research capacity in Thailand, we are fortunate that so much evaluative literature already exists. Among the sources drawn upon most extensively for this paper are the following:

1.       Thailand and the United States: Development, Security and Foreign Aid by Robert J. Muscat. This book, published in 1990 by Columbia University Press, contains a full account of the US contribution to Thai development through the development assistance program.

2.       “Thailand,” a chapter from an unpublished review by the late James Coleman of the University Development Program of the Rockefeller Foundation, written in 1984.

3.       “Thailand: Evaluation of USAID’s Centrally-Funded Science and Technology Grants Program,” prepared for USAID by William Krebs, Anthony San Pietro, and Jaroon Kumnuanta in June 1989.

4.       “Mid-Term Evaluation of the USAID/Thailand Science and Technology for Development Project (STDP),” prepared for the STDP, Ministry of Science, Technology and Energy of the Royal Thai Government by Ronald Black, Albert B. Van Rennes, Burapa Atthakor, and Suchitra Punyaratabandhu-Bhakdi, in March 1990.

A.    The University Development Program of the Rockefeller Foundation

      For nearly two decades, beginning in 1963, the Rockefeller Foundation invested substantial resources in seven universities on three continents, certainly the most ambitious higher education development program by a private institution since the Foundation’s major effort at the Peking Union Medical College. Three of the seven beneficiary institutions were in Thailand, and they received a total of $28 million, or 24% of the total expenditures.

      The Foundation didn’t intend to invest in three Thai institutions; it held to the notion that synergetic gains were available from the creation of strong faculties of agriculture, life sciences, humanities and the social sciences in a single institution, and its officers tried in vain for a year and a half to bring about the amalgamation of Kasetsart, the University of the Medical Sciences (which became Mahidol in 1969), and Thammasat into a single university. The circumstances in Thailand did not meet the UDP criteria in other ways as well: sound and effective academic leadership with which to cooperate was not evident at two of the institutions, disciplinary strength was lacking in key areas of concentration, and, in two cases, no other donor was available to share the financial burden.

      In the end, the Foundation overrode its own misgivings and made major investments in the Thai institutions. In part, perhaps, its flexibility reflected the long history of the Foundation in Thailand, extending from a campaign against hookworm and environmental sanitation which began in 1916, through nine years of support for the Siriraj Medical School at Chulalongkorn University beginning in 1923, and continuing support for agricultural research and education at Kasetsart University, which had begun in 1955. Thailand’s proximity to the turbulence in Indochina and Red China, and its pro—Western orientation, may have added a geopolitical consideration, but that hardly seems necessary to justify the choice.

      Interestingly, when Coleman and others came to review and evaluate the UDP investment in Thailand, they found that solid academic leadership was in fact present when the program started, and that the absence both of other donors and of disciplinary traditions on which to build were factors contributing to the program’s success. Starting nearly from scratch at Thammasat and the University of Medical Sciences (Mahidol) had its advantages.

      1. The Faculty of Science, Mahidol University. The initial RF commitment at Mahidol was to train preclinical and basic scientists, not to train physicians, although the end result was hoped to be better-trained physicians in other Thai schools. When the program began, there was no medical school at Mahidol, but in 1966 a Faculty of Medicine was established next door to the Faculty of Science at Ramathibodi Hospital. Even within the Foundation, there was debate over whether the American model of research tied to medical schools was appropriate for a developing country institution such as Mahidol.

      When the Faculty of Medicine at Ramnathibodi was established, the RF expanded its commitment to include responsibility for introducing community medicine into the curriculum. In a sense, the Foundation was then straddling the appropriateness issue by supporting both the development of a strong science faculty in the Western tradition and the practice of community medicine in rural areas.

      The RF investment in Mahidol was massive in its day, as it would be now. Thirty promising candidates were initially selected by a Thai dean and awarded doctoral fellowships in American universities. Twenty-seven of these completed their training.

      The number of scholarships awarded to prospective Mahidol Faculty members by the Foundation eventually reached 80, but only the original 30 were for the life sciences. Six went to other departments in the Faculty of Science, 22 to nursing, 10 to the Ramathibodi Medical Faculty, 5 to the Institute of Population and Social Research, and 7 to social sciences and the humanities.

      While the first group of scholars was in training, 22 members of the Foundation field staff were assigned to six life science departments. Those selected to head departments were asked to make a commitment to stay until qualified Thai scientists were available to replace them. In all, the 22 scientists served a total of 120 years in Thailand, five as acting department heads for periods of six to nine years until the return and full integration of Thai successors.

      The Foundation spent twice as much on resident staff as on foreign training, which might be considered disproportionate, but Coleman found their contribution to setting the pattern for teaching courses and organizing curricula to have justified the heavy investment. By 1975, the academic staff of Mahidol was entirely Thai, and by 1978 all of those who had returned were still in their departments, three as chairmen. They were highly productive, world-class scholars, averaging more than 50 papers per year in international professional journals.

      The cost of the RF effort at Mahidol under the UDP was $13 million, around 10% of the total program worldwide. In addition, RF continued to support research at Mahidol at an annual rate of $80,000 after the UDP phased out in the mid-1970s. In today’s dollars, the investment would be equivalent to slightly over $40 million, based upon the consumer price index as reported in the US Statistical Abstracts.

      The achievements of the program have been impressive. As planned, the Faculty of Science serves as a national center for graduate studies and cadre formation in the life sciences. Coleman found that a substantial majority of Thai scientists serving in provincial Thai universities received their graduate training in life sciences from Mahidol. Research output remains prodigious, and the Faculty attracts funds from more than 20 international funding agencies.

      The one major objective not reached is that of establishing Mahidol as a regional center of excellence in the life sciences for Southeast Asia. After the UDP phased out, external scholarships were abolished and Thai increasingly became the language of instruction. The few non-Thai students in the Faculty diminished to none.

      Coleman identifies the following principal ingredients of success:

a.       A concrete, detailed plan of action, with specific measurable objectives and carefully scheduled activities, was mutually agreed before the program was launched and was adhered to at every step.

b.       The Thais scrupulously fulfilled all of their undertakings in the collaboration. Two successive Thai rectors, spanning the 15-year period 1964-79, gave the program strong support. Buildings and physical plant were provided on schedule, appropriations for recurrent budgets were dependable, and the University library budget was significantly augmented as Foundation support phased out.

c.       The RF provided full funding for fellowships, field staff, scientific equipment, and library equipment. A senior RF scientist served in Thailand for 13 years as RF representative, helping with the planning and implementation of the program.

d.       The Thai authorities provided attractive and competitive working conditions for returning scientists. Each had an established position to return to, salary supplements were available for meritorious teaching and research, research opportunities were abundant, and the research environment made the meaningful pursuit of a professional scientific career both possible and rewarding. On average, the returning scholars were able to spend half time on research.

       The level of commitment brought to the enterprise by both the Thais and the Foundation was if anything more impressive than the magnitude of the funds provided.

      2. Thammasat University. Although Thammasat University is Thailand’s second oldest, the RF program there, which came to be centered on the Faculty of Economics, also began largely from scratch. When the program began in 1964 there were almost no full time faculty members. The institution was, however, already in the midst of a transition from an open-admission “people’s university” to a quality institution with reduced enrollments and higher standards, under the leadership of a dynamic Secretary-General.

      As with Mahidol, RF was the only donor on the scene for much of the life of the program. The initial approach to institution-building differed from the Mahidol case, however, in that the Foundation had no predetermined disciplinary preferences. Fellowships were awarded to the most promising candidates from wherever they could be found in the humanities and social sciences. No step—by—step university development plan was devised, nor were field staff appointments made to coincide with overseas fellowships. Some of the early fellowship awardees later became noted in the fields of drama, poetry, and the philosophy of science. Many became leaders in the governance of the University.

      To some, Thammasat may have been a surprising choice for work in humanities and the social sciences. The older Chulalongkorn University was more prestigious, and Thammasat had a reputation for social commitment and volatility, often in its history having been at the center of political activity, which could have put the Foundation off. Foundation executives decided, however, that Chulalongkorn was too traditional and conservative to respond well to external stimuli, and Thammasat’s role in producing a majority of the country’s higher civil servants and teachers in other Thai universities made it a particularly attractive institution with which to work.

      Not long after the program commenced, it gravitated increasingly towards a focus on the Faculty of Economics, and within five years that became its singular area of concentration. The main reason was the appointment as dean of Dr. Puey Ungphakorn, former Governor of the Bank of Thailand and a charismatic intellectual. Dean Puey had a clear vision of the future of his Faculty and he worked closely with RF field staff to plan and schedule a long-range program for carrying it out.

      The plan had five chief objectives, which were tackled in sequential but overlapping stages. The objectives were to dramatically improve the quality of the undergraduate curriculum in economics, to establish a Master of Economics program in English, to engage the faculty in policy-oriented research both to enrich its teaching and to contribute to national public policy formulation, to strengthen the University as a whole through the leadership of the Faculty, and to make the graduate program into a regional resource.

      First priority went to accelerated staff development, and for that good candidates needed to acquire fluent English and a grounding in economic principles before being sent abroad. The Foundation consequently brought in a number of resident staff to strengthen the undergraduate economics program and set up an English-language program to serve all Thai universities preparing staff for overseas training. Economist field staff gradually built up to a peak of nine in 1971-2, and then declined fairly sharply to phase out entirely in 1981. A total of 64 person-years were devoted to the Faculty, with 14 more serving in the English-language project, and nine in non-economic social sciences and the humanities.

      The issue of relevance or the appropriateness of the curriculum was complicated in the case of economics because neither the expatriate field staff nor the returning Thai PhDs knew much about the real economic conditions and problems of Thailand. This lack added to the motivation of faculty members to engage in applied research and the development of indigenous teaching materials. In the later years of the program, RF supported research through the Thai Studies Program (Thai Khadee), the Economic Research Unit, a political science research center, and a University—wide research institute.

      Most of Dean Puey’s and the Foundation’s program objectives were achieved, although some more so than others. The undergraduate curriculum was upgraded until it was sometimes under fire for being too rigorous, and hence “elitist,” but returning Thai scholars affirmed that it was on a par with that offered in institutions where they received their doctorates. The MA program in English, the first full-time graduate-level program in a Thai institution, produced high-quality people and a good source of economic research materials resulting from second year theses. Some RF staff anticipated a natural decline in the standards of the program as field staff departed and the availability of scholarship funds diminished, but later evidence indicated that the decline failed to occur.

      The institutionalization of the applied research activities of the Faculty was more in doubt at the time of the Coleman evaluation, but has since then gained in importance. Among the problems were noncompetitive salaries and rigidities concerning the allocation of paid time for research, apart from the Economic Research Unit. No special endowment to supplement salaries was made available by the Government as it was for Mahidol scholars, with the result that good economists could earn five or six times their University salaries in the private sector. In addition, political turbulence in which Thammasat staff and students were deeply involved racked the campus in 1976, leaving a residue of Government suspicion of the purposes of research, and increased faculty caution in undertaking it. The 1976 upheavals also led to the expulsion of Dr. Puey, then Rector of the University, from the country.

      Opinions were divided as to whether the administration of the University improved through Economics Faculty example, but Dr. Puey’s selection as rector in 1974 doubtless led to the further application of the Faculty’s experience. The aspiration to make the Faculty a center of excellence for Southeast Asia failed to be realized for some of the same reasons that kept Mahidol from that role.

      3. Kasetsart University. The third leg of the UDP in Thailand was support for the development of the agricultural university, Kasetsart. Unlike Mahidol and Thammasat, the RF was not alone as the principal donor to this institution; it had received substantial USAID support since 1952. Moreover, the RF itself had supported activities at Kasetsart since 1955 under its Conquest of Hunger Program.

      The Foundation made major contributions to staff development and to the quality of instruction through long-term field staff assignments, as with Mahidol and Thammasat, but one function it undertook differed from other cases and deserves special mention. One senior field staff member, a former president of an American land—grant university, served as Vice—Rector for Development for four critical years during which a new Kasetsart campus was planned and a World Bank loan negotiated. The loan covered not only campus development costs but also funds for graduate study abroad for more than 100 Thais drawn from all faculties of the University. This was a case of what foundations think of as “leveraging,” the investment of a relatively small sum to influence the quality of the application of much larger sums. The concept is understandably more popular with the leverager than the leveragee, in this case the Bank, but it is one that may be worth returning to in Part V when we consider the need for new mechanisms for cooperation.

      To conclude this abbreviated account of an extraordinarily successful exercise in institution-building, it is worth noting the flexibility and persistence which marked the effort. Not only did the Foundation override some of its predetermined criteria in selecting these Thai institutions for assistance, it did not pull out when things went seriously awry.

      On two occasions, in 1971 and 1976, military coups occurred, the latter involving the killing of students, the intimidation of faculty members, and the forced political exile of RF’s close and esteemed collaborator, Dr. Puey. On another occasion, an experimental rural development project, designed to involve the three universities and the Foundation in a comprehensive interdisciplinary effort and to expose the students to concrete development problems, was abruptly terminated by the Government after the military coup of 1976. The Foundation did, in other countries, abandon university programs under adverse circumstances where eventual success was not as legibly written on the wall.

      Even more important than the willingness to persist despite adversity was the initial recognition that building strong institutions would take 12 to 15 years, and the ability to plan for a program of that duration.  

B.    The USAID Program

      1. Training. USAID, and its predecessor organizations, have been active in Thailand since 1951, and the experience must be counted among their most successful. The depth and breadth of the assistance program could not be captured in a brief treatment such as this, but fortunately the recent book by Professor Robert Muscat provides an excellent account and analysis of the achievements of the program, and of the Thai institutions it was designed to assist. The following information was derived primarily from Muscat's book.

      From the outset, the foreign assistance program emphasized training, much of it in the United States, and a sizable proportion at the graduate level. This paper is concerned with a more narrow focus, primarily the strategies for developing indigenous research capacities in the fields of health and economics at Mahidol and Thammasat Universities, but it is worth noting in passing the extent to which senior Thai academic, Government, and private-sector figures have been exposed to American education. The significance of their studies, for our purposes, is that they helped to create a receptive environment for change, including a willingness to accept and act upon research results.

      Overseas training began with 14 participants in 1951 and 77 in 1952, reaching cumulative totals of 8,000 by 1970 and nearly 11,000 by 1980. About a quarter of these people were on long-term courses of study. The perceptible slowdown in numbers sent abroad in the 1970s was importantly due to increased capacity for offering high-quality education and training in Thailand, but it also reflected changing emphases in the foreign assistance program towards activities perceived to affect the basic human needs of recipients more directly.

      Interviewing Thais in business, Government and academia, Muscat found near unanimity in the belief that training has been the most important contribution of the US aid program to the country’s development. The Thai—American Technical Cooperation Association in 1986 determined that of 411 senior administrative and decision-making officials in the Government, excluding military and security related positions, 162 had been participants in US official overseas training programs.

      This proportion is doubtless far short of the total number who received American training. In addition to Rockefeller Foundation fellowships for post-graduate study in the United States, which totaled 378 between 1951 and 1985, the Ford Foundation awarded 111 fellowships in this period, the Population Council 43, and the Agricultural Development Council 38.

      Dwarfing all sponsored education in US institutions, privately-financed Thai students comprised about 90% of the Thai student body in the US from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. According to statistics compiled by the Institute of International Education, Thai students have numbered around six to seven thousand per year in the US since the mid-1970s, comprising about 2% of the total foreign student population. Most of these are in undergraduate institutions.

      To put this massive exposure to foreign training into perspective, it should be remembered that virtually no graduate education was available in Thailand in the 1950s, and as recently as 1967, Thai institutions were graduating only about 150 master's level students per year, a third of them medical. The ability of the Thai society to accept this massive foreign exposure, to put the technical knowledge to good use and not be seduced or overwhelmed by it is extraordinary testament to the strength and resiliency of the Thai culture. Almost no Thai participants failed to return home after their training, and dependency upon foreign institutions did not occur, as evidenced by the rapid decline in numbers sent abroad when high-quality graduate education became available in Thai institutions.    

      2. Transition program. By 1983, the assistance program in Thailand was justified mainly by its proximity to the continuing turbulence in Indochina rather than by Thai poverty, and the AID Mission Director undertook a study of future options for the program. The views of 40 to 50 prominent Thais were obtained in lengthy interviews. The predominant views of these individuals were that the most useful roles for USAID in the future lay in education and manpower development, science and technology, management, public-private cooperation, and agriculture. The US was highly regarded as a leading source of advanced technology, and more open to sharing it than most alternative sources. The alleviation of poverty was not considered an area in which US aid had particular relevance or leverage.

      Assistance programs don’t change directions overnight, nor are the priorities seen from the field always persuasive with Washington, but in the time between the options report and the shutdown of the AID program in March 1991, the program moved a considerable distance in the directions favored by the Thai respondents. Two substantial initiatives can be briefly mentioned here: Emerging Problems of Development, and Science and Technology. In addition, participation in centrally-funded scientific research competitions by Thai scientists was effectively encouraged and supported by the Mission.

      The Emerging Problems of Development Program was scheduled to run from 1985 to 1992 with an authorized funding of $18 million. Its intent was to identify significant problems where policy choices will be required and to stimulate high-quality research and analysis on them. Some advanced professional training was funded, but the largest single allocation went to support policy research at TDRI. The TDRI experience, not restricted to the AID project, is discussed in Part V.

      The Emerging Problems program also instituted a process that solicits the policy concerns of Government agencies, invites proposals, and funds studies, with decisions jointly taken by the Thai planning board (NESDB), the Department of Technical Cooperation (DTEC), and the Mission. Studies and pilot activities funded under this program have led to major new projects in science and technology and in natural resources and the environment.

     The Science and Technology Program was also intended to last from 1985 to 1992 with an authorized USAID budget of up to $35.4 million plus $15 million in Thai funding. A semiautonomous Science and Technology Development Board (STDB) under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Energy has been created to administer the funds. On it sit businessmen, scientists, and Government officials. The objective of the STDB is to improve the utilization of Thai science for economic activities. Apart from the medical field, scientific capability is perceived to be under—utilized by private industry, and resources devoted to research by the private sector have been low by comparison with more advanced economies in Asia and elsewhere.

      The STDB seeks to strengthen the technical infrastructure supporting industry by improving industrial standards, testing, and quality-control capabilities. It also seeks to promote R&D on commercially promising products and to improve access to international technological information. STDB can also support studies on policy constraints in these areas. Technical assistance to STDB is supplied through the National Academy of Sciences.

      What distinguishes the S&T project, in Muscat’s view, is its focus on applications in the private sector, its concern for S&T policy as a broad developmental issue, and its objective to help fix deliberate attention to S&T in effective institutional settings. For the purposes of this paper, what distinguishes STDB is the support it offers for applied research and development in the areas of bioscience and biotechnology, further strengthening the contributions of Mahidol, Kasetsart, and other universities to Thai development.

      3. PSTC.  In 1979, President Carter announced the establishment of a Foundation (later Institute) for Scientific and Technological Cooperation (ISTC) with developing countries. The idea was to take responsibility for research and technological collaboration out of AID, where it fared poorly in the atmosphere created by the “basic human needs” orthodoxy, and place it in a new Federal institute that would facilitate relationships between the US scientific community and institutions in developing countries, particularly the middle-income countries no longer served by the foreign assistance program.

      The announcement proved premature. Although the idea was hailed as a breakthrough by scientists in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the US Congress had little enthusiasm for creating another Federal agency. The ISTC was authorized by the Congress, but funding was rejected by the appropriations committee of the Senate. As a compromise, the authorities designed for the new agency were vested in AID, which set up the Office of the Science Advisor to administer the resulting Program in Scientific and Technological Cooperation (PSTC).

      PSTC has been administered quietly but effectively since being launched in 1981. Research capacity building has not moved to center stage in AID as a whole. Recent policy pronouncements stress building democratic processes, strengthening the family, and partnership with the private sector, but not building the problem-solving capacities of nations through universities. The budget of PSTC has declined from $12 million in 1981 to around the $8 million level, not accounting for inflation.

      For Thailand, and Mahidol University in particular, the PSTC has been a boon. Thai scientists have won 53 grants over the years, more than twice as many as any other country. Indeed, Mahidol University alone has captured more grants than any country total other than Thailand.

      Mahidol’s success is testimony not only to the quality of the institution, but also to the emphasis placed by the USAID Mission in Bangkok on strengthening scientific and technological capacity in the transition program. Perhaps the most effective action by the Mission for PSTC was the appointment of a Thai scientist, Dr. Jaroon Kumnuanta, to its staff to help scientists prepare and submit proposals to the program. The year after his appointment, Thai scientists won 12 awards, triple the number of the previous year and a quarter of all PSTC grants awarded that year. PSTC soon began attracting upwards of 100 proposals per year, and the Science Advisor had to ask the Mission to limit submissions to 50 in order to give the rest of the world a chance.

      Another international research competition funded through the Office of the Science Advisor was administered by the Board on Science and Technology f or International Development (BOSTID) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The BOSTID program initially concentrated on six research areas chosen by a committee of distinguished scientists from the US and developing countries. Special workshops on each topic were held to determine what research was needed and which developing country institutions were best able to do it. Proposals were then solicited from those institutions and reviewed and revised before funding. The BOSTID program lapsed in the late l980s due to a reduction in funding available to the Science Advisor.

      A third international research competition, funded through the Office of the Science Advisor, in which Thai institutions have impressive success is the US-Israel Cooperative Development Research Program (CDR). This program seeks to increase the access of developing countries to Israeli scientific, technical and development expertise. It funds joint research on significant development problems by Israeli and developing country scientists. Proposals are subjected to objective peer reviews and awarded on a competitive basis.

      By the end of 1988, when the impact on Thailand of the three centrally-funded research competitions was evaluated, PSTC had made 40 grants to Thai institutions totaling $5,622,164; CDR had made 20 grants totaling $3,094,098; and BOSTID had made 11 grants totaling $1,547,970. Of the total funds available worldwide, Thailand received around 20%.

      As might be anticipated, the findings of the evaluation were highly positive as reflected in the following summation:

      The centrally-funded projects have been producing scientific information that is of immediate relevance to development in Thailand as well as other developing countries. The overall quality of research is high, with few exceptions. The impact of these grants on Thai institutions, primarily the universities, is substantial: strengthening their capacity in science, increasing their ability to attract and hold qualified staff, serving as magnets to talented students, equipping their laboratories, improving research management, and expanding institutional capability to acquire funding for research from other sources.

      Centrally funded research programs, while strengthening AID’S overall impact in a country, are not free goods for the AID Mission. The Thai Mission devotes two person-years of staff time annually to centrally funded research. The AID Mission was due to phase down to one or two persons on the Embassy staff in the early 1990s even before the recent coup forced a more abrupt cessation of activities, and the PSTC and CDR responsibilities will probably be transferred to the STDB, assuming that institution survives the funding cuts. For other missions, where science and technology are not prominent elements of the program, the burden of supporting and monitoring centrally funded projects can be considered onerous.

C.    The National Epidemiology Board of Thailand (NEBT).   The rapidly changing requirements for health services in Thailand, resulting from economic growth and national accomplishments in combating infectious diseases and negotiating the demographic transition, place a considerable burden on policy makers in the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH). The pace of change puts a premium on the ability of the health system to identify priority problems, to mobilize resources, and to assess the effectiveness of alternative courses of action.

      Recognizing the potential value of the knowledge and experience of medical scientists in the universities for analyzing national health problems, the MOPH in 1986 set up the National Epidemiology Board of Thailand as a mechanism for mobilizing academic resources for public health purposes. The idea evolved from discussions engaging officials of the MOPH, Thai academicians in the health field, and a representative of the Rockefeller Foundation. The Foundation provided initial funding for the activity.

      The NEBT consists of a Board of Trustees, the National Epidemiology Board (NEB), an Executive Committee of the Board, five program units, and an administrative section. The NEB is the policy-making body, guided and supported by the Board of Trustees. Twenty senior Thai academicians and health executives serve on the NEB. The Board of Trustees consists of 35 persons, most of them serving ex officio as representatives of departments of the MOPH, universities, and bilateral and international donor organizations interested in public health activities.

      The Executive Committee is the key body for identifying priority issues and formulating plans of action. It consists of ten qualified health professionals who utilize a Technical Advisory Group and special problem—oriented commissions to assist in information-gathering, planning, and analysis.

      The four main program areas of the NEBT, each of which is the focus of a scientific commission serving the Executive Committee, are:

-         Communicable disease control;
-         Non-communicable disease control;
-         Environmental health; and
-         Health systems research.

      In addition, an office of Special Programs is available to deal with issues not covered by the four Commissions.

      This rather elaborate structure is remarkable for its ability to link sources of technical information with policy-making executives and those who control domestic and external resources available for dealing with health issues. It also encourages a broad problem orientation, transcending disciplinary and departmental boundaries.

      The creation of the NEBT has facilitated much closer interaction between decision-makers in the MOPH and leading academicians, and a joint approach to problems. For example, the Commission on Environmental Health determined that there is a high incidence of water—borne diseases despite the increasing availability of safe water supplies and latrines. The NEBT provided research grants to examine the issue, considering socio-cultural and behavioral factors as well as environmental and medical. The annual meeting of the NEBT offered a forum for policy—makers and academicians to discuss research findings and recommendations, and jointly to consider further action.    

      The opportunity for academicians to interact with experienced health workers from the field, created through the scientific working groups sponsored by NEBT, has proved beneficial in fostering interdisciplinary approaches to complex problems. Combining behavioral and social science research with clinical and biomedical approaches has increased the applicability of research results in some case.

      A number of cases can be cited to demonstrate the value of the NEBT to the Ministry. NEBT was instrumental in organizing meetings of experts to consider means of preventing encephalitis. The groups designed appropriate educational materials and vaccine schedules for use by the Ministry, which used the recommendations in conducting a large-scale vaccination program in the northern provinces.

      NEBT also initiated sentinel surveillance of HIV infections in 14 provinces, a system that has been adopted and expanded by the Ministry as its major source of information on HIV transmission.

      In another case, NEBT worked closely with the Ministry to design an action research program on means of controlling iodine-deficiency diseases. The National Medical Research Council supplied funding for studies. The NEBT supported a national seminar on iodine deficiency diseases, organized by the Nutrition Division of the Department of Health, which led to changes in strategies and programs in this field.


      Our principal focus in this series of papers is on the external assistance strategies and local policies that help to explain the emergence of two remarkably successful research-oriented universities in Thailand. Our brief review of two other institutions established in Thailand with external assistance, the STDB and the NEBT, is intended to illustrate the value of creating special mechanisms for linking university research capacities in the health field to both private and public sector agencies dealing with health problems. This institutional articulation is particularly well developed in Thailand.  


1.       Muscat, Robert, Thailand and the United States: Development, Security and Foreign Aid, Columbia University Press, 1990. p. 8.

2.       Muscat, p. 2

3.       Muscat, pp. 1-2

4.       Akrasanee, Narongchai, David Dapice and Frank Flatters, “Thailand’s Export-Led Growth: Retrospect and Prospect,” TDRI, February 1991. p. iv.

5.       Akrasanee, p. 5

6.       Muscat, p. 272

7.       Sussangkarn, Chalongphob, Teera Ashakul, and Charles Myers, “Human Resources Management,” paper prepared for the 1986 TDRI Year—End Conference, December, 1986. p. 16

8.       Sussangkarn, pp. 167-8

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