HEP Conversations with Thai industries: How higher education can prepare people for the future workforce?

The current COVID-19 pandemic is inevitably having a profound impact across sectors. Perhaps, the industrial sector is constantly shifting more hastily than others.  

The business sector is one of the key players in the higher education sector. It is working together with universities to be responsive to current and future health, cultural, and socio-economic crises. Fostering collaborations among academics and various experts from universities and industries leads to the development of science, technology, research and innovation which are the most important factors to enhance a country's competitiveness. 

The British Council had a conversation with representatives from the industrial sector, who took part in our two-year collaborative programme called University-Industry Links. The discussion aimed to gain insights on how the outbreak impacts are evolving the whole higher education sector in Thailand from the businesses’ point of view, which is the demand side of the education market. 

 

Contributors 

Thank you to the project leads from the British Council’s University-Industry Links programme.  

  • Dr. Petoon Maneepairoj, MD

Head Vice President of Training Center, MK Restaurant Group

Co-Founder & CEO, Mark One Innovation Center 

MK Restaurant, one of Thailand’s most successful restaurant chains (formerly known as MK Suki), has been serving Thai consumers for over twenty years. MK Restaurant has made a large investment to support universities e.g. the establishment of a sensory evaluation lab, and facility at Mark One Innovation Center for research and development of technology, including the innovation in food and beverage products.

  • Dr. Dudsadee Archakraisorn

Global Sensory Lead, Global Innovation Center, Thai Union Group PCL. 

Thai Union has a rich history of commitment to seafood expertise and innovation. Thai Union Group PCL's Global Innovation Center (GIC) seeks strategic innovation partnerships with institutions - private and public - around the world. This public-private partnership supports the GIC’s rigorous scientific processes, offers universities industry exposure, maintains low costs through shared use of facilities and builds valuable intellectual property for all involved. 

Q: What have been the impacts of COVID-19 on your business and how are businesses adjusting themselves?

Dr. Petoon (MK Restaurant Group): Industries have been affected by COVID-19 with varying degrees of severity, which is unavoidably high for the Food and Beverage industry, so the business needs to act very quickly to incorporate new emerging trends into business operations and marketing strategies e.g. online delivery. There is also a greater attempt to launch products much faster to respond to a sudden shift towards healthy trends. 

Dr. Dudsadee (Thai Union Group): Online delivery has indeed become more important than ever. For the industry, innovative collaborative models that improve transportation conditions and quality control systems are crucial during and after the crisis.

Q: How about the impacts of COVID-19 on the business’s funding policies for research and mobility?

Dr. Dudsadee: Now that all lab facilities are closed, spending for research is delayed. In this case, since the main funding source comes from within the firm itself, we need to reforecast our budget. The spending in particular project is postponed over next year. Apart from the short-term attempt to sustain the operations, new technology and R&D are regarded as highly substantial in the long run. 

Dr. Petoon: COVID-19 will not pose any long-term risks on the availability of our funding for research activities because of our financial reserve. For smaller businesses, funding for R&D may be reduced and reallocated mainly to sustain business operations.

Q: How has the perception of experts/scientists changed as a result of COVID-19 – for better or worse?

Dr. Dudsadee: COVID-19 is changing customers’ mindsets and behaviours including emotions and concerns that give rise to a new way of how we live our daily lives. Researchers should be aware of this inevitable change and its implications on research needs and priorities. With the rise of social challenges and uncertainties, customer needs tend to shift more towards products for basic needs which are less luxurious.  

Dr. Petoon: Experts and scientists in relevant fields such as medical food and food for health are critical personnel as a result of the pandemic and an increased awareness of health-related issues. In this age of disruption, researchers are expected to have the ability to shorten the research life cycle and translate research into the market faster for large-scale value creations. 

Q: Since industries can influence demand and shape requirement for the workforce, what other skills should universities support students and young researchers in developing?

Dr. Petoon: Businesses are at the frontline of any crises, including this pandemic. Threats from a major disruption like this can affect us so rapidly. Thus, when universities produce graduates as well as young researchers to work within the business community, a sense of urgency, commercial and financial mindset such as understanding cost-effectiveness and end-user needs are indispensable. In terms of character traits, businesses are also seeking workforces who possess integrity, leadership qualities and vision.   

Dr. Dudsadee: For younger generations, foundation skills including basic academic knowledge is mandatory. Higher education institutions can support them more by building the right mindset such as how to think creatively, working with passion and striving for innovation.  

Q: As the number of students attending university is reducing each year, how should universities respond to widen access to HE?

Dr. Dudsadee: Academic research principles is an area that universities are very good at. However, graduates still lack some hands-on experience in real business environments. Opportunities to get experience of the professional world in which university lecturers can still help shape on-going discussions that support critical thinking processes during placements can be a powerful model (to attract and retain students in higher education).  

The new generations tend to have less interest in going to university as they can now learn from other knowledge platforms. Universities need to adjust not only their pedagogies, but also how to apply the right knowledge and skillsets.    

Dr. Petoon: Universities need to focus not only on student demand, but also the learning demand of the whole workforce. Nowadays, it is obvious that providing pure, traditionally taught degree courses is not enough. Investment in distant learning platforms creates greater flexibility and wider access to education that serves the real needs and learning trends. This will increase the potential of business start-ups and help to boost the country's economy post-COVID-19.  

Learning points for the UK 

Research translation and commercialisation – Higher education institutions and businesses both agree that the importance of Research, Development and Innovation (R, D, I) remains the priority for Thai higher education and industrial sector. There is a high demand to quickly translate and commercialise research to maximise and transfer the benefits from R, D, I to the real market or the community.  

Emerging learning trends and widening access to higher education –Thai higher education institutions, as a knowledge provider, can work with the business sector to adapt in aspects beyond providing formal education but to strive to provide life-long learning opportunities for all, for example initiating new collaborative internship models or employability schemes for the workforce to gain the right skillset. The focus of higher education can no longer placed only on students but more to the public at large, and their role is now seen as providing education that is flexible, personalised, and inclusive to serve the real needs of every learner as much as possible. 

 

About the University-Industry Links Programme 

The British Council, in partnership with the Food Innopolis, National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), is working on University – Industry Links programme to form a partnership and knowledge sharing platform in creating competitive advantages in developing Thai food products for the international food market and the development of country roadmaps and future of food businesses between universities and the food industry in both Thailand and United Kingdom. 

We had Thai academics and industry members joined our Train the Trainer projects in 2 areas under the University – Industry Links: Foresight for Food and University – Industry Links: Sensory and Consumer Behaviours, read more here.