Thammasat UniversityBenefiting society with interdisciplinary and international collaboration

Benefiting society with interdisciplinary and international collaboration


Thammasat University is using its research programmes to tackle Thailand’s issues

Because of the increasingly rapid rate of change in both modern technology and society, how universities should enhance their civic engagement and work towards outcomes that benefit the communities that they serve is a challenge for many institutions. At Thammasat University, however, it is business as usual.

Serving Thailand’s societal needs has been Thammasat University’s guiding principle throughout its history, and presently it states its main strategic objective is to become “the University of the People, the Research University and the International University”. Thammasat is already embedded in the social fabric of Thailand, maintaining close relationships with policymakers and local industry. Its vice-rector for research and innovation and acting dean of the College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Siriwan Suebnukarn, says that its research activities in areas such as artificial intelligence, agriculture, medicine, logistics and business will also play a key role in achieving this goal.

“We almost have 20 centres of excellence in research,” she says. “One of the newest is about food, and that is really interdisciplinary because it involves the production of the food, which is more on the agricultural side, and the processing of the food, which can be healthcare-related.”

These centres of excellence form an ecosystem in which research collaborations can be established to help facilitate the multidisciplinary approaches that are needed when tackling social issues such as sustainability and healthcare.

“With this centre of excellence idea, we really like the centre to produce research that has social impact – not only the pure research that produces just a paper,” says Dr Suebnukarn. “This is the idea of Thammasat: we support the establishment of these centres of excellence so that they can do research of their interest – deep research in their area – but it also has to be interdisciplinary, integrated, and international collaboration is a requirement.”

Before joining the Thammasat administration, Dr Suebnukarn was a research fellow who worked at a centre affiliated to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The academic freedom and international collaboration that she enjoyed as part of that network inspired her to establish two programmes with similar values: the Bualuang ASEAN chair professorship and the Bualuang ASEAN fellowship.

“Altogether we have 20 chair professors and 10 fellows from around the world,” she says. “They do not have to be at Thammasat for 100 per cent of their time. They do not have to do the compulsory teaching course: it is more about seeding money, about two people being able to meet each other, work together and get some external funding for their initiatives.”

Finding the balance between academic freedom and being agile enough to tackle fast-evolving social issues can be difficult, but Thammasat finds itself well placed to maximise its social impact. For example, Thailand’s tax structure incentivises private investment, and companies can be operated out of Thammasat. It is Dr Suebnukarn’s hope that teachers and researchers will be able to create start-ups on campus, and in doing so create another route for research initiatives to be applied in industry.

Having Thammasat University Hospital on its Rangsit Campus is another benefit, as it facilitates quicker bench-to-bedside transitions for Thammasat’s researchers, who have developed a variety of groundbreaking AI solutions for tackling public health and caring for Thailand’s ageing population.

“We are very strong in AI at Thammasat,” says Dr Suebnukarn. “We have AI applications for elderly people, to recognise falling. We have some outstanding AI applications in using deep learning to diagnose chest X-rays for the whole country. We worked with the Ministry of Health to launch this research.”

Thammasat also plans to open a fully digital smart hospital on its Pattaya Campus, designed to become a test bed for frontier procedures. As an academic with a background in dentistry and a PhD in information management, Dr Suebnukarn’s area of research expertise lies in applying AI to clinical training. She views such research as leading to better teaching outcomes and in turn better societal outcomes – a virtuous cycle that will help Thammasat continue to benefit, locally and globally, people, research and society.

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