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New university will add another chip to Thailand's emerging 'Silicon Valley'

Jul 14. 2014
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By Pichaya Changsorn
The Nation

PTT is considering to organise a Bt10 billion fund-raising for establishing an endowment fund to support long-term operations of the Rayong Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Thailand's first S&T research-intensive university designed to leapf
Modelled on the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Dr. Pailin Chuchottaworn, president and chief executive of the energy conglomerate, said RAIST, scheduled to be formally inaugurated by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn next July, would also fulfil a vision to turn Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard area to become a “Silicon Valley” of the Kingdom.
“Since the school will sit along an ‘industrial belt’ of the eastern region, the final part of a Silicon Valley is in a making,” said the PTT chief in an exclusive interview with The Nation.
RAIST situates on a 900 rai land plot that is part of a 3,700 rai land plot that PTT bought from its subsidiary IRPC at Wang Chan, Rayong, that is in the middle between the east coast where most of the country’s petrochemical plants and oil refineries as well as automotive and various other export and domestic factories locate, and the upper eastern region where there are many industrial estates and some automobile and electronics factories.
“We must create an excellence research university that is capable to produce top entrepreneurs and industrialists for the country,” he said.
PTT Group has already earmarked Bt5.2 billion budget to finance the next 5-years operations of RAIST and the Kamnoetwit Science Academy, a science high-school, both scheduled to be opened next year, that will charge no tuition fee for the first five years. The planned endowment fund, that many other top universities in the world also have, will help RAIST to stand on its own fleet and maintain its research-focused objective over a longer run.
“We have a 20-years aspiration: To make it the best Thailand university in five year, the top five in Asean in five years, and the top 50 universities of the world in 20 years,” he said. 
The goal is considered highly ambitious since currently only one Thai university-the King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi-is included in the world’s top 300 universities ranking. 
Palin said he would like RAIST to become a “change agent” to trigger changes at other local universities, all of them are currently considered a “teaching university”, to join its force in producing scientists and technologists that will help drive Thailand with S&T capabilities.
RAIST will begin with two Master Degrees offering-molecular science engineering and energy science engineering. It will build on a cooperation with Oxford University and the University of Tokyo. 
To provide the best raw materials for the RAIST, PTT board suggested the company to set up also the science high school and that originated the Kamnoetwit Science Academy. Formerly named Rayong Science Academy, the secondary bi-lingual school was bestowed its current name by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. Kamnoetwit last month finished its selection of 72 students out of 5,000 talented students applied to enrol into the school’s first education year. PTT claimed Kamnoetwit now succeed the Mahidol Wittayanusorn School as the most favourite science school choice of Thai students.
Pailin said PTT Group would only provide funding for KAIST and Kamnoetwit and was obliged not to have any privileges on the school matters including on the recruiting of their students. They will be run under a foundation that comes under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
“About 15-16 years ago when PTT had revenues of some Bt100 billion to Bt200 billion and profits about Bt20 billion, we had made a big decision to spend Bt3.7 billion for a reforestation project. Today, if PTT Group will spend Bt5 billion to Bt6 billion for education, [it is not too much money]. While growing a forest is considered a sustainable [project], growing wisdoms is even more sustainable,” he said.

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