Thai scholars are frustrated with the kingdom’s higher education system because of complacency in the way that universities are being governed, according to Thailand’s education minister.
Dr Teerakiat Jareonsettasin said leadership and governance was a key problem for Thai universities and reforms were needed at the national level to improve standards.
Teerakiat told the Times Higher Education Supplement that many Thai university governors were too old to know how to run their organisations effectively.
“People ask me ‘who are your customers?’ They are students,” he told the Going Global higher-education event in Malaysia. “We have some problems with governors.”
But he said it was hard for the government to interfere because the universities were “legally autonomous”.
“The academics, those who are really able, are kind of frustrated and fed up with the system,” Teerakiat added.
The Thai junta, which has been in power since the May 2014 coup, is reportedly looking to create a specific higher education ministry to reform university policy.
Evidence of the creaky nature of the university system arose this month when the Thai University Central Admission System (TCAS) was forced into a major technical upgrade after it crashed during peak hours.
Students were furious, fearing that it would jeopardise their applications and Suchatvee Suwansawat, who heads the Council of University Presidents of Thailand, said the server capacity had now been increased threefold to handle up to 60,000 applicants at once.
Teerakiat believes that many solutions lie overseas,
The medic, who worked as a consultant at London’s Royal Free Hospital, said Thai universities needed to establish closer ties with western institutions, adding that he wanted overseas universities to set up Thai campuses. Malaysia had more success at tapping into international education, he added.
The postgraduate CMKL University in Bangkok was established through a partnership between Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University and the Thai King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang.
“You look at Singapore with their millions of expats … we need to remove protectionism, we need to welcome people who are able, who we want to attract. So it is inevitable that Thai universities will have to work very closely with the more industrialised [nations].”
Meanwhile, Thailand could offer the world its expertise in agriculture, food and hospitality sectors, the minister argued.
And there was scope to expand Thai academic influence within Asean, Teerakiat said, pointing to politically unstable Myanmar as a growth area.
Overseas expansion was also needed because of demographic challenges facing Thai universities with an estimated Thais aged 21 and under due to fall to around 20 per cent of the population by 2040, he estimated.
“There are a couple of universities looking out for students in our neighbouring countries. You know why? Because our population is dwindling,” Teerakiat said.
Thai universities have been told to move with the times. Picture credit: Flickr