Falling birth rates are leading to Thailand’s universities taking programmes that would normally be seen in an international school in Bangkok or the like, in order to produce graduates that’ll help the country progress in a competitive world.
Many of the country’s leading universities have introduced international programmes that teach courses in English, and have even started welcoming foreign students, particularly those from neighbouring Asian countries, as part of Thailand’s efforts to integrate better into the ASEAN market. Much like any international school in Bangkok, the universities are also accepting American and European students who come into the country for semester-long exchange programmes.
About two decades ago, Thailand had less than 2,000 foreign students, while now it has about 30,000, including short-term exchange students, and is now the third-most popular destination for students in the Southeast Asia, behind only Malaysia and Singapore.
Thai universities now offer more than a thousand international programmes in English, including collaborations with major universities from countries like Australia and the UK. According to data from the Office of the Higher Education Commission, the number of officially registered joint degree programmes in the country doubled between 2012 and 2015.
Dr. JirayudhSinthuphan, Chulalongkorn University, says that Thai society is inward looking, whilst, when they look outwards, they see Anglo-American curricula. Internationalisation, he says should be more than just exposing them to English as a medium of study, but also to the international community.
Professor WorsakKanon-Nukulchai, the former president of the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok, agrees, saying that internationalisation needs to be properly defined. He believes that internationalisation is more than just teaching in English, it should also promote respect for other cultures and people. He believes that Thailand currently has too many English programmes which are just cosmetic.
He noted that most Thais see the AIT not as an international Bangkok university, but a foreign university that’s based in the capital. The university’s had an exclusively English curriculum for more than 5 decades, but only about 30% of their students were Thai.
In June 2017, the government announced that plans to allow ‘high-potential’ foreign higher education institutions to open branches in Thailand. According to a PM Spokesperson, if Thailand waits, they may not be able to adapt to the upcoming trends in time.
The higher education sector fears that this plan might lead to Thai universities being put at risk of shutting down because of falling birth rates and cohorts.
Worsak welcomes the government initiative, saying that the current system has too much paperwork and the entire system has been compartmentalized in a way that they don’t really work together.