SEVERAL THAI academics have expressed support for the government’s plan to allow foreigners to set up universities in special economic zones (SEZs) to address skill shortages, although they have urged certain criteria and conditions to ensure good quality and few negative impacts to Thai institutes.
As the plan – which has been approved by the Cabinet and the junta – requires Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to invoke his power under Article 44 of the interim constitution because of the required exemption of some normal rules, the Education Ministry has been waiting for two junta orders about the plan to be published in the Royal Gazette before implementation, said Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin.
Once they are published, the ministry will have them translated into English and other languages and start talking with ambassadors of various countries. Many such as Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom have already shown interest, he said.
Teerakiat said foreign educational institutions located primarily in SEZs would be allowed to teach only courses in fields not available in Thailand, such as those involving certain high technologies. The idea is to drive the country’s economy with innovation as per the “Thailand 4.0” policy and to support the SEZs’ economic and trade expansion, he said.
“People shouldn’t be worried that they will steal students from Thai universities, because the courses will be for different target groups and wouldn’t be redundant with the available ones,” he said.
Prapat Chueathai, vice president of Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna Tak, who partook in the formulation of the Tak SEZ, said he agreed with the idea as it would bring more good universities into the area, although there must be criteria and conditions imposed on these institutions.
“Tak is famous for agricultural produce, so we should put emphasis on those offering courses in food processing and research for better benefits in the future.” He warned, however, that if the government failed to impose conditions on these institutions, the country might gain nothing while the foreign institutes made money.
Sompong Jitradap, a professor of education at Chulalongkorn University, said that in his personal view this would yield more pros than cons, because Thai universities were reaching a saturation point and lacking academic competition.
The arrival of foreign educational institutions would create competition in terms of academic and educational management quality, he said, but the Higher Education Commission must ensure the new universities are up to standard.
Suchatvee Suwansawat, rector of King Mongkut’s Insti-tute of Technology Ladkrabang and head of the Council of Univer-sity Presidents of Thailand, said the idea would im-prove the country’s education and research environments while also allowing Thai institutes to learn from leading foreign universities.
“They must be really outstanding or they wouldn’t survive, as parents would rather send their kids to Thai schools if they weren’t very good ... The foreign institutes’ presence would also help keep Thai researchers, teachers, administrators and university students on their toes,” he said.
Since many Thai universities collaborate with foreign institutes, they should make use of such cooperation as the way forward would now be wide open, he said, adding that all must be carefully done and in line with certain criteria and conditions.