INCREASING academic performance in order to climb up world university rankings while struggling to maintain high profitability is the major challenge that Thai universities face, education experts said last week.
The reform of Thailand’s higher education in the age of globalisation was discussed by a forum at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand recently.
Deputy Education Minister Teerakiat Jaroensettasin said Thai local universities are caught up in the craze of world-class higher education, as they are competing to be in the top tier of the world’s universities.
“We want to be among the top 100 or top 300 universities and there are so many ranking systems that do not coincide with each other,” he said.
Each ranking system requires a different type of quality measurement. In the end, it is not clear that they can really represent the quality of education.
Rattana Lao, a recipient of an Ananda Mahidol scholarship and the author of “A Critical Study of Thailand’s Higher Education Reforms: The Culture of Borrowing”, also highlighted the achievement of many universities in Thailand to join the international leagues.
“We’re caught between two stances. On the one hand, Thai universities want to catch up with the need to be international, to get a higher ranking.
“But they have to get the resources to do so by themselves, so they have to commercialise their programmes to ensure they can be sold,” she said.
“Therefore, Thai universities are facing twin challenges. One is to get more money and one is to excel |intellectually. But when they are |busy finding ways to make more money, they will have no time left to improve academic performance,” she said.
The commercialised programmes also affect the intellectual quality of higher education. The larger the classes, the fewer the opportunities for students to be endowed with decent academic skills such as critical thinking and self-learning.
“Normally for undergraduates, they should be able to write academic essays and conduct research on their topic of interest, but the tight curriculum of most programmes does not allow the student to do proper research,” she said.
Not only is the trend among Thai universities to strive to be in the world’s top ranks, the definition of a university is also still vague.
“We are still confused about the role of higher education as an intellectual institution for academic debate, as most academics prefer, or a skills training ground to produce workers to support the economy, which is the intention of the government.
“This different definition of higher education is not only debated in Thailand, but other countries in the world are also trying to draw the line. What we should do is find a balance between the two definitions,” he said.