The new deputy education minister, Udom Kachinthorn, has handed universities a four-pronged directive, one of which is to address the country’s development goal of Thailand 4.0
How that will be aligned with the second directive – to meet the demands of an ageing society – is equally vague.
The third directive is for all colleges to promote research that leads to practical uses, while the fourth is to merge all disciplines together so that graduates are versatile in all fields.
A few days after I read about the deputy minister’s instructions, a more down-to-earth analysis of the country’s education system came from the top administrator of a private institution: Bangkok University president Petch Osathanugrah.
He didn’t go as far as to say that higher-education institutions are now facing real crisis. But what he did say suggested that without genuine and thorough reform, we are headed towards major disaster.
“In this digital age, things are changing very rapidly. I am afraid that nowadays, students may have better ideas than teachers and faculty members. In terms of digital marketing, for example, some bright students may know more than their instructors,” the university rector told website The Matter.
He was asked about what kind of graduates the market now requires – a question that prompted a very “digital” answer:
“I am in the business world myself. I can tell you that during interviews for new recruits, we don’t even bother to ask what university the interviewee went to – or whether he or she had graduated with honours or not. I don’t even know what courses my staff members took in college. What we really care about is the kind of experience they have. The most important question is: Can they think?”
Can our college students think? Or, to be more precise, are they being taught to think? Even more important, can their teachers and instructors think?
Even if university administrators believe they are doing all they can to put their institutions through real reform, there remains the larger question of whether they are able to think about change in our new digital age.
Here, the proposal for a “University of Everywhere” – made by Kevin Carey in his book “The End of College” – strikes me as a timely reminder of where dramatic changes need to be made in Thailand’s higher-education ecosystem.
Carey cites the unlikely collaboration between MIT and Harvard University – previously arch-rivals – to form a new online educational resource that makes lectures available for free for the whole world.
He writes: “At the University of Everywhere, educational resources that have been scarce and expensive for centuries will be abundant and free. Anything that can be digitised – books, lecture videos, images, sounds and increasingly powerful digital learning environments – will be available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection.”
The university admission process – which has always been the single most painful, wasteful and hopelessly ineffective way of getting a college education – could become obsolete if this new concept is finally accepted in Thailand.
Carey explains in his book: “The idea of ‘admission’ to college will become an anachronism, because the University of Everywhere will be open to everyone. It won’t, in fact, be a single place or institution at all. The next generation of students will not waste their teenage years jostling for spots in a tiny number of elitist schools. Their educational experience will come from dozens of organisations, each specialising in different aspects of human learning.”
Most exciting for Thailand and other countries that face the problem of limited funding for higher-learning is the proposition that this new idea will be a global institution.
“The University of Everywhere will span the earth. The students will come from towns, cities and countries in all cultures and societies, members of a growing global middle class who will transform the experience of
higher education … the intense
tutorial education that has historically been the province of kings and princes will be available to anyone in the world.”
Whether Thai universities like it or not, and whether we are ready for it or not, the real shake-up is just around the corner.