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Universities leading the way to an Asean bloc

Many courses focus ongiving students knowledge and skills as the AEC Looms

HIGHER EDUCATION institutions such as Mahidol and Kasetsart have been focusing on equipping students with English proficiency and Asean-related knowledge in preparation for |the Asean Economic Community 2015.

"Universities have to teach new generations about core ideas of the Asean Charter," Prof Rachata Rachatanawin, president of Mahidol University, said last week.

"At Mahidol, we have made preparations for the AEC for quite a long time already," he told the university's annual academic conference on "Thai Higher Education for Asean".

Now public and private universities had to produce students not only for the country but also for Asean, he said.

Young leaders would be playing a key role in promoting peaceful coexistence among millions with diverse racial backgrounds, religious beliefs, cultures and lifestyles, ensuring an efficient use of resources and forging unity to try to bring about prosperity, political stability and well-being for people.

Asean content had been integrated into all majors so that the curriculum responded well to the needs of the Asean community.

"About 30 of a student's credits are related to Asean," he said.

Mahidol has also strong emphasised English fluency and multicultural contexts.

Tangible results include the launch of international medicine, international dentistry and master of medicine programmes.

"Mahidol administrators have also closely networked with universities in nine other Asean countries. Our collaboration has facilitated the exchange of students and lecturers," he said.

Last year, Mahidol granted 250 scholarships to Asean exchange students and 50 to non-Asean exchange students.

"We have even offered grants to visiting lecturers, each teaching at Mahidol for one whole semester," he said.

Mahidol has successfully found scholarship sponsors, such as the Norwegian government, which has awarded 60 fellowships to Myanmar graduate students at Mahidol.

"Our environment is changing in a way that is good for our AEC preparations," he said.

The university's strategy is to increase "translative" education to prepare students for the AEC.

Besides prepping students for the AEC and the job market, universities also had to see that they had good attitudes, good social responsibility, good teamwork skills and good virtues.

"Mahidol and several other universities are now campaigning for their students and graduates to be anti-corruption," he said.

Siree Chaiseri, vice president for academic affairs at Kasetsart University, said the AEC would bring about food security and safe food. Thai universities have been in contact with Asean government agencies via training for years, particularly in medicine and agriculture.

While Chulalongkorn University and Mahidol provide medicine information, Kasetsart provides information about agricultural development and science as well as food science.

While Thai youths have already been alerted to the AEC, they need a deeper understanding of the changes that would come with it. For example, Thailand had to change its academic year to match other Asean countries to facilitate personnel mobility and exchanges within the region. Students and teachers could maximise the benefits from such a change by learning other people's lifestyles and ways of thinking.

There were almost zero applicants for Kasetsart scholarships to study in Asean countries while scholarships for South Korea, Japan or Europe attracted many applicants. Kasetsart had to resort to handpicking an applicant for a food science scholarship in Indonesia. The recipient changed his attitude after returning with knowledge and many Indonesian business contacts.

"Students have to change their mindset and universities have to teach them to look forward so the country can go forward. They have to realise they will be the movers and shakers in this region," she said.

Kasetsart continues to give its students scholarships to study in Asean countries, she added.

Professor Somkid Lertpaitoon, rector of Thammasat University, said he believes all universities had already made necessary preparations for the AEC.

"But it's worrying that the government seems to do so little in preparing for the AEC," he said.

Since he took over the helm of his university three years ago, he has seen the education-minister's post going to so many men, each with different policies.

"And none of these ministers has addressed the Asean issue," he said.

Aware of their important role in the country, higher education institutions had seriously addressed Asean issues.

The, four main points are English and other foreign languages, Asean's organisation, Asean cultures and the development of Thai higher education.

All faculties at Thammasat were required to hire at least two native English speakers.

"Every faculty should also open at least one international programme. At the very least, it should use English as the language of instruction in some classes," he said.

Thammasat had integrated Asean content into its curriculum.

"For example, we have subjects like the Asean economy," he said.

Thai higher education institutions had good potential and the AEC would stimulate great flows of knowledge.


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