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AIT alumni look back in anger

Little has been heard about the troubled Asian Institute of Technology since some 18 months ago, when an interim president was appointed and the search for a new leader launched. The world was then told that it was "back to business as usual" for AIT.

Today AIT remains in trouble: enrolment is at about 50 per cent of what is needed to balance the books, large parts of the campus damaged by the 2012 floods are unusable or in a state of disrepair, and no new president has been appointed. But particularly worrying is AIT's plan to grasp at straws in the form of undergraduate students and to launch a "unified degree programme", wherein it is possible to "obtain both a bachelor and master degree in just five years!"

The idea has met with understandable concern from AIT alumni who graduated from a postgraduate institution that enjoyed higher status than that of the current one. AIT has in essence become a colonial relic.

Of particular concern is the legality of the planned programme and a possible repeat of the situation in 2012 when AIT degrees were determined to have not been properly approved by the government and had to be reissued. The current situation is that two Thai official bodies have yet to rule on the legality of the proposed programmes. Moreover, some of the intended programmes are to be taught outside Thailand (albeit seemingly not for AIT degrees) by poorly ranked universities. Since AIT does not have the usual accreditation associated with an internationally competitive university, the question arises as to how quality control will be exercised. AIT proposes that some of these programmes be taught in Thai. How does this fit with its traditional mission as an international institute teaching in English?

Surely this shift of focus arises from AIT being cornered as a consequence of years of mismanagement and decline, and is yet another folly that will further exacerbate the school's problems. AIT has tried this type of thing before, in Sri Lanka with the private South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine. That school's website boasts that, "To cater to the worldwide high demand for AIT graduates, the university [AIT] has ventured into undergraduate programmes and SAITM has been selected as the partner campus representing the South Asian region to conduct the first phase of AIT degree programs since 2009". Trans-national educational ventures require insight and experience that AIT does not have.

Professor John Belcher

Tokyo


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