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Improvement needed in U-NET design

THE NATIONAL Institute of Educational Testing Service plans to launch the University National Educational Test (U-NET) this year to gauge new graduates' proficiency in different areas. It will be a big waste if this is aimed at ensuring the quality of workers.

The U-NET will cover three areas: basic skills, which comprises communication skills in Thai and English languages, knowledge in IT, media literacy, and critical thinking, moral reasoning and professional knowledge. They will be designed with the help of professional associations.

A Facebook page was set up last Thursday to protest against the plan. As of yesterday, it had attracted over 85,000 likes.

There is also a campaign against the test through www.change.org.th, with over 40,000 people signed up as yesterday. Both will certainly win more supports given the test's lack of sensibility.

The institute was heavily attacked when launching O-NET and GAT-PAT years ago for school students. Yet, it was then that the tests yielded physical evidence of a big gap in education quality in schools nationwide, which explained well why our students' international rankings are declining.

Regarding U-NET, only time will tell how these graduates' moral reasoning will be when professional proficiency is strictly controlled by relevant associations.

The only benefit lies in the test on basic skills, which will shed light on how universities should improve themselves. However, the basic skill scores won't help employers' recruitment processes, as job interviews will remain necessary.

Plus, when it comes to English communication skills, all employers will trust other tests like TOEFL, which is more conclusive - focusing on both reading, listening and analytical skills. Many companies also have their own tests, to ensure that they recruit the right people.

Another reason why the U-NET should not be launched is it will put all universities under the same gauge, regardless of their unique character. On basic skills, all universities will now start giving scores on the use of the Thai and English languages aside from academic substance.

This will be pressure for engineering students, who by no means can't match liberal arts students' communication skills. At some faculties which focus more on lab studies, a good command of Thai or English may be unnecessary.

To determine the students' ethics, employers will have to spend years observing how the employees treat others - ranging from colleagues, customers, the general public, to the environment. A test cannot simply gauge a person's moral reasoning.

Elsewhere, to know how university students will prosper, there is research being done on the number of graduates of each university recruits each year. This will demonstrate if the universities can answer labour market demands. No matter what area the students are proficient in, jobs are the only expected result of education.

Meanwhile, there are more rankings on the comparative pay that graduates from different universities get. This helps parents and students decide on a university. It also explains why some people agree to pay over US$50,000 each year to get a law degree from Yale, dubbed the best law school in the US.

Recently, there was research on the differentials a university graduate and a high-school graduate could make.

For years, Thailand's education authorities have envisaged an annual recruitment survey, but there has been no progress. It's not surprising, as no university here is known to keep track of their graduates.

Chulalongkorn University, the oldest university, may see no need to do so, given that all of its graduates get jobs - either self-employed or employed by others. A provincial university may be discouraged to do so, as a low recruitment ratio may further dent its reputation. But if we are sincere in improving our higher education quality, we do need the figures.

Research on comparative salaries would also shed light for students. A provincial student with an interest in language studies may not need to struggle to get into Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Arts or Thammasat University's Faculty of Liberal Arts if the university near the student's home can produce graduates who earn relatively the same salary as those graduating from those universities. They have to take into consideration the benefit of not leaving their hometown and saving money.

U-NET would win support if it was designed to give students and their parents the answers they want most, and if it was designed to help educators improve Thailand's education |quality.

I understand that the National Institute of Educational Testing Service (NIETS) is tasked to conduct tests, but there are many kinds of tests. It could start some tests that give students, their parents and educators some clues so they can make plans.

U-NET should not be a test to define the quality of workers and members of society. The NIETS can leave that task to other relevant organisations.

CHULARAT SAENGPASSA

Chularat@nationgroup.com


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