Chulalongkorn professor Boonsom Lerdhirunwong is working to ensure Thai engineering graduates are well prepared for the Asean Economic Community
Associate Professor Boonsom Lerdhirunwong, dean of engineering at Chulalongkorn University, is taking steps to prepare the country's oldest engineering school for the advent of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, which will allow a freer flow of skilled labour within the 10-country Asean grouping. Engineers, architects, doctors, dentists, nurses, accountants and surveyors are the first seven professions earmarked for increased cross-border mobility.
"In Thailand, there are about 60 higher-education institutes for engineering, producing around 20,000 graduates annually. At Chula, our output is about 1,000, or 5 per cent of the total.
"High quality and the standards of our students are our hallmark. In the AEC context, the guidelines of the Asean-Chartered Professional Engineers [ACPE] are the basis for our graduates to pursue new career opportunities overseas.
"After graduation, students have to work and apply for a license from the Thai Council of Engineers. After working for at least seven years, including two years of supervisory work, they may apply to become an ACPE.
"This means if you're an ACPE, you can work in other Asean countries along with local engineers, subject to the rules and regulations set by the Council of Engineers in each member country.
"As an engineering school, we have to ensure that our curriculum is well-accepted, with proper accreditation. We also focus on the linkage between our school and industries, so we recently launched the industrial liaison programme [ILP], which will serve as the country's gateway to Asean.
"As members of the ILP, private industrial companies can use some of our facilities and benefit from our faculty's knowledge base, research and other activities. We hope this will be useful for industries such as automobiles, electronics and petrochemical, among others.
"For big conglomerates such as PTT, Siam Cement Group and Thai Beverages, we hope to work with them in their overseas expansion projects, as we have over 200 PhD students in our faculty with expertise in various fields.
"For small and medium-sized enterprises, we hope to help them grow in other Asean markets. For example, we can help them in certification work for various products so that they meet Asean and related standards.
"Besides the ILP, we also focus on networking with regional universities and academic allies, and we hope the Thai government will set aside a bigger budget to finance scholarships and related programmes to attract more Asean students to study here.
"For Chula engineering graduates, we want to ensure that they have the right attitudes - hard-working, with language skills, especially English profiency, and and other soft skills like Asean cultural knowledge.
"Chula engineering is ranked first in Thailand and third in Southeast Asia according to the 2011 Asean university ranking. Worldwide, we ranked 78th in a 2009 survey," he said.
According to the engineering school, some Thai engineers do not want to work overseas while others are not proficient enough in English, making it difficult for them to communicate in foreign countries.
However, the AEC will provide new career opportunities as Thai investors expand into new Asean markets or relocate factories. In addition, some Asean countries have a shortage of engineering specialists, so Thai engineers could fill the gaps.
The AEC will consist of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
The overall Asean population is projected to rise to 625 million in 2015, up from the present 580 million. The combined GDP is projected to top US$2.69 trillion in 2015, up from the current $1.8 trillion, driven by the region's relatively high economic growth rates.
The AEC will also be linked with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India, which have a combined population of another 2.5 billion.