Thailand is recognized globally for its thriving tourism sector that attracted 30 million tourists in 2015. Its rich landscapes, historical places, and scenic beaches contribute 10 percent of its GDP, and the government is aiming to rake in $61 billion (2.3 trillion baht) from the industry in 2016. While the tourism and hospitality sector gets significant media attention, there is another sector that is quietly booming at great speed and is being monitored by government and private investors – the education sector.
Thailand has lately been recognized as one of the global education hubs. The nation is experiencing rapid economic growth, along with the simplification of regulations and development of expatriate communities. Due to easing of rules, people in Thailand can now enroll in schools, which in turn has resulted in the establishment of many international institutions in the country. In fact, Thailand now hosts one of the biggest numbers of global schools across the world.
With the economic integration of ASEAN, all the member nations have opportunities for collaboration and competitiveness among different higher education institutions under the ASEAN regions. However, the alliance has also paved way for many challenges for its member states.
Role of Thailand’s education sector post-AEC
With the formal integration of the ten member countries into AEC (ASEAN Economic Community) in 2015, Thailand has opportunities, , to expand its higher education sector locally and regionally. These opportunities can aid higher education in Thailand by giving it a main platform to draw its regional counterparts towards greater socio-economic harmony and closer collaboration.
When talking to different leaders in the Thai education sector, they said that they have made different strategies after AEC for their respective universities. In an exclusive interview with Dr. Darika Lathapipat, President of Dhurakij Pundit University (DPU), FDI Spotlight asked her views whether or not Thai higher education has embraced the opportunities of ASEAN within the 1st year of its launch. The DPU President responded, “I haven’t seen a lot of movement from higher education institutions. However, many universities promote the use of English and some have redesigned their curriculum to include ASEAN flavor. In terms of investing in other countries outside Thailand or co-investing with other foreign institutions, there is very little.”
When asked to Clin. Prof. Udom Kachintorn, the President of Mahidol University, about how he plans to take advantage of the ASEAN Economic Community, he said, “We have a medical school network across ten countries which has been set up for 2 years, a strong network. We aim to standardise curriculum and accreditation. We want to help other countries that have lower standards, this is a very big part of what we want to do.”
“We have to start this union with compassion and understanding towards our regional partners. We should start by understanding each other’s cultures in an effort to make this region stable and to promote quality of life, health and education,” said Professor Dr. Sujin Jinahyon, President of Naresuan University. He says that the arrival of AEC in Thailand should be smartly dealt with. The Naresuan University has taken a lot of initiatives, including the creation of ASEAN College of Community Studies, which aims to prepare students for freer flow of students between cultures and different cultural changes.
Many higher education universities aim to create one identity across all the member ASEAN countries. “The flow of research funding and across borders consulting activities will help to promote ASEAN cooperation and yield mutual benefit. DPU is striving to expand our cooperation in ASEAN and China to serve the above mentioned purpose,” Dr. Darika Lathapipat said. She adds, “Cross border cooperation between universities is the most important, I think. DPU’s approach in uniting citizen of ASEAN is to actively engage students and lecturers from ASEAN countries. Having them on campus on a full time basis and carry a continuous, long term project helps strengthening the relationship.”
Dr. Sujin Jinahyon said, “To foster international relationships we propose joint research on global issues, such as environment and energy. By building excellent relationships amongst the global community we can share knowledge, equipment and skill sets. Staff and alumni visits are key to recognising our shared values and purposes,” while pointing out the advantages and promotion of international partnerships.
Different Thai universities are building student exchange programs that will help to promote the internationalization of their curriculums. Moreover, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Varakorn Samakoses, the former President of Dhurakij Pundit University says that Thais need to start seeing ASEAN as a “two-way street.” He says, “Not only in terms of how we can take advantage of the ASEAN community, but what we can offer to it also. The exchange of students between countries fosters a cooperative mindset, so the role of higher learning is vital. As for the ASEAN community, when given time they will realise we have to cooperate. It may take some time to become consistent but the mood is there.”