Higher Education in Thailand
Higher Education in Thailand
- Sukanya Chaemchoy, Sukanya ChaemchoyResearch Unit on Transforming Education System for Creating Innovators and Entrepreneurs, Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University
- Thunwita Sirivorapat PuthpongsiripornThunwita Sirivorapat PuthpongsiripornChulalongkorn University
- and Gerald W. FryGerald W. FryUniversity of Minnesota Twin Cities
Thai higher education has a long history dating back to the 19th century. Its great modernizer, King Chulalongkorn the Great, was visionary in realizing the importance of expanding education to modernize his kingdom and avoid Western colonization. Thailand was the only country in Southeast Asia never to have been colonized. The country’s first formal institution of higher education, Chulalongkorn University, was established in 1917, named in honor of this visionary king. Since that time, Thai higher education has evolved in diverse ways. Key trends have been (a) massification, (b) privatization, (c) diversification, and (d) internationalization. Massification began in the 1960s with the opening of universities in each of Thailand’s major regions. In the 1970s, two open universities with huge enrollments were established. One of those, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University (STOU), was a university without walls, serving students throughout the Kingdom. Then Thailand’s teacher training colleges became a large system of comprehensive Rajabhat Universities (38 universities, across every region of the nation). In 1969, authority was granted for private universities to be established, and over the past decades there has been a proliferation of such institutions (now totaling 71). Thailand’s system of higher education is highly diverse, with many different genres of institutions under 12 different ministries and agencies. Another important trend is internationalization, with a dramatic growth in the number of international programs and students during the period 2000-2020. Major reforms of higher education have been primarily structural in nature. In 2003, the Ministry of University Affairs merged with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to become one of its five major commissions, the Office of the Higher Education Commission (OHEC). Then in 2019, OHEC was moved out of the MOE to become part of a new Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research, and Innovation (MHESI).
As the nation moves into the decade of the 2020s, Thai higher education faces major challenges. The most critical is declining enrollments, primarily the result of Thailand’s great success in reducing its fertility rate. With the dramatic growth in higher education institutions, there are simply inadequate numbers of Thai students to fill available spots. A second related issue is the problem of the quality of Thai higher education. Reflective of this problem is the failure of any Thai higher education institutions to be highly ranked in international systems. Many of Thailand’s best students choose to study overseas. Another major issue is funding, with problems related to the ways funds are spent and the low pay of university professors. Also related to the funding issue is Thailand’s low ranking on how much it spends on research and development. This important area receives inadequate priority, though there were significant improvements in 2018 and 2019. There are also curricular issues in terms of what students should be taught and how, as well as concerns that Thai students are not being adequately prepared for the new digital 4.0 knowledge economy. In 2021, Thailand is mired in a “middle-income trap,” and to move beyond that, it is imperative that Thailand improve the quality, equity, and efficiency of its higher education system.
- Education, Change, and Development