Thailand: Proposal to upgrade higher education commission to full ministry gains ground
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Amid calls to improve the standard of higher education in Thailand, the country’s Education Ministry has recommended that its Office of Higher Education Commission (OHEC) be turned into a full-fledged ministry.

Udom Kachintorn, former president of the Council of University Presidents, was appointed to head a special 15-member committee to study and oversee the process of creating such a ministry, which will be known as the Ministry of University Affairs.

“Our higher education system is facing a crisis,” he said last week.

“According to the Times Higher Education University Rankings 2016, Thailand had only one [sic] university among the top 100 universities in Asia and none in the world’s top 400.

“Our universities have been held back by a lack of genuine enthusiasm about funding,” added Udom, as quoted by the Bangkok Post.

He pointed out that due to a lack of good governance, the country’s universities are not only producing graduates who are ill-prepared for the working world, but are also contributing to an imbalance in the workforce, whereby there are more social sciences graduates than needed, while sectors like technology and vocational fields are suffering a shortage of qualified graduates.

In order to resolve these issues, Udom said that Thailand must formulate a clear, long-term development plan for its higher education sector, the first step being to set up the new ministry.

“The Education Ministry does not have the full power or authority to intervene in the administration of universities because they all have their own University Act or law that stems from the push for decentralisation. However, if the new ministry is set up, some regulations will be changed to ensure such problems will not repeat themselves,” he explained.

However, Udom estimates that it will take the special committee around six months to write a draft of the bill to create the new ministry, while the process of establishing it could take at least a year.

The rectors of three universities have expressed support for the formation of a ministry specifically overseeing higher education.

Luedech Kerdwichai, Rector of Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University, welcomed the proposal, saying that a new ministry could give universities more freedom to operate courses.

“We currently need permission from OHEC for every programme we want to run; if a ministry can make this rule more flexible, that would be great,” he said.

Silpakorn University’s Rector, Chaicharn Thavaravej, commented that it was a good idea for OHEC to split off into its own ministry, as the Education Ministry is “considered too big”.

“Basic education, vocational and higher education are different in many ways. I think if we are separated, we can still work closely like a cabinet that combines many ministries that work together,” he said.

Meanwhile, Thammasat University‘s Rector Somkit Lertpaithoon said Thailand needs such a ministry if it wants to transform its universities into centres of research and innovation and providers of a highly-skilled and qualified workforce.

Somkit also voiced some concerns shared by many universities over the reach of the new ministry and how it would affect the autonomy currently enjoyed by each institution.

“We are concerned that a ministry may have too much power, allowing it to intervene in the administration of universities because one of its goals would be to solve problems,” he said.

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