The Upper Reach Team interviewed Admiral Narong Pipatanasai, Minister of Education of Thailand. During his interview, he stressed about the importance of the integration to the AEC in order to increase cooperation between the ASEAN countries and about the plans of his Ministry to promote higher education in Thailand to meet the international standards and further attract foreign students to the country.
What would be then in your opinion the most important benefits of the integration of the AEC for Thailand, especially in the education sector?
I think that Thailand will enjoy full benefits with the fully integration of AEC. As an example, the Ministry of Education will step up full cooperation with other ASEAN partners and dialogue partners in education and student exchange, teacher and curriculum development and education management both in terms of academic section and extra-curricular activities. In fact, we have made such cooperation with our partners a long time ago. We believed that once we fully entered the AEC, educational activities and joint educational projects we operate between the partnering countries will further progress and such cooperation will expand more. And this year, I will be promoted as the president of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO). I will take this responsibility to expand the role of cooperation with ASEAN countries in the education area and provide greater opportunities for Thai children and youth as well as education personnel to develop necessary skills and expand and create education cooperation network through various activities during my 2-year tenure.
Despite the 2015 education budget of 19.3%, Thailand is still spending a high percentage of its budget in education regarding the surrounding countries. The global average is lower than this spending especially in Thailand. I would like to ask you how are you working to expand access to higher education to improve the international quality standard.
It is a fact that Thailand has an annual education budget at an average of 19-20%, which is quite high when compared with other neighboring countries. This shows that the Thai government has always placed great emphasis on educational development. Thailand’s high education budget partly comes from the continuous support from the Thai government on student teaching at all levels in both the public and private sector. Also, Thai government has continuously supported educational personal including teachers, faculty staff and students. Of which, almost 400,000 are only teachers. Around 800,000 are educational personnel and staff at all levels and another 14 million students who are in the Thai educational system that the Thai government supports. If compared to some countries, students and some private schools have to bear some expenses, but for Thailand we support all. That is why the amount of Thailand’s education budget is quite high each year when compared with other countries.
As for the development of higher education to meet the international standard, the Thai government, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, has always placed importance on this issue. We launched the “Higher Education Strategies” to improve the competency of higher education schools both in public and private sector. The current government is trying to encourage educational institutes to improve curriculums which will help produce quality educational personnel and produce competent undergraduate and post graduate students at the Bachelor degree level or higher to meet international standards. In every university, there is a “University Council” to control and manage curriculums and standards for the development of students and undergraduate students at all levels, so we are trying to implement such a strategy for further national educational development. The goal of the strategy is that Thai graduates meet the international standard and recognize their responsibility as members of the ASEAN Community.
Next question is about how to develop and modernize Thai universities and educational institutes. What are such strategies for further educational development?
For the role of the Ministry of Education in the higher education level, the ministry is responsible only for overseeing the implementation of the teaching in educational institutes to meet the criteria. However, for the details of the operation including curriculum management and teaching development, each university and educational institute will have the “University Council” to manage and control the overall operation in each institute. It is out of our focus and the ministry has no authority to control them. However, each university and high school has been keeping on developing a standard-based curriculum.
Each institute will stand out in its own way with different specialties. Some universities may have many faculties. Only a few are outstanding in its way. They are outstanding differently. This is a choice for students to choose whatever they want. I believe that over 450 educational institutes both from the public and private sector will have great potential for the development of the teaching program and curriculums that can meet international standard and gain recognition from ASEAN countries and other countries in this region.
As of my point of view, I viewed that students only study to get a job. It has no guarantee that all graduates will get a job in the field they want. Such a problem still exists. However, today, graduates with a Bachelor's degree or better are still bearing the greatest unemployment risk. Therefore, we are now trying to advise students to go on another path which is vocational education as they will easily to find a job after graduation. We also provide them with many different education degrees including vocational certificates or vocational diploma. If they are interested in going on that path, there would be a higher opportunity for them to get a job after graduatation.
Recently, Prime Minister Prayuth met with H.E. Mr. Mark Kent, British Ambassador to Thailand at the British Embassy as we mentioned at the beginning of this interview. How do you foresee UK-Thai relations regarding the education sector in the coming years?
I had recently met and discussed with H.E. Mr. Mark Kent, British Ambassador to Thailand on educational cooperation between Thailand and the United Kingdom. Actually, Thailand and U.K. have a long history of cooperation on such an issue especially the continuous support from the U.K. in sending assistant teachers to Thailand every year through the British Council project. I would like to continue and keep this program going on. Under the project, the U.K. will send English teachers to help teach students in the British Council in Thailand. I have also asked Mr. Kent to help send more volunteered mother-tongue English teachers who can be both teachers and students studying in the U.K. to help teach students in Thailand for a longer period. Another issue we had talked with Mr. Kent was about cooperation on grants and scholarships programs. Nowadays, there are over 8,000 students studying in U.K. in many levels ranging from secondary, elementary, to higher education level. Some of them are students who received scholarshipd from the government. However, most of them pay to study in the U.K. by themselves. The United Kingdom is listed in the top most popular places to study among students.
Apart from the U.K.-Thai educational cooperation through the British Council project, I would like to invite leading U.K. educational institutes, if interested, to open new campus or new institutes in Thailand. As we know that the AEC is coming, the migration of people between the regions will be made easier. Therefore, if any U.K.’s educational institutes are interested to open campus in Thailand, I believed that there would be lots of Thai students and other international students interested to study as they can save travelling costs as they do not need to travel to the U.K.
As you are the Minister of Education, you have the responsibility to bring the tools to the Thai people to expand their future and to bring up human resources of Thailand for the future. What are the accomplishments and achievements you want to see during your tenure?
My tenure is not quite long. And as you know that the main purpose of this government is to solve security problems and make the society more stable. My goals during my short tenure are to reform the standard of education at all levels, even the results of education reform may take many more years. But it is good to start now. However, it does not mean that in the past, the standard of Thailand’s education is not good, but there are just some parts that need to be developed and improved and we want to make it much better.
During my tenure, I would like to see positive changes in Thailand’s educational system and it would be a great start for the successful outcome in the near future. Youth and children in Thailand will get a better education. And once they graduated, they will have better analytical thinking and can have a good job with satisfying incomes that can feed them and help their families. Moreover, they will be good citizens that will cause no threat to society.