Middle path still the best option

A few months ago I covered a visit by the BMW Group to the Ministry of Industry in Thailand when a wide range of topics were discussed, but one that struck me was the issue of labour shortage.

BMW is willing to cooperate with Thai universities to produce higher quality students who can work in accordance with market demand, which is obviously the practical/manual work taught in vocational schools.

Well, with a lower number of students willing to study in vocational institutions, I see it as both a good and bad sign.

On the one hand, as pessimistic as it may sound, what they are really doing is portraying educational institutions as factories that produce students to serve the needs of corporates, businesses, enterprises, the ruling class _ whatever you want to call it.

In the end, the money goes to business owners, while the workers receive 300 baht per day. How is that good? Would you call this development?

And the image of universities as assembly line factories was the first thing that came to my mind when I heard the idea from former Industry Minister M.R. Pongsvas Svasti.

On the other hand, I think it is a tragedy that a shortage of labour means vocation studies remain important.

But that is because people want higher wages and do not want to do manual work. Is not the government's initiative to increase the proportion of vocational graduates a call for the poor, grassroots, working class _ whatever you want to call it _ to be tools of businesses, who benefit the most out of all this?

But history is a one-way street _ it only goes forward _ and it is hard to imagine a change from capitalism to something else.

I imagine it is going to be tough for the government to implement its educational policies regarding this issue. Even the Office of the Vocational Education Commission said the ambitious plans to increase the proportion of vocational student population to 60% from 40% will be difficult if there is no commitment from the government.

What I think is instead of all that, universities should teach more practical things to students, and vocational schools should teach more ideas on how to manage things. I am simply saying that the two skills should be taught equally.

If the government wants an increase in the number of vocational graduates, are they not advocating the idea that they want more people in factories to do manual work and earn probably less than university graduates (unless they can move up to the highest rank), just to serve the needs of businesses?

Like I said, history cannot go backwards (unless scientists discover one day that time travel is possible, and I haven't read anything to that effect), so why not go full steam and focus instead on making everything automated by machines?

Which then turns to the topic of our country's lack of research and development, which means we still need to import a large amount of high technology goods.

In the end, I would imagine that living the "middle way" advocated by the Buddha would eventually solve all these problems. And also HM the King's self-sufficiency economy philosophy.

Combine the pair of them, Thailand will become a much better place to live in.

There is what we call social enterprises based on the idea of gross national happiness _ growth that is based on happiness rather than money, and is something adopted by Bhutan.

Leurat Anuratpanich, assistant dean for human resources at Mahidol University's Faculty of Pharmacy, a businessman-turned-professor, once told me that many countries are aware of this idea, but Thailand's growth indicator, in the end, is money, due to the inevitable domination of the capitalist trend.

He said the two growth factors should be used side by side, as gross national happiness is more sustainable.

"Instead of maximising profit, social enterprises should turn to moderation, because money does not always mean happiness," said Dr Leurat.

Even businesses that are trying to conduct corporate social responsibility (CSR) use the practices for public relations and advertisement purposes, he said.

But like I said, it's hard to go back to the past, unless time machines are discovered and we can magically go back to the day when life was just plain simple. Blissful simplicity, if you ask me.


Nanchanok Wongsamuth is a business reporter for the Bangkok Post.

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Writer: Nanchanok Wongsamuth
Position: News Reporter