A comparative look at higher education: National capacity building in Thailand

A comparative look at higher education: National capacity building in Thailand

Quality education is the catalyst to advance Thailand’s 4.0 objectives of social-well-being, environmental protection, economic prosperity, and enhanced human values. Despite the commodification of brand name education, we believe a comprehensive and concrete education at home, with educational opportunities across a global network, will do the most to incubate the next class of leading innovators in Thailand. A comparative look at the education systems in India and Germany offer insight into the higher education market and how universities in Thailand could support the goals of Thailand 4.0.

Global Competition

Across the globe, there is a perception that national governments are continuing to ratchet up the “arms race” of educational exclusivity. Chasing these “elite” universities may not always be the best choice for a nation. While the value of a nation’s education system increasingly becomes a reflection of its governmental strength and commitment to its citizens, countries are consuming vast resources in an attempt to ensure that their educational systems ascend to or maintain their status in the top echelons of the “world-class” educational rankings.  However, this growth of mass higher education has many universities reconsidering their roles within their domestic and international settings.

Exploring the impact of mass education on national systems of higher education and the strategies “elite” universities have employed raises several significant research questions, including whether there is a space for structuring higher education on a global level, and whether domestic institutions and/or systems can adequately respond to the external pressures of globalization.

Top-tier institutions typically receive the majority of government research grants and are thereby elevated or preserved within “world-class” rankings. To some degree, this international race for educational preeminence has brought “elite” institutions (and the governments that support them) into an environment in which they are susceptible to influences outside their control (i.e., market forces, on and off-campus historical and cultural norms, shifts in national and international education trends, political/governmental transitions, and more).

However, in the case of the U.S. educational system, higher education fundamentally rests on the notion that demand-driven adaptability has generated both (1) more educational options for students (e.g. among institutions and institutional types) and (2) strong state-wide educational systems—and that these are good things. Despite the “arms race”, these options have facilitated an environment in which nearly every student can find a suitable educational experience. 

A Case Study: Indian Institutions 

India is the third largest provider of higher education outside of the United States and China; it has some of the best institutions in the world (e.g. the Indian Institutes of Science and Technology), many of which boast enormous waiting lists (some of which imply a wait of several years, exceeding any wait a student might endure to enter, for example, the U.S.’s Harvard or Stanford University). However, this was not always the case. During the British occupation, higher education in India resembled Britain’s own elitist system, but with the added element of explicit class division. The system was both narrow and exclusionary, perpetuating low student enrollment.  In the year India achieved its independence, there were only 20 higher education institutions in the entire nation. Upon gaining independence, government directed initiatives sought to make higher education in India more accessible to its enormous population. There has developed in India a burgeoning dependence on private higher education options for both quality and convenient education. As of 2017, India has 789 universities, 37,204 colleges and 11,443 stand-alone institutions and over 20 million students enrolled.  With its broad and well-established educational foundation and “education for all” approach, India remains poised to provide (if the myriad logistical issues can be addressed), one of the best of the “big” educational systems in the world. 

German Higher Education: the “Excellence Initiative.”

The Excellence Initiative was fashioned in order to (a) enhance university research in an environment in which a majority of research efforts and funding were migrating toward institutes, think tanks, and centers outside of the university setting (e.g., Max-Planck Institute and Helmholtz centers), (b) increase the overall academic prowess of universities in Germany, and (c) enhance the visibility of German universities on a global scale.  However, this change did not go over equally well among all affected constituents.  Under the Excellence Initiative, universities faced competition with one another to solicit funds from the federal government, which were available for institutions within three categories: (1) best graduate schools, (2) centers of excellence with the capacity to enhance or develop an international reputation, and (3) institutions seeking to become “elite” global universities.

Despite the fact that the overall quantity of funding available for universities increased as a result of the Excellence Initiative, the competitively solicited monies also came with strict guidelines. Unfortunately, these earmarks were not always the priority of each institution. Thus, an informal tiered system of “excellence” was created between the least and most participatory universities. Though some unintended side effects have arisen (e.g., funding criteria disputes and arguments of authoritative legitimacy), many of the “top” universities have seen tremendous developments within their own institutions, while others saw little to none. In the German case, chasing the branding of a university as “elite” prompted a degree of “uneven” advancement in innovation, economic growth, and national citizen development.

National Capacity-building in Thailand: an innovative approach

The vision of Thailand 4.0 is to transform the Thai economy to one driven by innovation and entrepreneurship. In the case of Webster University Thailand, our mission and goals align with the Thailand 4.0 vision of a globally interconnected civil society. As world-wide institution, Webster University Thailand ensures learning experiences that transform students for global citizenship, individual excellence, and entrepreneurial distinction. We do this by developing innovative educational programs such as full degree programs, executive format course, industry focused certificate programs, and onsite consulting that supports tailored (site specific) academic program development.  That way, we join theory and practice, develop global literacy, and develop lifelong skills that can be used anywhere regardless of location. Webster University itself, headquartered in the USA, has campuses in Vienna, Austria, Geneva, Switzerland, Leiden, Netherlands, Chengdu, Shanghai, and Shenzhen all in China, Accra, Ghana, and also Bangkok & Cha-Am, Thailand.

Webster University Thailand’s Computer Science, International Business and Management, Media Communications, International Relations, and MBA programs offer a unique American and globally connected experience. Taught in an environment of a truly international faculty and student body, Webster allows Thai and foreign students alike to come together in envisioning and actualizing globalized, technological, and economic progress within the Kingdom of Thailand.

Authors: Dr. Ryan V. Guffey, Rector, Webster University Thailand. Further information may be obtained from Timothy Malloy, Director, Marketing and Enrolment, Webster University Thailand, Bangkok Campus, tel: 662 106 6599  email: Malloyt@webster.ac.th.

Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton is Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, chris@dataconsult.co.th. Dataconsult’s Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.

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