Chula sends its students back to square one

Chula sends its students back to square one

Chulalongkorn University is arguably Thailand's most prestigious institution of education. When students hand over their tuition fees and turn up for their first day of classes they expect a learning experience that is in line with a top-ranked Thai university.

Most students do not enrol at Chula, or any university for that matter, with dreams of failing. While it is true that many students study simply because it is expected of them, if they have come this far in their academic life it would be safe to assume that they wish to leave with some form of degree.

And while some do fail for a variety of reasons ranging from laziness to stupidity most will complete their degree with satisfactory results. It is after all in their best interests to do so.

Unfortunately it has now come to light that some will fail, not because of their own mistakes, but because the university that so willingly took their money at the start of the term, does not have their best interests in mind.

Five senior law students at Chula's faculty of law have learned this lesson the hard way. Due to a delay in the announcement of their first-year examination results, five fourth-year students have been told that they must re-enrol as first-year students because their overall grades were not up to standard.

Long story short. After a two-year waiting period for their first-year results, the students discovered that their accumulated grade was not high enough to allow them to continue their fourth year.

The solution to this unfortunate situation is to make them retake the degree in its entirety, with the university footing the cost of tuition, and the students in question wasting three years of their lives.

While this is undeniably an unfair turn of events, sadly there really isn't any other way to remedy the problem.

Unless, instead of worrying about Chula's reputation, university administrators seek to find out why these students failed in the first place.

Sakda Thanitcul, the dean of the faculty of law, claims that a possible reason the papers were not graded on time is because the lecturer responsible was ill and wheelchair-bound. Oh, and he also had to visit the United States on official university business. He also assured that this business trip did not result in the unmarked papers because Chula enforces regulations that state any business trips must not interfere with work.

Confidence restored?

Sounds more like avoiding responsibility to me. Could it perhaps be the case that because he had to go to America in a wheelchair, the lecturer at the heart of this scandal did not in fact live up to his commitment to teach his students?

That they received such poor grades during their first year because their teacher wasn't around to offer them guidance? What would be the protocol for such a situation? Furthermore, if a sufficient GPA in the first year is imperative to securing a place in the second year, who on earth allowed these students to continue their studies without the proper requirements filled? Could it be that rules were broken? That responsibility was ignored? What would such a thing mean for one of Thailand's top universities?

If fault does indeed lie with the university then I would argue that the immediate solution would be to admit that any failure was a direct result of poor teaching. These students should then be allowed to resit any first-year exams parallel with their finals and have their new grades decided from the results. The extra work and disruption may be a complication but I bet it would be preferable to retaking their entire degree.

The long-term situation is slightly more problematic. This country's educational woes are equalled only by our political ones and a clear-cut solution would be harder to find than a yellow M&M at a Pheu Thai chocolate party.

As unfortunate as this situation is, Chula should take this as an opportunity to address its weaknesses. Management issues, quality of teaching and an emphasis on education as a business are not exclusive to Chula and are not something to be ashamed of. Even the best universities must evolve through their mistakes.

An ongoing topic regarding a similar problem with education in the United Kingdom concerns reviving democratic accountability within learning organisations. When a university holds the power to dictate all aspects of learning without accountability, it is the students who suffer. Give a voice to their dissatisfaction and the power to effect change through a properly organised governing body and not only avoid further embarrassing situations like this, but produce a better quality of student as well.

Arglit Boonyai is Digital Media Editor, Bangkok Post.

Arglit Boonyai

Multimedia Editor

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