University rectors back call for new ministry
Three university rectors have voiced support for the Education Ministry's idea to upgrade its Office of Higher Education Commission (Ohec) into a new ministry.
They said the move would help lift university standards and solve chronic problems in the tertiary sector.
Thammasat University rector Somkit Lertpaithoon said Thailand needs to set up a "Ministry of University Affairs" if it wants to turn universities into centres of research and innovation and providers of a highly skilled and qualified workforce.
"We need a new entity that truly understands the tertiary education sector, not just a body that government officers wishing to be C10- or C11-level officials want to be transferred to," Mr Somkit said.
For many years the ministry has stressed funding the basic and vocational education sector rather than upgrading higher education because basic and vocational education form the biggest part of the education system, Mr Somkit said.
"Universities are different from schools and vocational colleges because we have to do research and innovative work. We need genuine enthusiasm about funding, even if most universities have to stand on their own two feet," Mr Somkit said.
He said he has talked to many university executives and most support in principle the idea of setting up a new ministry. However, what really concerns many universities is how a new minister and the Higher Education Commission would affect a university's ability to manage itself.
"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.
These problems could include a lack of good governance in the higher education sector, internal conflicts in some university councils and universities offering substandard courses. Mr Somkit suggested that a minister of university affairs should not wield absolute power on every issue.
Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University rector Luedech Kerdwichai said 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.
Mr Luedech suggested rules should allow university councils to invite other parties, such as student and alumni representatives and professional experts to help solve internal conflicts or problems, rather than relying solely on educational savants.
Silpakorn University rector Chaicharn Thavaravej said the Education Ministry is considered too big, so should it consider downsizing by splitting off some agencies as independent entities.
"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.