Government ducks Sangha study row

Government ducks Sangha study row

'No plans' to interfere in curricula, it says

The education minister says the two Buddhist universities including Mahamakut (above) can enrol students and conduct classes as they see fit, no matter what the prime minister says. (Photo via
The education minister says the two Buddhist universities including Mahamakut (above) can enrol students and conduct classes as they see fit, no matter what the prime minister says. (Photo via

The government insists it will not interfere with the decisions of the country's two Sangha universities regarding their curriculum management, despite concerns raised by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha over the high number of study programmes offered at these universities.

Suphat Champathong, secretary-general of the Office of the Higher Education Commission (Ohec), was correct to assert that the two universities now offer a large number of study programmes apparently designed for laymen, who are allowed to enrol, rather than just monks, as observed by Gen Prayut, and  have every right to do so, said Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin.

The universities are Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University and Mahamakut Buddhist University. Mr Suphat had been assigned to find out about the universities' curriculums, after Gen Prayut's remarks were made public, Dr Teerakiat said.

Mr Suphat also said the universities have done nothing wrong in offering a wide variety of study programmes and he believed Gen Prayut was aware the government has no authority over the matter.

The curriculums are valid as long as they are approved by the universities' councils, said Dr Teerakiat.

"It's not something Ohec or the government can change because it's against the law for either of them to attempt to do so," said Dr Teerakiat.

It would be better to focus on whether these universities are producing graduates with appropriate skills for the job market, because if those students decide to leave the monkhood after graduation, they will have to find work anyway, he said.

In the ministry's new draft law on higher education, a committee will be set up to direct the subsidising of educational programmes in a system similar to that used in other countries, he said.

When the bill is passed into law, universities will be expected to adjust their curriculums to meet the new committee's funding imperatives, he said.

Phra Phrom Bandit, rector of Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, said the latest evaluation of the institution's educational quality by Ohec, conducted earlier this month, produced a score of 4.04, which is equivalent to a "good" rating.

Meanwhile, Santisukh Sobhanasiri, a Buddhism expert, told the Bangkok Post that he has much respect for Gen Prayut over his "brave" role in supporting the Sangha body in its fight against over-commercialisation, such as the sale of amulets from temples.

"It's extraordinary for the PM to dare to deal with this issue," said Mr Santisukh, adding that amulets produced in ancient times were intended as keepsakes to remind people of the importance of practicing Buddhanusati.

Mr Santisukh, however, admitted he didn't know how far this initiative can go as it won't be easy to wipe out the sale of amulets and talismans. Some temples make a big income from the sale of such items.

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