New ministry aims to upgrade workforce

New ministry aims to upgrade workforce

Eye on science, skills and innovation

University courses that yield a high number of unemployed graduates, or which focus on skills that are not in line with the 20-year national strategy or Thailand 4.0 vision, will be hit with funding cuts once the new tertiary education, research and innovation ministry is set up, according to Deputy Minister of Education Dr Udom Kachintorn.

Social science and public health science are among those courses, said Dr Udom.

"You can see that now we have more than 10,000 public health graduates per year and so many of them are still unemployed. The same situation applies to graduates from some social science programmes," he said.

Speaking yesterday at a seminar titled "New Ministry: Opportunities and Challenges", organised by Kasetsart University, Dr Udom, who is overseeing the setting up of the new ministry, said it will not be empowered to intervene in the administration of universities as they each have their own councils.

Its budget policy will force universities to close or scale back many academic fields that fail to meet the demands of the labour market.

According to Dr Udom, the ministry's budget will be more weighted toward universities that actively respond to the national goals.

"Under the newly proposed ministry, the subsidy for students who choose areas that meet the national requirements can go up to 120,000-150,000 baht per head," he said.

"However, the subsidy for courses that don't meet the needs of the labour market and result in many graduates being unable to find work will be reduced. This will put pressure on universities and force to them to make adjustments," he added.

Dr Udom said universities should focus on areas in which they excel or have special expertise in. He gave the example of Mahidol and Rajabhat universities, which he said have different strengths and should not compete in the same fields.

"It's impossible for universities to be jacks of all trades, but Thai universities are now trying to compete in every field. In some cases, they just open courses because other universities have them," he said.

Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee, who is also helping to set up the new ministry, said the goal is to turn Thai universities into research and innovation drivers, as well as providers of a highly skilled and qualified workforce, in line with the 20-year national strategy and the Thailand 4.0 vision. These were created to help Thailand escape the middle-income trap and become a developed country.

"We're now living in the age of disruption. To boost GDP and get out of the middle-income trap, we can't just rely on imported technology. We must innovate to compete, and our universities should be the tip of the spear," he said.

Mr Suvit said they must focus more on science-related fields to produce a generation of innovators.

He said one short-term goal of the new ministry is to improve the ratio of pure science students to social science students from 30:70 to 50:50.

"I'm not saying the social sciences and humanities courses are not important, but we now have a surplus of graduates in the former and that's a problem," Mr Suvit said.

The National Legislative Assembly is expected the pass the Higher Education Bill by November. The new ministry will merge the Office of Higher Education and the Science Ministry.

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