Unis 'must gear up for lifelong learning'

Unis 'must gear up for lifelong learning'

Suvit Maesincee, Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation.
Suvit Maesincee, Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation.

Universities should transform into institutions for lifelong learners to address two major threats facing Thailand -- a decline in college-age students and technological disruption, says Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Suvit Maesincee.

In a seminar speech titled "Uplifting Thailand with the power of higher education" hosted by the Post Today website, Mr Suvit said the falling birth rate and technological disruption will transform the labour market. The working-age population will shrink and many jobs will disappear or be taken over by robots and smart systems.

"Our country will soon have a smaller working-age population and many people will have to change their careers because many existing jobs will be replaced by AI. To survive in that environment, workers must have 21st-century skills," he said.

Complex problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity will become the most crucial skills for workers, as they may end up doing jobs that have not even been invented yet, he added.

"Our education system must be able to produce lifelong learners and job creators, not just graduates in a specific job. Universities must teach students to learn to think and have a critical mind to analyse and appraise," he said.

Universities of the future must become places of learning for all ages, he added. In a rapidly changing technological world, there will be no age limit for studying at university, since everyone will need to learn new skills many times during their careers.

"Universities should focus on upgrading the skills of 35 million people already in the job market," he said.

The government is using tax incentives to persuade big companies to send their employees to universities, so they can gain new knowledge, he said.

"For workers in small and medium-sized companies, we are thinking about creating a skill-development coupon which they can use to 'reskill' themselves at universities," he added.

Mr Suvit also urged universities to overhaul their courses to keep subject knowledge up to date and to open new ones that match the government's policies.

He said the government is pushing the so-called "BCG Model" -- which stands for Bio, Circular, and Green economies -- for economic development to reach its ambitious goal of raising Thailand's GDP by 1 trillion baht within the next five years.

"To achieve this, new knowledge and technology must be used to add more value to more products from various sectors, including food-and-beverages manufacturing, medicine, energy, biochemicals and tourism -- and universities have a vital role to play here," he said. With the BCG Model in place, the government is now aiming to create 10 million more jobs in the next decade, said Mr Suvit.

His ministry is also funding an 8.6-billion-baht "Youth Build the Nation" scheme to provide paid volunteer jobs to unemployed graduates while also upgrading entrepreneurship skills for university students.

Most funding will go to the graduate volunteer programme, which will recruit 50,000 graduates to work as paid volunteers in rural areas.

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