In search of broader horizons
More Thai students are creating opportunities by seeking to study at universities overseas
A large number of Thai students are now getting into top universities abroad, including the prestigious Ivy League, to seize opportunities from an international environment.
In February, the British Council Thailand reported that the number of Thai higher education students studying overseas in the 2017/2018 academic year amounted to 15,738. Of that, 43% flocked to the UK, followed by 37% to the US, 16% to Australia, and 4% to Canada.
Pranai Fuang-Arom, a graduate of Harrow International School, said he has already received conditional offers and was now looking forward to his exam results.
"Among them are Manchester University, City University London (CUL), King's College London (KCL), University College London (UCL), and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). I hope to get into one of their business schools," he told the Bangkok Post.
Looking back, Mr Pranai said it was a long journey involving many years of studying for exams, but it's made him a wiser and more responsible person.
"I started planning for my future when I was in Grade 9 [Mathayom 3]. I had a two-hour coaching session every day except Sunday. The higher the university's ranking is, the harder you must try. I am proud of myself," he said.
In the UK education system, international high-school students normally do the International General Certificate of Secondary Education [IGCSE] and A-level, but those heading for the US take the SAT college entrance exam.
IGCSE is an English-language based examination similar to GCSE and is recognised in the UK as being equivalent to GCSE for the purposes of recognising prior attainment.
Mr Pranai said it is very demanding because top-tier universities require students to achieve high grades in specific subjects. He did physics, maths, and economics, but dropped geography at A-level.
"It is said that there are quotas for students from each country, but I thought I was competing with myself at the time. I want to study abroad because I want to be more independent and exposed to a multicultural environment," he said.
Mr Pranai said he wants to go ahead with higher-level management courses because what Thai universities teach in the first year is similar to A-level. If he finishes the three-year undergraduate degree, it will be easier to further his study in the UK because universities apply the same criteria.
"Studying management overseas will also expand my business network and allow me to gain experience from working for international companies. I plan to work in the banking industry and then continue my family business at home," he said.
The United Kingdom allows overseas students from this year onwards to stay and work in the UK for two years after graduation, reversing a decision made in 2012 by then-home secretary Theresa May that required them to leave four months after finishing degrees.
Similarly, Suthatphisit Piyawalaluck, a graduate of Harrow International School who has a conditional offer from the LSE, agreed that getting into top-notch universities requires hard work, but it will help him stand in good stead in his future career.
"I think it will be a positive experience, but whether or not a student will succeed is up to him. I plan to study finance, work abroad, and return home to develop our country," he said.
Harrow International School posted on its website that the class of 2020 has received more than 400 offers from recognised universities from around the world, including 93 from the top 50 universities.
Sawaros Thanapornsangsuth, a researcher at Columbia University, said studying abroad will provide an international environment where students can gain access to cohorts, conferences, alumni networks, and large corporates in New York. For instance, she interned at Sesame Workshop, New York Public Media, and Explain Everything startup.
"Online courses and cooperation programmes can promote educational equality, but they can't provide an international atmosphere. You might pass by Nobel laureates and Bill Gates on campus. After graduating, students can take advantage of professional opportunities from surrounding support systems," she said.
Funded by the Fulbright Programme and Teachers College, Ms Sawaros has recently finished an EdD (Doctor of Education) in educational technology at Columbia University. All eight Ivy League colleges are: Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University.
When asked to what extent prestigious universities reflect an "elitist" system, Ms Sawaros said inequality does exist, but they have been working to bridge these gaps through several policies, including diversity quotas for students from all backgrounds, scholarships for the financially disadvantaged, and outreach programmes for children in need.
"It is true that alumni continue to send their children to the Ivy League. Studying here is a privilege, but it allows students, especially minority groups, to have better opportunities. Despite contradiction, it can allow a person to climb social ladders. One of my friends is a Vietnamese refugee who managed to enter Harvard University," she said.
When asked how Thailand can achieve global recognition for its education, Ms Sawaros said it can pursue its goal of a regional hub by attracting those from neighbouring countries to study and work here.
"However, the government should create an ecosystem to support the foreign cream of the crop, for example, by offering scholarships and post-study work visas," she added.