A changing economic landscape is the driving force for reform in Thailand’s higher education system, with the Thailand 4.0 economic strategy prompting universities to adapt curricula to meet government policy and industrial demand. Highlighting the current mismatch between skills and industry demands, Chen Namchaisiri, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, told local media in February 2018 that despite growing demand in the industrial sector for graduates with degrees in science, nearly 70% of students leaving university had qualifications in social sciences. This leaves significant shortfalls in key sectors. For example, while Thailand produced 2000 artificial intelligence and robotics engineering graduates in 2017, annual demand in the labour market stands at 10,000, according to local media.
Fulfilling this industry requirement is expected to prompt innovations in the working practices of higher education providers. Collaboration between universities will be needed to help increase the number of trained workers necessary to support government plans to invest $6bn in high-tech sectors until 2023 and reduce reliance on technology imports.
Speaking in March 2018 at a forum focusing on the role of education in achieving Thailand 4.0, the national strategy for creating an innovation-driven economy, Suchatvee Suwansawat, president of the Council of University Presidents of Thailand and King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (KMITL), said that, to meet the future demands of the labour market, universities will need to strengthen ties with both industry and one another.
Examples of such collaboration are starting to take shape. In February 2018 KMITL and Chulalongkorn University (CU), both public institutions based in Bangkok, announced they were joining forces to offer a double bachelor’s degree in artificial intelligence and robotics engineering. The four-year programme, the first of its kind in the country, will see students study at both campuses and graduate with a degree from both CU and KMITL upon completion, with admissions to the 40-person programme set to open in August 2018.
The announcement marks a shift in higher education, as institutions adjust their strategies to meet the growing demand for technological expertise. “Universities should work together, not compete,” Suchatvee, told local media in March 2018. “Working together is a win-win situation for universities, as we can share expertise and cut operational expenses at the same time.”
In addition to local relationships, some tertiary institutions are partnering with international players to develop technology- and innovation-focused programmes. “Collaborating with top foreign universities is one way to push research and innovation,” Pornchai Mongkhonvanit, president of Siam University, told OBG. “This will provide opportunities to private universities for international student recruitment to supplement local students.”
In early 2017 KMITL formed an alliance with the US-based Carnegie Mellon University aimed at improving the level of education and training on offer at the university. The partnership will see the universities develop a research institute utilising management principles from the US, offer dual-degree programmes in electrical and computer engineering and technology ventures, and work together on research efforts to improve human resources and technology capacity.
The government is also playing a role in establishing partnership opportunities with international stakeholders, announcing in May 2017 that foreign higher education providers would be able to open branches in special economic zones, with initial emphasis on encouraging them to invest within the administration’s flagship Eastern Economic Corridor. The move, designed specifically to bridge the gap in workplace skills and leverage international expertise to advance the goals laid out in the Thailand 4.0 strategy, will target courses not already provided by local institutions, with a particular focus to be placed on vocational subjects.
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