Thai academics decry graduates' weak degrees, poor English

September 23, 2005

A crisis of quality afflicting Thai degree programmes threatens to produce graduates with "useless" qualifications, leading education experts have warned.

Their criticism comes after years of education reform and coincides with increased competition from regional rivals such as China.

Many Thai degrees are academically soft ways of raking in money for institutions pandering to a nationwide obsession with embossed certificates, they claim.

"If we keep letting universities open low-quality degree programmes we are going to run into a major crisis. It is almost false education," Amornwich Nakornthap, director of the Centre for Research into Education Policy at Chulalongkorn University, said.

"The days when a university education was a massive privilege are over. Now we face the prospect of taxi drivers holding masters degrees or PhDs," he said.

Some 200 degree-giving institutions are divided roughly equally into public universities, private colleges and teacher training centres that have transformed into full-service universities.

Many have expanded to meet a voracious public demand for higher education by opening branches across the country and offering scores of new courses every year. Thailand offers some excellent degrees, but the average calibre of graduate attainment remains stubbornly low.

"The spread of higher education isn't solving the fundamental problem of quality," Boonrak Boonyaketmala, a former dean and academic research director, said. "Many of our universities are little more than vocational colleges. Degrees are often the equivalent of a school-leaving certificate from a good European school."

The education establishment has been alarmed to learn that Thai graduates hoping to study abroad produced almost the worst Test of English as a Foreign Language results in the region.

"You can expect that a Thai graduate won't have English," said a senior official at the education ministry.

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