Thai MPs told to study for degrees

March 17, 2000

BANGKOK

Poorly educated Thai MPs are dashing from parliamentary meetings to evening classes at a Bangkok university to study politics.

New rules designed to end vote-buying, reduce the power of political families and improve the quality of Thailand's notoriously self-serving MPs are forcing them to get degrees.

The degree condition was introduced in 1997 when a new constitution was brought in. But Thailand's politicians have already been accused of persuading Ramkhamhaeng University, which offers a special liberal arts degree programme for politicians and administrators, of reducing the hours MPs need to spend in lectures or poring over course books.

In the latest move, university administrators have stated that MPs' political experience can now be converted into credits, allowing course students to graduate more quickly. Instead of the usual four years, students will be able to pass through the system in two-and-a-half years.

With a general election due this year, senior politicians are keen to ensure they are not frozen out of ministerial positions for too long.

Of Thailand's 397 MPs, 91 do not have degrees. At least 30 politicians have signed up for the liberal arts course.

Critics have accused politicians, who pay higher fees than usual, of using their influence to make the course easier and university administrators of paying special attention to their VIP students.

The university has admitted the course is a money-spinner but says the practical credits are designed not to favour politicians but are in the interests of all Ramkhamhaeng's students.

Lecturers at rival universities say credits should only be handed out if politicians can prove that their political experience has been marked by integrity.

Pornchai Theppanya, dean of the political science faculty, said lectures cover good governance, corruption, economics and law. He rejected criticisms that the course would be a soft touch.

"We are a government university and we have standards,"

he said. "The MPs study the same curriculum as the day-time

students."

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