Thai two refuse to end gift culture

April 7, 2000

Two Thai state universities have refused to abolish discriminatory quota systems that allow children of the rich and famous to enter feeder schools ahead of their more intelligent rivals.

Despite a public outcry about admissions procedures that help keep bright, poor children out, Kasetsart and Srinakharinwot universities stood their ground.

Both universities oversee so-called associated "demonstration schools", which provide an education that virtually guarantees that children will win places at associated universities.

Places at demonstration schools are sought-after because education standards are so low at most Thai state schools.

The admissions policy of Bangkok's Kasetsart University's hit the headlines last year when one parent, Sumalee Limpa-ovart, demanded to see exam papers when her bright six-year-old daughter was not admitted after taking exams. The move was consistently blocked by the university on privacy grounds.

The demonstration school parents' association backed the university, reportedly because so many had themselves paid "tea money" or used influence to gain entry for their children.

Foreign teachers working at the university said the giving of lavish gifts was common. Even prime minister Chuan Leekpai has admitted using his influence as a member of the university council to secure a place for a relative.

Despite the outcry and an on-going battle to outlaw the practice, Kasetsart University has pledged to provide 40 places out of 120 for patrons, with the remaining 80 awarded by exam-based admission. Srinakharinwot University has promised to continue to do the same.

Ms Limpa-ovart said: "The unfair practice destroys the hopes of thousands of children wanting to study in these schools."

Other state universities, including the most prestigious Chula-longkorn University, have abolished the practice, which threatened to snowball out of control.

Revelations of bribes are not news to education adviser, assistant professor Sompong Jitradab, whose research into admissions procedures uncovered a range of colourful payments.

At one top demonstration school he found that the parents' association brokered under-the-table payments starting at $8,300 (Pounds 5,200).

Cars, computers, swimming pools and air conditioners had also been donated.

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