HEP Conversations with Thai academics: The future of internationalising Thai higher education
At the time of writing, the world is in the grips of a global pandemic. The key players in higher education (HE) sector; Thai government, universities, community, and international partner are forced to adjust themselves to survive in the age of disruption facing a new way of learning, working and living culture.
The British Council has spoken to representatives from four Thai universities from across Thailand who have been an active group of participants in our programmes that supports the HE sector over the past years. From the discussion, it is very interesting to hear their useful thoughts on impacts they have felt from COVID-19, what they see future of the sector will look like, and the direction of internationalisation of Thai higher education post-COVID-19.
"Universities will have to equip students with a new skill set such as digital literacy and communication etiquette in the online setting, which are required now, and will even become more demanded."
Dr. Pornapit Darasawang - King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi
Q: What will internationalisation look like post-COVID-19?
Dr. Pornapit (King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi): I am one of the committee members working on the policy of internationalisation to be proposed to the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation (MHESI), “Internationalisation at Home—IaH” is proposed during the committee meeting to push forward. IaH will give people more opportunities to internationalise, and to build global citizenship. With the impacts of COVID-19, like other universities, our face-to-face activities including the university internship exchange programme are on hold until January 2021 and some are partially replaced by virtual activities.
I reckon that the appetite for mobility programme will still be there in the post Covid-19 era, but a key challenge for universities is to maintain an environment for learning culture and knowledge exchange. The university encourages exchange students to interact with others in every aspect including Language and Culture. Transnational Education Programme (TNE) must be transformed to become much more flexible to be able to tackle any disruptions.
Dr. Nitinant (Thammasat University): At Pridi Banomyong International College, we will have to start our double-degree course with SOAS in Thai Studies in August 2020. The University has decided to go online in the first semester and the earliest travel programme can happen in February 2021.
Any TNE programmes, student and staff mobility programme, the university’s system and people’s mindset need to be changed to become nimble enough to respond to disruptive situations. Pedagogies must serve emerging trends such as personalised learning. This could be done by having a flexible and reliable digitalised platform to reach the expected outcome.
Looking at a brighter side, this crisis reveals some opportunities. Leveraging technology as a strategy during the pandemic eases barriers to connect to a wider group of global networks in which Thai universities can be sharing and utilising all together.
Dr. Jidtima (Walailak University): Walailak University International College (WUIC) has established the TNE programme (Dual undergraduate curriculum in Global Tourism, Hospitality, and Wellness Management”) with Coventry University but this is still in the early stage. COVID-19 has inevitably caused the halt on the new international student enrolment for this year programme, and so, we have postponed the programme enrolment timeline to next year.
However, the university considers the exchange programme and TNE as a crucial aspect for internationalisation because there is a need for flexible and blended learning options. After COVID-19, the demand for student exchange programmes tends to be increased since people would prefer to experience the culture and social norms in the new environment.
Dr. Duangthida (Bangkok University): There are many factors to prepare people for sudden changes and disruptions, effective use of database and communication strategy is very helpful for crisis management during the peak of the epidemic. For our summer course at Bangkok University International, we migrate it to online. Some challenges we are facing include time zone difference among our diverse group of international students, and how to maintain the highest standard of safety for everyone. It is even more difficult to provide students with the culture and social etiquette experiences via the online class compared to face-to-face delivery.
Q: Has COVID-19 impacted funding for teaching, research and mobility programmes?
Dr. Pornapit: For our University, teaching funding has been increased to support learning platforms. At the same time, the University is also supporting knowledge sharing across departments to respond to a difficult situation. Research funding is the same.
Dr. Nitinant: Availability of and access to research funding remain the same. There has been indeed an increase in funding to foster collaborations, especially with existing partners. Part of the increase in this funding was reallocated from the unspent budget for travelling and mobility. As our institution’s focus is on social science, research in this field can be carried out easier during this crisis than pure science research which requires physical lab access.
Dr. Jidtima: Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has highlighted the crucial importance of Health Science. The University’s budget for mobility has not been fully used as a result of the pandemic and reallocated to investment in better online teaching and learning platforms.
Dr. Duangthida: Overall budget of the university has not decreased. On the contrary, there is an increase in online learning and tools to support teachers’ teaching efficiencies.
Q: How ready is your institution able to switch to digital?
Dr. Pornapit: COVID-19 has accelerated online teaching and learning reform for the sector even though some challenges have been posed to academics who deliver online classes, especially those who teach and work in a laboratory. To help them overcome it, the University is providing training for academics to support online teaching capability such as initiating a new type of assignments for students that fit in the online context.
Dr. Nitinant: It is undeniable that there are some difficulties in migrating teaching to online including teacher’s unfamiliarity with online platforms, a lack of sufficient IT literacy to best deliver an online class as well as how to assess students’ learning and engagement levels. One important thing that the universities can do is to give them some moral support to boost their confidence levels. Developing the right mindset for teachers should be highly focused. It could be said that the university is more or less than 60% ready for online-based teaching and learning.
Q: How are universities preparing graduates for the future?
Dr. Duangthida: To prepare students for employment during this difficult time, the university is still developing the online training programmes and workshops with companies. Since students can only be trained online, the university will ensure that students will benefit from the online internship and projects by setting up an exclusive session to discuss with partner companies to agree on job roles and creditability offered.
Dr. Pornapit: Universities will have to equip students with a new skill set such as digital literacy and communication etiquette in the online setting, which are required now, and will even become more demanded.
Dr. Nitinant: Online teaching and learning will not compensate for intercultural interactions and international social norms. Being a ‘Collaborator’ will be a new required skill in order to build networks and bridge a gap between generations. Universities will have to re-design their internship programmes to respond to changing demand from the labour market.
Q: What roles do universities play in the community?
Dr. Nitinant: Before COVID-19, teachers and students usually involve in supporting the community, for example, providing free language courses for the community to communicate with foreigners. Now, they are using online methods to continue their contribution.
The major role of the university at the moment is to ensure that every staff and students on the field feel that they have support from their institution. The University is looking for knowledge service platforms that would help create an equal opportunity to access this knowledge as a commitment to continue supporting our community even after the COVID-19.
Comments from the British Council
The desire for global networks – In the time of crisis, Thai higher education institutions are still very keen to seek and build collaborations with both existing and new international partners to support internationalisation of their institution. Within the internationalisation strategies, TNE and mobility programmes are still the vital approach for institutions to become more international and globally recognised. There will be a considerable increase in demand for TNE and exchange programme when the normal situation resumes, but the approach will need to be changed with more flexibilities.
Priorities of Thai higher education institutions – During the rise of the pandemic, there is a shift in university’s income and funding. Some universities are facing the prospects of income losses due to the reduced number of students enrolled to their courses. Nonetheless, the universities are doing their best to manage budget. Online teaching becomes the highest priority and international mobility, the least. Funding for research collaborations stays the same during and after COVID-19. Academics need capacities building and further development in terms of online teaching capabilities and mindsets for the recently evolved form of higher education provision.
About Higher Education Partnerships Programme and Transnational Education Development Programme
To find out more about HEP and TNE programme, please visit our work in UK-Thailand Higher Education Partnerships.
Thank you to Thai representatives who have been actively participating in the British Council’s Thai-UK Higher Education Partnerships Programme and the previous Transnational Education Developmet Programme.
- Dr. Duangthida Nunthapirat is Dean of Bangkok University International (BUI), Bangkok University. She is working with Coventry University on a dual degree within the International Tourism Management programme.
- Dr. Jidtima Sunkhamani is Dean of Walailak University International College (WUIC), Walailak University. She is working on embedding Work-Integrated Learning in Global Tourism, Hospitality, and Wellness Management Curriculum with Coventry University London.
- Dr. Nitinant Wisaweisuan is the former Dean of Pridi Banomyong International College (PBIC), Thammasat University. She was working with SOAS, University of London on Bachelor of Arts Programme in Thai Studies and Bachelor of Arts Programme in Southeast Asian Studies.
- Dr. Pornapit Darasawang is Vice President for Internationalisation, King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT). She is working with the University of Reading on BSc in Microbiology and Biochemistry.