A simple idea to improve Thai universities is a peer review assessment by each other. The idea is not that far from what is being put in place by ASEAN University Network-Quality Assurance at a program level. However, a greater push is required all-around at tertiary improvement and standardization. As a lecturer and parent, I have been exposed to the system from multiple angles. Perhaps the new Education Minister should consider this option.
Thai universities’ quality has been criticized by many over the years with some justification. On QS and other rankings, few Thai universities feature though some programs are ranked regionally. The number of programs ranked is tiny compared to the number of programs offered. Quality assessment and rankings are not the same but related. Recently, the Deputy Prime Minister hinted at how differences among local universities are perceived. However, ideas to improve the system has been few and too radical for the current status quo. However, improvements at the tertiary level are a must if Thailand is to compete in a complex global world. Other countries are steaming ahead.
The peer-review process is in place in many countries at a university level (among campuses and external partners). Many Thai academics are supposed to go through this process every year or two as publications are required. Having quality education is part of the Ministry of Higher Education, Science Research and Innovation remit with program standards evaluations. These assessments are too few and need updating as the pace of change in the educational environment increases. It is not just the academic programs that would be assessed but also the management of these programs as great academic programs generally have excellent leadership. There is occasional talk and some actions, but meaningful discussions and activities are rare.
By incorporating the universities themselves, sharing information, facilitating standards and procedures, overall learning becomes possible. Suggestions for improvement would be local and not foreign. Think a mix of lecturers from Kasetsart, Silpakorn and Naresuan commenting on Thammasat programs and so on. Most of the reviewers would be Thais though some of the available experts may be foreigners.
Having a few foreign experts will help serve as reminders of what is done outside Thailand, reduce the chances of complacency and remind many local lecturers what they have been exposed to while studying. Peer-reviewing may mean more administrative work for Thai academics; however, having regular reviews will help with the overall quality of education. Better undergraduates, better postgraduates, better research, and better papers for publishing. An academic renewable energy farm. Results of the peer-review would be seen by a gradual improvement of rankings by a more diverse number of universities, closure of some programs and variations in students’ choices.
Benefits would be a Thai standard of education for university graduates, with stakeholders being able to gauge the expectations of graduates better. Reviews can reduce the disparities among programs. Like in the Netherlands and Finland, quality is readily available. Graduates are of a general uniform level. There is value for money in terms of education. There will still be the premier universities with global rankings, but those at the bottom end of the spectrum would not be too far away.
Many agree Thai tertiary education needs improvement. Radical proposals do not work. Having experienced the system, the simple idea of local experts using a tried international technique of peer-review can start greasing the wheels of change that is required.
*Dr. Mariano Carrera, Business Lecturer, Dhonburi Rajabhat University, International College, Bangkok, Thailand