Interview: Worsak Kanok-Nukulchai
In what ways are degree preferences among students at Thai universities and institutes currently being shaped by industry demand?
WORSAK KANOK-NUKULCHAI: For us, the trend is very clear, in that the current global geopolitical situation has shifted international education towards the theme of “Looking East”. I believe that this is a windfall for truly international higher education institutes, especially in Asia. The major demand growth among students at this time is towards choosing institutions that can serve as a gateway to international careers, which is itself driven by keen industrial demand for professionals who are comfortable working in the international environments of this increasingly globalised world.
As such, I believe that the five key areas of competence in which institutions must equip their graduates – which I call “the five Is” – are internationality, IT, innovation, industrial relevance and the integration of technical, economic and social aspects.
Furthermore, collaboration is today’s buzzword in the international arena and the issues that confront humanity – such as climate change, natural disaster management, energy and food sufficiency – all have cross-border dimensions that cannot be solved by a single country or a single discipline. I believe that Thailand has the potential to be a regional focal point for international cooperation and to share its experiences in the interest of the region and the whole world.
Are reforms necessary to help bring local higher education in line with international standards?
WORSAK: I think there is an urgent need to reform Thailand’s education sector. First and foremost, we must find a way to enhance the prestige and salary scale of the teaching profession in Thailand. If we look to the Asian nations whose educational standards are highly thought of on a global scale, particularly Japan and South Korea, we find that the teaching profession in these countries is considered one of society’s most attractive careers. Thus, this is an issue of social perception as well as one of government policy.
In addition to this, the local curriculum must be revamped completely so that students are enabled to learn through critical thinking and analysis. We need to transform our education system to equip students with the tools they need to learn by themselves so that they can spend less time in the classroom and have more time for real-world learning.
How can education further the government’s Thailand 4.0 economic development goals of promoting technological and creative industries?
WORSAK: Thailand has passed through three distinct economic development cycles to date: the first cycle focused on enhancing the productivity of its agriculture sector, the second cycle on developing light industries and the third cycle on promoting heavy industries for economic growth. These cycles helped give the national economy its current middle-income status. Since then, Thailand has been relatively stagnant under a situation known as the middle-income trap, which has led to unsustainable growth and an increase in wealth inequality. The Thailand 4.0 vision aims to allow the nation to climb out of this trap by moving away from its traditional economic model and towards a value-added economy. This can be realised through major shifts, including the shift from supply-side to demand-side products, from trade regulation to trade facilitation, and through producing knowledge-based content.
Thai higher education institutions should further develop their offerings along these lines, placing emphasis on developing human capital to serve segments such as ICT, robotics and mechatronics, high-value industries, infrastructure, logistics, energy, food and water, as well as the creative, cultural and service industries. Especially for us as an institute of technology, these remain our core areas of focus, as they allow Thailand to better leverage its position and skills.
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