The new semester is about to start at many universities this week. Typically, that would mean a buzzing buzz when returning to the classrooms on campuses throughout Thailand that had been empty during the long recess.
However, this year may not be the case because, unlike several decades ago, when the birth rate was high and more students were applying for places at universities, many of those classrooms may remain empty.
In fact, of the 4,100 academic programs now offered by more than 300 universities and faculties, many struggle to fill positions in their courses due to the decline of college-age students.
According to the Council of University Presidents of Thailand (CUPT), of the 300,000 places available in its central admission system this year, only about 230,000 have been requested.
CUPT President Suchatvee Suwansawat explained why he thought this was: "On average, there are 600,000-700,000 babies born in Thailand per year today, compared to 1,000,000 per year 30 years ago, which may explain the trend downward in admissions. "he said.
THE DEMOGRAPHIC CHALLENGE
Thailand faces an unprecedented demographic challenge. Its population is aging rapidly, while the birth rate continues to fall.
As a result, it is expected that the number of college-age students will continue to decline until 2040.
According to the United Nations, Thailand is the third country in the world that is aging the fastest. The percentage of the Thai population aged 65 or older has more than doubled in the last 20 years, from 5% in 1995 to 11% in 2017.
Meanwhile, the country's workforce is expected to decline from 50 million to 40 million by 2040. These trends are mainly the result of a sharp drop in fertility rates, which fell from 6.2 births per woman in the early 1960s to 1.5 in 2016.
Fewer children mean fewer students and less demand for education.
UNIVERSITY BOOM TIME
Before 1957, there were only five public universities in Thailand: Chulalongkorn University, Thammasat University, Silpakorn University, Kasetsart University and Mahidol University. Now, the number is at 29.
This increase reflects the demand for skilled labor in a nation undergoing rapid development, as well as the highest birth rate in recent decades.
Currently, there are 310 institutes of higher education that offer bachelor's degrees and more.
Private universities make up the majority of the sector and currently outnumber public universities and colleges across the country combined.
While the number of such institutes has been rising, enrollment has gone in the opposite direction.
Before 2010, there were around 2.5 million applicants competing for places. Last year, that figure had dropped to 2 million, a 20% reduction in less than a decade.
PRIVATE PROVIDERS CAN BE SUCCESSFUL FIRST
The concerns of the CUPT president reflect the brutal reality.
The number of students applying for places at private universities has decreased by 50% over the last decade, a figure that is expected to be reduced by half again in the next three to five years.
In fact, some heads have already shot.
In 2017, two private universities, Srisophon College in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Asian University in Chon Buri, closed due to financial problems caused by low enrollment.
Many other private universities fear that they may be the next if nothing is done to stop the trend, according to Mr. Suchatvee of CUPT.
Some have begun to put pressure on the education ministry, requesting assistance to open branches in neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Saowanee Thairungroj, rector of the University of Thailand's Chamber of Commerce (UTCC), a 77-year-old private university, said the universities most likely to survive are those with deep-pocketed supporters because, "If you do not you have "well-established funding sources in the education business, you may have to close or reduce the size"
GRIM FUTURE FOR THE PRIVATE SECTOR
The Association of Private Higher Education Institutions of Thailand (APHEIT) also has a grim prognosis for private universities in Thailand.
"Of the 75 private universities in Thailand, only 10 are large enough to stay up. The rest are medium or small schools that need more support to survive because the market for higher education in Thailand is getting smaller. year, '' Pornchai Mongkhonvanit, former president of APHEIT told him Bangkok Post .
Mr Pornchai said that private universities, especially smaller ones, need to adjust their strategies to survive in the long term.
"Private universities should focus on student quality rather than quantity and it is possible that some universities have to merge to stay afloat," he said.
Mr Pornchai said that the decrease in admissions will not only affect the private sector. Some state universities that recently expanded their campuses and courses recently, such as Rajabhat and Rajamangala University of Technology, may find that tuition fees do not cover the debt incurred.
COOPERATION BETWEEN LOCAL PLAYERS
To survive, Ms. Saowanee is urging Thai universities to collaborate more by offering dual degree programs and sharing resources and personnel, in place of just competing.
"And collaboration should not be limited to private universities, there should also be public-private collaboration," he said.
Earlier this year, Chulalongkorn University (CU) and King Mongkut's Ladkrabang Institute of Technology (KMITL) signed a memorandum of understanding to provide a double degree in artificial intelligence and robotics engineering: the first such course in the country.
Under the agreement, the engineering faculties of both universities will share resources and personnel for the program.
Students will receive two degrees, both from CU and KMITL, when they graduate after spending four years studying at both campuses.
The rector of CU, Bundit Euaarporn, said that the cooperation agreement was a beneficial situation for both universities since they can share knowledge and cut their operating costs in half at the same time.
"In addition, it is also a victory for the government and the country because artificial intelligence and robotic engineering are crucial fields for the vision of Thailand 4.0," he said.
"Traditionally we have seen ourselves as competitors, I think it's time we changed our mentality and cooperated more"
A Harvard business professor, Clayton Christensen , recently predicted in his highly credited book The Innovative University that half of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States will be bankrupt within the next 10 to 15 years.
More than 500 universities and universities in the US UU They have been closed for the last decade.
In his book, written jointly by Henry Eyring, he predicts a bleak future for traditional universities as online courses become a more profitable way for students to receive an education.
The interruption will challenge traditional institutions and those that do not adapt will go bankrupt, he says.
In 2016, more than 6.3 million students in the US UU They took at least one online course and that number is expected to increase steadily in the coming years.
The Deputy Minister of Education, Udom Kachinthorn, believes that what has happened in the higher education sector of the United States is a wake-up call for Thai universities.
"IT companies like Google and Microsoft are offering online courses on their own, their courses are cheaper and easier to access, students do not have to sit in classes for four years to study many unrelated programs to get a degree. , they only need to [physically] attend short courses to acquire certain specific skills required by employers, this is a signal to me that the world of education will change forever, "he said.
The concept of higher education must also be redefined, insists Dr. Udom.
"No matter how the world turns, the original and real purpose of education is for people to be empowered with information," said Dr. Udom.
"We must teach students to learn to think and be critical." To achieve that, universities must become learning spaces, not just classrooms and campuses. "