Academics in Thailand are raising red flags with concerns that Chinese nationals have acquired majority holdings in three private Universities, fearing that these foreign investors will prioritize profit over education quality.
Academics in Thailand are also concerned that these schools will favour Chinese students over local students and international programs over courses focusing on local needs.
Nonetheless, several Thai students at these colleges claim that no significant changes to curricula or courses have occurred since the Chinese investors arrived. They stated that the only changes they have noticed are an increase in Chinese students and, in some circumstances, an increase in international programs.
Concerns were minimized by Supachai Pathumnakul, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education, Science, Research, and Innovation, who stated that private universities were strictly regulated.
According to him, the three Chinese-invested universities, Krirk University, Metharath University, and Stamford International University, “have undergone structural alterations involving foreign shareholders to have Chinese as CEOs and university council members.”
“Regardless of how the university’s structure or management evolves, they are strictly regulated under Thailand’s Private University Act, the Higher Education, Science, Research, and Innovation Act, and other laws related to private higher education institutions in Thailand,” he explained to BenarNews.
“This issue is also supervised by the Higher Education Commission’s Office, the Commission on Higher Education Standards, and the Ministry of Education,” he added.
Funding from a Chinese investor
He stated that while the president of the university council and the academic leader of the institution are allowed to be foreigners under Thai legislation, at least half of the council members must be Thai citizens.
However, how did Chinese investors become engaged in Thai universities? The explanation was falling enrollment at one university.
According to Krirk University Rector Krasae Chanawong, the number of students dropped from 3,000 to less than 2,000 four years ago, prompting the university to seek funding from a Chinese investor.
The presidents of the Krirk council and the university are both Thai, and roughly 17% of the council members are Chinese.
According to the National Statistics Office, Krirk presently has slightly more than 1,000 pupils enrolled.
Stamford International University, which has 600 students, has a Chinese council president and a Thai dean, with around 40% of the council members being Chinese.
Hong Kong-traded According to Thailand’s Royal Coast Review, China YuHua Education Investment Ltd (YuHua) purchased the university from Laureate Education in 2019.
Faith Star (Thailand) Co. Ltd. owns 51% of Metharath University, formerly known as Shinawatra University, and its executive directors and stockholders are virtually completely Chinese.
The president and dean of Metharath University’s council are both Chinese, as are around 40% of the council members. Besides from ownership concerns, academics are concerned about scholarship and access.
Chinese capital investment
According to Philairat Sriwichianaumphai, a lecturer at the Christian University of Thailand’s School of Multidisciplinary Studies, the Chinese business model promotes managerial effectiveness.
“As Chinese capital investment in colleges increases, managers are concerned that profit will be the primary purpose. Some universities may place a strong emphasis on business while ignoring educational quality,” Philairat said.
“Another difficulty is that, because the university can only accept a certain number of students, they may limit the number of Thai students and instead focus on recruiting more Chinese.”
According to Isa Gharti, an analyst at Chiang Mai University, Thai universities have recently moved to accommodate more international students.
“A few Chinese students are having problems with their English language test scores. But I’m not sure about private universities; are there any screening mechanisms in place to verify that Chinese students meet standards before enrolling?”
“Universities are making a concerted push to open overseas programs for Chinese students. “The selecting process at public universities is standard,” Isa said.
According to data released in 2020, before the COVID-19 outbreak, Thai institutions reported more Chinese pupils in their classrooms.
According to data from the Ministry of Education, 14,423 Chinese students were enrolled in 2020, up from 11,993 in 2019 and 10,617 in 2018, with figures for the previous two years unavailable.
“Since the Chinese government proclaimed the country’s opening, I expect many more Chinese students to come to study in Thailand,” Supachai said.
More Chinese students
Some Thai students interviewed at universities with Chinese investment indicated they had not noticed any modifications in the curricula.
“The institution hasn’t made any explicit announcement and I do not think it will alter the program. “The professors and lessons remain the same,” said Choktawi, a graduate student at Krirk University whose last name was suppressed to protect the student’s privacy.
“I barely detect any difference, besides an increased number of Chinese pupils. That’s all I’ve got.”
According to an undergraduate student at the same university, the Bangkok campus appears to have more Chinese students.
“I knew that a Chinese businessman bought shares or something like that, but I don’t think it will damage the university. “There are already a large number of international students, as well as more Chinese students,” added Prapat, whose last name was also suppressed for privacy concerns.
According to a Metharath student, the change in ownership could be one of the reasons for the university’s name change from Shinawatra University.
Poor English Skills
Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire who was deposed as prime leader in a military coup in 2006 and has been living in self-imposed exile since, created the university in 1999.
“The university website now contains Mandarin language, and additional courses for overseas students have been introduced,” stated student Napatsorn. “There are more exchange programs in foreign nations available.”
According to Napatsorn, who asked to be named only by his first name, Chinese students’ English skills are on par with or worse than Thai students’.
“As compared to Chinese pupils, Indian kids have great English skills,” Napatsorn added.
“Their [China students’] English capabilities are similar to Thai students. Others are even less fluent than my friends’ Thai students.”
Kulnaree Nukitrangsan, a scholar at Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Asian Studies, suggested two reasons why Chinese students decided to study in Thailand.
She stated that some prefer to study abroad because they are unable to pass Chinese admission examinations, while others wish to escape the country’s competitive lifestyle and heavy pressure.
Thailand is chosen as an educational destination because “the cost is not expensive and the curriculum is wide and adaptable, making it affordable for middle-class families. “Thailand meets the requirements of Chinese students,” she explained.
According to Lee Wei Yi, a Chinese graduate student at Chiang Mai University, there are several motivations for Chinese students to study in Thailand aside from educational prospects. “To put it frankly, there are Chinese folks who sincerely want to learn,” Lee remarked.
“Yet, some people come to study in order to secure a visa for lengthy travel.”