Thai authorities promoting Thailand as transnational higher education hub

Thai government policies are making the establishment of branch campuses easier in the southeast Asian country, while authorities are seeking to promote Thailand as a regional education hub as domestic student numbers drop, according to a QAA report.

The current “limited” extent of UK trans-national education in the country means TNE projects have strong potential to expand, the QAA’s country report also argued.

“[Thailand] represents a country with significant potential for UK providers considering growing their TNE footprint in east Asia,” according to QAA.

Policies passed as part of Article 44 in 2017 aim to “streamline and facilitate” foreign providers establishing branch campuses, especially in the east of the country, the document notes. According to the document, incentives for foreign branch campuses to operate in three provinces that comprise the ‘Eastern Economic Corridor’ include exemption from corporate income tax and restrictions on foreign land ownership, relaxed visa measures, and lower rates of income tax for employees.

Through regional exchange programs, such as the ASEAN International Mobility for Students program and the Thailand-ASEAN Exchange Program, the government has sought to improve mobility of students in the region. The creation of the ASEAN Economic Community is expected to increase the free flow of people, as well as the number of international students coming to study in Thailand from surrounding countries, according to the report.

With a current population of 69m people, Thai population growth has been declining over recent years, and total population is expected to fall to 65 million by 2050. “The steady demographic decline poses important challenges,” the paper explains, “as it might set foreign provision in competition with domestic providers for a dwindling local student population.”

However, Thailand’s “long-term development” as a study destination and, a focus on the TNE offer in strategic disciplinary areas for which there is little local supply, may offset that challenge. “Increasing the number of transnational education partnerships is a key part of the country’s strategy for internationalising its higher education sector and enhancing its international attractiveness and reputation,” QAA reported.

The country’s Higher Education Commission has developed new internationalisation guidelines which support the development of more international partnerships with foreign higher education providers, including TNE partnerships, the document explains.

The UK-Thailand Transnational Education Development Project, jointly supported by OHEC and the British Council, has helped develop 19 UK-Thai TNE partnerships. Kevin Van Cauter, senior higher education adviser at the British Council, noted that the number of new partnerships between UK institutions and top Thai research universities has now reached 22. “The policy environment is now much more conducive to UK TNE and new opportunities have opened up beyond what we can directly fund,” Van Cauter said. The British Council will continue developing industry engagement, extending research collaboration to broader academic partnerships and building training programs for staff in Thai institutions on of internationalisation, he added. “This will pave way for a smoother and more supportive environment for Thai and UK institutions to form partnerships.”

Collaborative partnerships, such as joint and double degrees, are generally “less politically contentious”, according to QAA. Any political changes in the country are expected to affect policies aiding the development of foreign branch campuses, rather than TNE provision in general, it continues, as collaborative partnership are regarded by local providers as a way to raise their international competitiveness and reputation.

The report adds that TNE provision is considered a way to “help retain local students” who may go overseas to study. “Low level of English language proficiency and lack of familiarity with TNE provision amongst Thai students might, however, represent obstacles,” it concludes.

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