The research project “Community Aspect in Long Term policy plan for Commission of Higher Education: Low-Central Region of Thailand” was conducted by The Research Network of Low-Central Region of Thailand to explore the regional opinions, communities, local governments and officials, in terms of regional higher education missions. The project was funded by the Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand and worked under an umbrella of Research Network Program of Commission of Higher Education.
Scopes of study
The research scopes for study are as follow.
- Explore the expectation of local communities in low-central region of Thailand to the regional higher education missions.
Data collection was carried out in the region of 2 groups of provinces.
(1) Nakhonpathom, Ratchaburi, Suphanburi and Kanchanaburi
(2) Phetchaburi, Prachuapkhirikhan, Samutsakhon and Samutsongkhram.
- Collect data from local communities by means of focus group brain storming.
According to the time limit, the research team decided to employ the technique of focus group meeting to obtain the information. Each group contains 8 representatives from many organizations and units, led and facilitated by a researcher from the university network.
- Target groups of information and discussed issues.
The target groups of information were representatives from 4 main groups, local business agencies, local governments, officials in the region and community leaders.
The discussed issues are mostly related to the missions of higher education in 4 aspects, curricular, research, academic service and art and culture nourishment, with regard to the context of social, economy, environment and natural resource, technology impact and driving process of people in community.
- Period of study.
The period of study was 3 months, February-April 2007.
- University Research Network meeting with Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand to define the issues for discussion, methodology, format of report.
- Survey and study from related documents about basic information and competency of 2 groups of provinces in low-central region of Thailand. Issues studied are as follows.
- The philosophy of Sufficient Economy.
- Provinces’ strategic plans in the context of National policy of good and happy life.
- Missions of higher education.
- Roles of Research Network in low-central region on community development.
- Silpakorn University research on “Community expectation on regional university: case study Silpakorn University”.
- Medium term period research strategies of the Research Network in low-central region.
- Collect and analyze data from the focus group meetings held at Phetchaburi Rajabhat University.
- Research team meetings for data integration, conclusion and recommendation.
- University Research Network meeting for normalization the data with other regions.
- Report to the Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand and the Commission of Higher Education.
The Context of Social and Economy Changes
- Human resource.
It is anticipated that people will contribute more roles in country development. Government should support and promote the citizen in any activity participations as well as decentralization of power. Human resources graduated from regional higher education institutes must be ready to serve community with a higher quality, better knowledge and good moral value to develop and strengthen community system. It has been predicted by demographic research that rate of growth in Thailand has been significantly decreasing, while elderly has been increasing. This phenomenon infers that working generation has to work harder to compensate an increasing number of elderly. On the other words, our next generation has to be 3-4 times more efficiency than our generation to serve a higher number of elderly. It is inevitable to reform the university missions to cope with the change of human resource stream.
- Natural resource and environment.
The depletion of natural resources and environmental changing will be the more severe problems that create a high impact on human being. Water management is a good example of the natural resource problems, while garbage management is an example of environmental management. These problems are not only serious to Thailand but also to the whole world. Developed countries have issued several acts and regulations related to the environmental conservation as conditions to trade with other countries. Campaign the sense of environmental conservation is not enough to solve the problems. It needs more knowledge and networks to manage the change of natural resources and environment.
- Economic Change.
As a result of information technology and globalization, Thai economy has been significantly impacted. With a high speed of communications, the competition in economy is very serious. Most developed countries identified themselves as high technology that needs high research investment, while developing countries still involve in mass production with cheap labor. These bring Thailand to the dilemma because our labor cost is higher than China and Viet Nam. Moreover, the free trade has challenged our capability in economic management that the capital has shifted from physical to knowledge. Education is also considered as a service industry that has been strongly shaking our education system.
- Sufficient Economy.
Thailand has tried and errors in several economic aspects, however the more we tried the wider gap between rich and poor. The big gap between two poles indicates the failure of former economic orientations that stress only investment fund and GDP. There must be something overseen in our society. The senses of caring, sharing, collaborating and trusting have been ignored, but rapidly absorbed the other know-how as well as improper cultures. The Sufficient Economy has contained these social aspects into its philosophy so that its application not only reduces the gap but also strengthens our society.
As a result of data acquired from the community focus groups in the low-central region of Thailand, there are some recommendations for the long term planning of Commission of Higher Education as follows.
I. The Universities Reform with Respect to Missions
The universities have to thoroughly determine the context of economic and social changes in the regions to lay out the direction and positioning of which types the universities will be, research or teaching. Moreover, it is necessary to focus on the core competency in academic approach or professional of the universities in order to promote and become an excellence. As all universities have common missions in teaching, research, academic service and art & culture nourishment, it is recommended that the generation of university network will reinforce the universities to move forward to meet the goals.
Reference to the strategies and Gross Products Productions (GPP) of both groups of provinces in the low-central region of Thailand, it was found that the production sector has brought a high income, however, the agriculture and service sectors, especially tourism have played important roles in both economic and social aspects. These issues are therefore existed in all provinces’ strategies. According to the academic record of year 2004, it is revealed that graduations in this region are 20,710 with the ratio of social science to science at 3:1. This information infers the unbalance of manpower between social science and science. Human resource in science are significantly insufficient, especially in the area of information technology (IT) that are increasingly required. The universities have to lay out their plan with regard to their mission as follows.
In the process of teaching and learning, it is important to raise 3 questions, what is the special expert of graduations, how to operate the course, and to whom the universities produce manpower for.
- What is the special expert of graduations?
The term “Comprehensive University” seems to be the barrier of university development toward specialty. It is time to distinct the core competencies of the universities to promote and become the best in that areas. The curriculums for the low-central regions of Thailand have been proposed by the communities with respect to economic and social contexts are as follows.
- Agriculture and agro-industries that require special intention in the value chain system, e.g. increasing the efficiency of productions, value creation or value added and marketing.
- Service industries e.g. tourism and related services.
- Computer science and information technology.
- Natural resource and environmental management of both in land and sea.
- How to operate the course?
It was informed that most graduations are not ready to work. They need more or less of practices and skills before taking charge in any positions. This corresponds to the information from employers to the universities. In the era of globalization and high competition, it is necessary to produce graduations that are ready to work. The recommendations for course operation are as follows.
- For undergraduate level, practice based is an important key for the course operation. The students need practical skills both inside universities and in the real world, e.g. offices, industries, hotels, farms and other agencies related to their study subjects. The philosophy of lifelong learning is also considered to be implemented in the program.
- Research based is the key factor for operating the course at graduate level. The use of real problems in society and integration of conceptual concept are important in conducting research. It is also necessary to generate the cooperation with other universities, private sectors and communities in both finding problems and conducting research. These will not only reduce the resource consuming but also enhance the productivity.
- Special curriculums with flexible conditions for working people who want to extend their abilities, knowledge and technology.
- Booth up the education environments, e.g. good library, easy means to access information, wireless internet etc.
- To whom the universities produce manpower for?
It is recommended that all steak holders, academic institutes, business sectors in the region, private sectors and local leaders should meet and brain storming to lay out the plans for regional manpower, both short and long terms. The universities could therefore design the curriculums.
The recommendations to universities’ mission in research are as follows.
- Basic research must be related to the core competencies of the universities leading to the knowledge management circuit, knowledge and know - how generations, transferring the knowledge to students and extending expertise.
- Conduct the cooperative research strategies by using the mechanism of universities network to reduce the overlap and enhancing former research toward the applications. The research issues for low-central region of Thailand are the development of agro-industries, community products, sustainable tourism and the management of natural resources of both in land and sea.
- For industry research, it is necessary to build the mechanism in research development with private sectors, industries, communities and agencies to obtain the real needs and create the close cooperation between researchers inside and outside universities. The mechanism of technology transfer to business and private sectors is also required to implement.
- Generate the cultures or conditions that allow cross disciplinary research emphasis on applications.
- Create the research culture among students at any levels. Undergraduates are research assistances of graduated students, graduated students are the assistances of post doctorial that under the professional academic researchers.
- Academic Service.
The recommendations for academic services are as follows.
- Develop entrepreneurs (SME) and community enterprises by one stop shops operation, provide short course trainings related to entrepreneurships and promote them toward spin off companies.
- Generate short courses for supplement careers or side line jobs.
- Integrate academic service to university research and study courses in order to reduce the resource consumption as well as reinforce the out come.
- Allow universities to hold their own enterprises in order to promote the link with business sectors as well as the transferring technology management system leading to the centre of excellence in special business.
- Art & Culture Nourishment.
For art & culture nourishment, the recommendations are as follows.
- Lead communities in value creations to promote the good society, implement good cultures in any activities, e.g. punctuality, polite behavior and morality.
- Induce students to perceive and accept the existence of multi-cultural society, learn how to live and cope with the in cross cultural society.
- Employ new technologies as the tools to promote and create contemporary art and cultures with respect to our former values.
II. Generate New Innovations of Higher Education Management: Regional network
In the environment of globalization and information technology, the turning point of new knowledge management has been emerged and significantly increased due to the speed of information and peer to peer contact. The concept of network has been introduced to many enterprises to reduce the weakness and increase the strength of organizations. Commission of Higher Education has also applied the network system in several approaches as mechanism in knowledge transfer and sharing resources. Examples of networks are as follows:
- In 2002 the higher education network in Ratchaburi province aimed to develop suitable academic courses for the region.
- In 2004 the university research net work of 9 regions of Thailand, under the program of strengthening community and grass root economic activation, aimed to drive academic people to work in close contact with communities in all missions. The Commission of Higher Education has annually provided budget through the core institutes of 8 regions (2 northeast regions collapsed into 1 region) acting as the hubs. Each hub has identified nodes to develop the integrated research projects as well as young researchers.
Although the network operation has several advantages, the network structure is not strong enough to sustain. The issue of how to strengthen the network is still challenged to move forward and extend to other university missions. The network should therefore play an important role to other organization and agencies. It is important to network to consider the following aspects.
- Philosophy of Network.
The network has to rely on the equity of partners, keep in participation of steak holders, search for alternative opportunities and using them for creation, count on team work and win-win situation.
- Roles and Duties.
According to experiences from University Research Network and Research Network in the low-central region of Thailand, that have been working with all universities, local governments, private sectors, local business and communities, it is noted to considered in 2 important approaches.
- Generate the student exchange and transfer system.
It is suggested that university network should connect not only universities but also the schools and colleges to generate the mechanism of student exchange and transfer system. The students should be allowed to choose interested subjects across other universities. It is optimistic that the diversity of learning will provide the mechanism of educational standardization and quality improvement.
- Provide space and academic mechanism.
It is proposed by the community focus groups that higher education should be the leader in connection with outside organizations, both government and private sectors as well as communities, to define problems and lay out direction plans with respect to universities’ competencies and higher education missions. These will lead to the development of contemporary courses corresponding to the change of social and economic contexts.
- Network Management.
The key factor to reach the networking management achievement is the coordinator or contact point that facilitates and links all partners both inside and outside higher education together. This person must thorough understand the philosophy of network, good vision in university scope and unify all members from different area to have common perception of network.
The members from university partners will act as sub-coordinators that link their universities and the main network. Under an umbrella of main network there will be sub-networks arising from the group of common interest in research issues, e.g. tourism research group, agro-industries research group, handicrafts development research group that are under the Low-Central region Research Network. It is anticipated that all activities organized by the sub-networks will drive the whole network toward the achievement.
- Support and Acceptance.
- Government Level.
It is suggested that government should have the management policy in term of integrated area based and decentralization to local government. The universities network should be considered and supported as the consultants in area development. It is also recommended by community focus group meetings that the government should create mechanism such as regulations and laws to support the cooperation between local governments and universities.
- Commission of Higher Education Level.
The Commission of Higher Education must have a finite policy in supporting the university networks by providing seed money for the network management, policy budgeting for the network proposals and use the time frame assessment to audit the outcomes. The Commission of Higher Education should also act as a main coordinator to coordinate with other organizations at ministry and government levels to generate networks with them.
Reported by Khun Tuck Dechapanya
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