Universities move forward: Creating and Supporting Change
On November 25, 2020, The Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation (MHESI) THAILAND launched the Reinventing University Project to announce new directions in national policies and institutional development. This project represents a major response to the numerous changes which are affecting Thai higher education institutions – changes such as in demography, and educational technology. And, of course, changes in the workforce needs, the job prospects for university graduates, and international competition in the post-secondary sector, for example. The forum was presided over by Professor Dr. Anek Laothamatas, Minister of MHESI. He was joined by his administrative teams, university presidents, professors, educators, and media.
The Reinventing University Project is, basically, a blueprint for reforming Thai universities. It is a top down policy approach which aimed at strengthening and increasing support to universities in order to maximize their potential to meet the workforce requirements of the Thailand Strategic Development Plan and Thailand 4.0, and, of course, pave the way for achieving greater excellence in academic achievement. Leadership for this very ambitious and timely project will be provided by five strategic groups. These are:
1. Global and Frontier Research University
2. Technological Development and Innovation University
3. Area-based and Community University
4. Moral and Intellectual Cultivation Focused University
5. Specialized and Professional Development University
Higher education institutions will be asked to assess themselves using assessment tools developed by a special task force group of the Reinventing University Project. The results of each university’s assessment and proposed development plan will be submitted to MHESI for consideration. When approved, the university will be granted financial support to help achieve its transformational objectives.
It is on these points that I would like to share with readers some concerns about the difficulties of bringing about real change in large organisations including those in the education sector. Such changes cannot be simply mandated because they inevitably affect the lives of all persons involved in such institutions. CHANGE creates serious concerns among those who deliver their services on a day by day basis.
Rethinking and Reinventing Thai Universities: Four Possible Responses
Van Cleeve Morris mentioned in his article, ‘The Philosophy of Education’. that education,
at its roots, is not only a social instrument for transmitting to each succeeding generation a whole way of life; it is also the agency which serves as the conscience of a society when it strives to promote a better future. I found his argument interesting and relevant to this current proposal. Who will mandate these changes? Are there avenues for consultation among those who will be most directly affected? Will the change agents listen and work toward a consensus?
Morris outlined four possible positions.
Position 1. Ignore change. Change is only a relatively superficial phenomenon, no elaborate attention need be paid to it because it is not genuinely real.
Position 2. Recognize change but leave it to others. Historically, schools have been places for the transfer of accumulated knowledge and social traditions from one generation to another. Their function is basically conservative. Their attention must remain fixed on the accumulated inheritance of the knowledge of scholars, the literary and artistic heritage and enduring values of each culture.
Position 3. Identify with change and participate in it. This position contends that the function of educational institutions is much more intimately tied to contemporary social life. If the society as a whole is in need of change, then the institutions must change. This being the case, then they are obliged to participate in bringing about the changes, and to help the young generation cope with and adopt the changes.
Position 4. Embrace change and become its “headquarters”. The view of this position is that educational institutions are basically social by definition and therefore must be involved in change. Changes in today’s world are strategically far more important than many believe or want to accept. Newly desired futures do not come about by simply making adjustments to changing conditions. Such futures come about because humans make strategic plans and execute them in a systematic and effective manner.
Among these four positions, the Reinventing University Project seems to fit with the concept of Position 4. This requires that every individual in the university world needs to understand the objectives and participate willingly with commitment.
Certainly, university personnel, both instructors and support staff, will need reskilling through professional development activities. This calls for policies which reduce the emphasis on teaching in favour of professional upgrading.
Finally, APHEIT Journals welcome your academic and research articles, sharing educational experiences, new discoveries, and lessons learned. Also, APHEIT intends to cooperate with the Reinventing Universities Project by organizing both formal and informal training opportunities.
Last but not least, I wish to acknowledge the contributions of all distinguished reviewers, and APHEIT Journal editorial teams wish you all the best.
Happy New Year 2021.
Manit Boonprasert, Ed.D
The Association of Private Higher Education Institutions of Thailand
Under the Patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn