Transition to ‘autonomy’ leaves Khon Kaen University facing an uncertain future
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Transition to ‘autonomy’ leaves Khon Kaen University facing an uncertain future

By The Isaan Record

On Friday, Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA) passed bills to privatize Khon Kaen University and three other higher education institutions. The continuing privatization of Thailand’s universities raises concerns among student activists and academics who warn of soaring tuition fees, exclusion of lower income students, and too much power moving into the hands of too few.

As Thailand remains under military rule, many question the timing of the recent push to transition more universities from a public to a so-called “autonomous” status.

In addition to Khon Kaen University (KKU), similar bills were passed for Thammasat, Kasetsart, and Suan Dusit Rajabhat Universities.

University privatization plans have been the target of student protests in recent months. Students from Thammasat University recently presented a petition with 2,702 signatures to the NLA, calling for more transparency in the privatization process and student participation in the university’s affairs.

In early April at KKU, a student activist climbed onto the roof of the campus’ centrally-located Complex to roll out a banner featuring the message: “Khon Kaen University Company Limited – University President-Dictator.” He was calling to oppose the government’s push to turn the public university into a privatized institution.

The initiative for an autonomous university system began in the 1990s and accelerated due to pressure to privatize public services from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.

Since then, 15 universities out of 185 tertiary education institutions nationwide have transitioned to the autonomous system, almost always accompanied by student protests.

Once made autonomous, universities leave the state’s bureaucratic system and set up their own administrative and budgetary structures. All decision-making power on management and financial matters as well as personnel and curricula policies is held by the university council.

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The Isaan Record is run by a small team of journalists based in Khon Kaen, Thailand. Follow us on Twitter @isaanrecord or friend us on Facebook.